Mirror, Mirror On the Wall…
I can’t speak for you, but personally, this well-known idiom draws to mind a love-hate relationship I have with myself. Chances are, at least on some level, you can relate.
In college I had roommates who joked about what they called Truth Time. It’s not unlikely you are familiar with the concept yourself. Truth Time is that moment when you get into the car in the morning to leave for work, or class, or whatever the new day brings, and as you adjust the rear-view mirror for one last glance before heading on your way, to your horror, you find the natural light has revealed all your imperfections: the distressed skin (emphasis on stressed), the unrelenting shadows that carve out their stations beneath sleep-deprived eyes, the make-up faux pas, not to mention those infuriatingly stubborn stray hairs that were missed in this morning’s tweezing session by dim indoor lighting. All of this… glaring back at you in their most staggering glory. Because mornings aren’t hard enough.
There are a few of you who have no idea what I’m talking about. You roll out of bed and your luminous skin rejoices in the incandescence of morning light. Your hair never seems to get oily, and for you, the phrase “hot mess” means something entirely different than it does for the greater majority of us. That’s awesome. Everyone’s secretly hoping you’ll trip in public.
Truthfully though, I am not listed among the likes of these. I wear makeup, it’s cool. I’ve made my peace. But it’s certainly safe to say I am no stranger to Truth Time.
A week ago I moved into a house with 5 other women. The house is large, spacious and beautiful. There is ample room for all of us to live with exceptional comfort and ease. This house and this living situation have been blanketed in prayer for months by every woman named on the lease prior to move it. But keeping in sure step with nature and Newton’s 3rd Law, for every ounce of excitement I’ve exerted, I’ve experienced an equal and opposite push back from those with whom I’ve attempted to share my enthusiasm.
“SIX GIRLS?! Are you out of your MIND?”
“Why would you ever WILLINGLY sign up for that?”
“Do you have a death wish?”
My personal favorite is, “I hope you’re not friends with these girls, because if you are, you won’t be for long.”
And if it’s not a statement as forward as these, it’s a look, a raised eyebrow, a hesitant, conjectural “congrats.” So, in seeking solidarity of spirit, I rather find myself deflecting threats.
On one hand, I get it. I do. Girls can be vicious. If you survived middle school, congratulations, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But we’re not in middle school anymore. And at the end of the day, the thing that keeps ringing back in my ears with every well-intentioned admonition is that same old familiar anecdote: Truth Time.
Because community, in its most raw and true form is a most brutally honest mirror, an unapologetic reflection of self.
There is a potent visual association my mind immediately draws upon when I think critically about what it means to genuinely live life in community, it goes something like this:
Imagine you’re standing in a room full of mirrors, floor-to-ceiling. Alone in the skin only you can wear, you can probably imagine the immediate flush of self-loathing that might rush over you at all the unflattering angles and contortions being reflected back to acutely aware, highly conditioned critical eyes. You know your face and your curves, the parts of your body you like fused imperviously to all those you don’t. You barely recognize the person standing before you so estranged from the familiar. Hopefully, you have made your peace with the whole of this person, but in this room, under the harsh critique of this light, well, suddenly the stakes have been raised as you’re forced to observe yourself from a point of view you quite possibly never have before. And ultimately, no matter how hot your mess, you are bound to come face-to-face with certain things you wished you could keep hidden.
Effectually, this is what community does. Every person we invite to enter our story serves as another mirror, another perspective, another reflected angle. Honest community will always, unequivocally reveal the truest nature of our hearts, namely, our selfishness, and at an alarming rate at that.
It always seems simple in theory. If you ever did dorm-life, you might recall the massive build-up of anticipation in the days leading up to all the awesomeness that was sure to be your freshman year. If you’re anything like me, you spent countless hours daydreaming about your future roommate, this person shrouded in mystery who was all the exciting things you just knew you were sure to become. As your future wing-man, she would be funny and cute (but not too cute), trendy and active, and just about 5 pounds heavier than you, conveniently enough. Come to think of it, she was an awful lot like you.
And then, after about a week spent practically shoulder-to-shoulder with this person, who strangely enough never quite seemed to fit into the mold you had so carefully constructed for her, you start to notice things… like her unkempt side of the room that seems to be encroaching menacingly onto your side of the room, and her bizarre and not at all enjoyable taste in music, and the way she never seems to be able to turn off a light when she exits a room, and, and, and…
…and she is not the problem.
You are the problem.
And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
The unfortunate truth is that everyone desires to have community, the lovely, sparkly parts of it. The quixotically scripted “Friends” version of community. We all long for the best friend who just gets us inside and out. For a group of people we can depend on, who will be at our front door on a whim, even when it means dropping everything, just so that they might love us well and ensure we are not alone when we need to not be alone. But rarely do people want it at the price that it is afforded. Like when the coin flips and it’s our turn to inconvenience ourselves in order to meet the need of another. Or when the time comes for us to choose steadfast love amidst a rush of heightened emotions that are quick to assure us love is lost and compassion unjust. Or harder yet, when someone invites us to step into a mirrored room with them. One that will likely reveal some ugly fragments of our heart that we have left untouched, unkempt and uncorrected for far too long. When our impulses raise up defensiveness in us rather than humility. When we’re tempted to deflect blame. When we’re ready to jump ship, find another community, one where people will “understand” us better, accept and love us unconditionally, all the while accommodating our every need. Except, this is not really community at all, and it certainly isn’t love.
Rather, these are the precise moments when it is most crucial that we stay at the table.
That we stay in community.
That we hold our tongues and engage our ears.
I am by no means the poster child for the perfect roommate, or sorority sister, or wife, or what have you. Make no mistake, I have had people sit me down and speak words to me that were difficult to hear on numerous occasions. And knowing my stubborn heart, I am fully confident that the last time this happened to me will certainly not be the last time this happens to me. I can be cold and calculating, inconsiderate and quick to speak before I’ve really considered the weight and impact of my words. I’ve been told I come across as having life all figured out, and if you do it differently than I do, you are doing it all wrong. Words like this break me. I long to be a conduit of grace and instead find myself wielding my tongue like a weapon. And beyond that, I absolutely, positively, do not have it all together. Let’s go ahead and clear the air on that one. Feel free to confirm this with my therapist.
I believe one of the biggest misconceptions about community is the assumption that community just comes easy for “certain” people. For the extroverted, social-butterflies of the world.
Community is never easy. Not for anyone.
Worth it? Absolutely, 100%.
Far from it.
Furthermore, I would argue that some of the most miserable and unhealthy people in the world are those who live their lives out in isolation. They are also some of the most proud and self-righteous. But we are children called to a higher purpose. Life is about so much more than just being right all the time. Let us not live like that. Let us not live life avoiding mirrors and all the vulnerabilities implicit in community. The truth can hurt from time to time, but it’s refining, and being refined is usually a painful process. But like pruning back a garden, while you may not see the benefit immediately, or for several seasons even, in the end, it always yields the sweetest, healthiest, and most abundant fruit.
Community is not for the faint of heart, and yet, it is for everyone. We are all specifically fashioned to live life in this way. Granted, this doesn’t necessarily mean joining a sorority or having a million roommates, but it does mean investing, for the long haul, in something bigger than ourselves. Investing in a group of people with whom we can walk through life, through the ups and downs, the good and bad. People who aren’t afraid of mirrors and a little Truth Time, even when what’s reflected back isn’t always pretty.
Cayla is a city-dwelling, shower-singing, veggie devouring, conversation-seeking, community-embracing, Kingdom-building, Jesus-loving, 20-something year old young woman with a distinct affinity for words. She is a Kingdom dreamer on the journey of life, faith and the pursuit of joy. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon where she enjoys running the charming streets of the SE neighborhoods, savoring copious amounts of coffee and life-giving conversation with friends, cooking and eating really good food, reading, hosting dinner parties, meeting new people as well as intentionally investing in pre-established friendships, and then, immortalizing all of this and more in written word. As an introvert [albeit a highly social one] Cayla is energized by the life of the mind, and identifies closely with Anaïs Nin’s observation that we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. You can follow her work by reading her blog, or by connecting with her on Facebook.