Part of what I enjoyed so much about Ethiopia was that it was safe enough to leave the house where I was staying, and just get out to explore or go for a run. After getting my bearings I never really felt like security was an issue. This allowed me to get out into the village and the countryside on occasion when I wasn’t otherwise engaged.
One late evening, I saw that the light was going to be beautiful, so I headed out into the countryside with the other photographer. We hadn’t yet attracted the entourage of children that normally and inevitably gathered around us, ruining any chances to be inconspicuous. As we reached the crest of a hill, there was a beautiful old woman forming a basket from rolled grass, so we stopped to look at what she was doing, and of course, take her picture.
As in many cases, after I take someone’s picture, I will show it to them on the back of my camera, but this time I got a reaction I’ve never had before. As she looked at her face on the screen, she began to touch her face. It was clear that she didn’t know what she looked like, and it had been a very long time, if ever, that she had seen her face. I am certain she was unaware of how old she really was. She was beautiful to me, but I’m not certain what her thoughts were about that. I seriously hoped I hadn’t ruined her day.
I’ve been thinking about this encounter for the last week and a half since I met her. The story in itself was enough to tell about, but it made me think of the book of James, where it says, “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.”
Until that day, I’d never met anyone who didn’t know what they look like. I hear people say all the time, just follow your heart, do what feels right. I think that’s terrible advice. Following your heart and doing what feels right is probably what gets people into trouble more than anything else. The book of Proverbs says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” The path to God has to come from God Himself and from his word, both of which are outside of ourselves. The analogy of the mirror took on a deeper meaning to me when I met this woman. She may have had an idea (possibly wrong) of what she looked like, and it was only when she saw what she looked like from an external source that the truth became apparent to her. It is the same with us spiritually. We have an idea of who we think we are, and we’re exceptionally good at lying to ourselves about how great we are. It’s only after we see the reflection of ourselves in the word of God that it becomes apparent what we actually look like. It’s seeing ourselves from the outside that gives us honesty in our appearance. The standard always remains the same, not like our own view of ourselves which is based on comparison to others, and somehow manages to change based on our subjective idea of how good or bad we are. The fact is, we are all bad, but we’re also forgiven. As I wrote in a previous blog, the difference will be when we find where the chains of doom are kept. Will it be an unfamiliar place, or will we be so comfortable that we find that we had taken off our shoes to stay a while?
When we look in that mirror, let us look intently, and not forget what we’ve seen. Look at it often. If we walk away for a long time, we may find in coming back many years later, that the face we now see is vastly older and more haggard from the one we saw last time.