In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells Peter that he's going to be tested, but that Jesus has already prayed for him...that he will be restored, once the testing is over. Peter protests this prediction vehemently, and says to Jesus:
"Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."
According to the historical record of the gospel, before sunrise of the following morning, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus on three separate occasions, the result of which was great emotional and spiritual torment for Peter...ultimately, as Jesus had prayed, Peter was restored and forgiven, and went on to be a leader in the early church.
I have a theory about how we see ourselves...or don't see ourselves. In the gospel story, it's clear that Peter did not see himself as he truly was, and didn't recognize in himself even the capacity to betray the person who was both close friend and spiritual mentor to him. Part of the human condition is a built-in challenge as it relates to self-perception...sometimes we see ourselves as better than we really are, sometimes we see ourselves as worse than we really are...either way, our view is skewed.
In the world of psychology, there is something called Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and according to the official diagnosis, the essential feature of the disorder is a preoccupation with a defect in appearance. The defect, if there even is a defect at all, is typically minimal in relation to the person's own imagination...nevertheless, the result of the preoccupation can be miserable for the person...intensely painful, even devasting to their emotional and physical well-being. Michael Jackson comes to mind as a person who likely struggled with this ailment, and because of his inability to see himself accurately, endured years of painful, and ultimately deforming surgeries.
At the other extreme is narcissism...a condition that is characterized by a skewed perspective of oneself on the positive end of the spectrum, without a realistic understanding of one's natural human shortcomings and faults.
As I think about this inability to see ourselves accurately, it occurs to me that we all suffer from a kind of spiritual dysmorphic disorder...born out of our need to feel good about ourselves, or at the very least, to feel like we're better than the next guy, we often fail to see our spiritual, relational, or emotional shortcomings. Or, in the converse, we expend enormous amounts of energy with guilt and shame...feeling as if we are bad people who will never measure up or be "good enough."
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul describes it this way:
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
We do not see ourselves, or life in general, fully. We see only in part. Paul says that someday will will know fully, even as we are known, and in the meantime, the most important character traits to get us through the journey? Faith...Hope...and most of all...Love.
The question to consider, I believe, is how do you maintain a healthy perspective...a right perspective that can keep you well grounded in reality? Psalm 139 says, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely."
In our relationship with God, we have one who longs to enter into our daily life...one who can help us to see ourselves with a healthy and right perspective. Outside of our relationship with God, we have available to us another incredibly powerful gift that can help us to see ourselves and life more accurately: friends.
The writer of the Proverbs says this about friends:
"Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses."
Do you have friends who you trust to know you on an intimate level? Will you allow them to speak truth into your life when your perspective is skewed? Sometimes truth spoken by a friend can wound, but we need those outside voices to help keep us on track....to help us see ourselves more accurately.
Whatever your situation today, whether you're feeling like you've got the world by the tail, or whether you're feeling whipped by life...remember that what you're seeing isn't the full picture...and perhaps a more complete perspective will come when you seek God's input, as well as the input of a trusted friend.