As a child, I parted my hair on the side. Each morning before school, I would stand in front of the mirror and make sure it looked the way I wanted it to. After a while, I got used to the way it looked. My haircuts were never too adventurous, but I was comfortable with how it looked. It looked like me.
I remember being in primary school and seeing my school photos, becoming aware that how I looked in the photo was not how I thought I looked. As an adult, I understand that a mirror image shows us the opposite of reality. But as a child, I found it a little jarring that in pictures, my hair was backwards. I have had similar experiences hearing recordings of my own voice. “Is this how I actually sound?” is a thought that has run through my head, though it is not always a positive one.
It is strange to realize that how I look and sound to others is different from my own perspective. That said, in recent years the differences in physical attributes have mattered less. The gap between who I see myself as a person and others’ experience of me has become more important. How I view myself can often be quite different from how others see me.
A strange contradiction has emerged. I first noticed it in my career progression, but it exists in my family life as well. As I have achieved more success, such as getting a promotion at work or a new job, I have found myself doubting its legitimacy or my worthiness of it, even though from the outside it looks as if things are going well. I feel as if my successes are built on some sort of fraud that will one day be revealed and I will be ‘found out’. This is known as Imposter Syndrome and in my experience it can apply in most areas of life.
Yet when I look at other people in my life, rarely do I think they are a fraud or somehow tricking me into believing they are something they are not. In my experience, most people want to do their best and use their gifts and talents to the best of their abilities. I approach relationships with others with this as an underlying premise.
Why is it that I have such a difficult time taking this approach with myself?
In a recent discussion with a mentor, I was challenged to write down three things that I loved about myself on a cue card and then share it with him. I was given until the end of the day to complete the task.
While this might seem like a straightforward task, I found it to be a struggle. Not because I am self-loathing or anything like that. Most of the time, I generally like who I am. That said, after thinking about it for a moment and not coming up with anything I deemed worthy of writing down, I distracted myself and forgot about it.
Later that night, after everyone in my house was asleep, I thought about the blank cue card. I sat down at my kitchen table and started to think about things I really love about myself. As uncomfortable as the process was, I came up with a list that I was happy with. It reflected three true things about myself.
After I finished, I thought about what I would write down if the task had been to come up with three things I did not like about myself. Sadly, that list would have been much easier to fill up and it could have gone much longer than three items.
Perhaps this is human nature, the result of being broken people, aware of our shortcomings. I found myself wondering again how guarded I would be filling out such a list for another person. Realizing that they are human, it is easier (though maybe not quite easy) to see their mistakes from a position of mercy and kindness. Should I not afford myself the same treatment? Should we not all look upon ourselves and our failings with a bit more compassion and less self-condemnation?
A couple of years ago, a priest I am friends with said to me: “If you could only see yourself how God the Father sees you, it would blow your mind.” At that time in my life, the thought terrified me. I would have imagined the long list of mistakes I have made in my life and the look of judgment that would accompany it.
Today, I am grateful that the image of the Father I once held has been replaced with an image of a kind and loving Father. One who sees me as a beloved son and wants me to grow into the full vision of what He intended when He thought of me.
As I have grown in my own fatherhood, it has helped me to better understand what it means to be a son. When my kids do something they know they are not supposed to, yes, I can get frustrated and sometimes angry. But behind all that is a sadness that they have fallen short of who they can be. It is the mirror image of why I delight so much in seeing them thrive. Every father wants to see their children grow into their own versions of greatness.
Understanding this helps me to better appreciate how the Father sees me and each of us. He wants us to thrive and be the fullest versions of ourselves.
Recently, when I am feeling frustrated or worn down, I have found it easier to go to a negative place. To take a negative view of myself and focus in on the mistakes. On a heart level, I know I must reject this view. Instead, I must surrender those thoughts and whatever situation I find myself in back to the Father. When negative thoughts come into my head, I try to catch them. Not only do I reject them, but I turn back to God and say, “This is what I am hearing, but what do you say about me?”
In the stillness, I find sonship and relationship. I can rest and know that I am looked after.
Looking at ourselves, it is easy to see the failings and flaws. What if instead, when we looked in the mirror, we looked at ourselves with compassion and mercy? What if we were to see the things we loved about ourselves, the things that are truest of who we are created to be?
It is said that how we view ourselves can have an impact on the way we see others and the world around us. Instead of focusing on the things we do not like, what if we asked God to help us see ourselves as He sees us. Even a glimpse of this would change everything.
I challenge you to write down three things you truly love about yourself. Maybe the exercise will reveal something you have not yet realized. God created you with a specific purpose in mind for this moment – we are all here for a reason. It is time we started believing it.
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