Years ago, I remember being in a meeting and we were waiting for another colleague to arrive. My (then) boss quipped, ‘he planned to be here on time, but unfortunately, he got waylaid by a full length mirror’.
We all laughed, because well, it was funny, but also, I wonder if any of us thought that we were susceptible to this too?
At the time, it reminded me of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I’d seen which told the story of Narcissus.
It’s based on a tale in Greek mythology about a beautiful looking young man. He was told (apparently) that if he never recognised himself, he’d live a long and happy life.
Somehow or other, the ‘gods’ got angry with him and so poor old Narcissus saw his own reflection in a spring of water, fell completely in love and spent the rest of his days, pining away for his greatest unrequited love – himself.
I’m not sure how, but recently I ended up reading this story again and looking into narcissism and what it really means.
I’d always thought that a narcissist is a person, who, like their namesake, is someone who is arrogantly in love with themselves.
But apparently, the definition is somewhat different.
A narcissist is often a person who has been damaged in some way and so they create a false version of themselves, to cover up the truth. It is usually deeply rooted stuff, but it manifests in lots of different ways.
Conmen and swindlers are often narcissists. They build up this huge fake reality that draws others in. They’re often great communicators, people of fancy words, but if you dig below the surface, there’s very little substance. What they say in public or on a stage, isn’t really reflected in their private, ‘backstage’ life.
I hate to say it, but it exists in church life too.
It can happen because in life, we sometimes like to put our leaders on a pedestal. We create a system of ‘honour’ which can be completely life-destroying for everyone concerned, if it’s not managed properly.
If they were in a psychiatrist’s office today, I bet you’d find plenty of narcissists among Biblical characters too. Men and women who followed God but somehow got distracted (permanently or temporarily) by their own reflection.
Remember David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ who worshipped and praised God all the time but somehow ended up stealing another man’s wife and murdering the husband, in order to cover up his sin?
Then there was Samson, a man of extraordinary strength who fell for the lies of a con-woman and ended up paying a horrific price. Did he forget that his strength came from a supernatural source and wasn’t his own doing?
I could find plenty of other examples too, but closer to home, what about me? Or you?
Are we creating a false reality or identity, because we fear vulnerability?
What about social media? Are we broadcasting this shiny, perfect version of our lives, when inside, we’re really crumbling and rotting away?
It’s a huge challenge! Have we created a picture perfect version of ourselves to display to the world, so they’ll think better of us? Are we sometimes tempted to get stuck, gazing into a spring, at an image of our own reflection?
The truth is, when we meet Jesus, he brings all the fractured parts of our lives together. He makes us whole.
And if we’re walking with him, he gives us a nudge in the spiritual ribs, when we’re temporarily distracted by what we see in the mirror.
He is the great ‘course corrector’, the one who tells us to ‘wind our necks in’ when/if we start to believe and fall for, some of the nonsense the world around us, dishes up.
But we can all get sucked into the trap. It’s so easy to see the results of a project or a piece of work and forget the invisible, creative hand which gave us the idea in the first place. It’s so easy to start gazing at our own reflection, instead of the reflection of the one who made us.
It’s not about thinking less of ourselves, but as a wise man once said, it’s thinking of ourselves less.