Mirrors reflect reality. In our spiritual journey God uses many things to mirror to us the reality of our heart. The book unChristian is a mirror (a full-length mirror, at that) to the Christian church. It reflects not only external realities but also the truth of our heart. As the church, we are called to notice all the details that we find displayed on the full-length mirror in front of us.
Adrian Van Kaam offers three distinctions regarding how we might respond to exposure of our heart: willlessness, willfulness, and willingness.1 When the mirror reflects hypocrisy, lack of care, hostility toward others, ignorance, polarization, and judgment, those who are will-less see these blemishes and despair of such reality. They feel hopelessly incapable of enacting any change. They may even avert their eyes from the mirror and convince themselves that what they saw was an illusion.
Those who are willful see the painful image and act by trumping up their intellect, strength, and creativity. They talk about what they can do to fix what they see, and they might come up with a program to solve the problem. They may be truly concerned about what they see, but their solution is to look within themselves for change.
Lastly, those who are willing see the painful reality and bring to God the truth of what is being exposed. Willing persons acknowledge the truth of what they see and respond by saying, “In light of this, I need you, Father.” They embrace the spiritual disciplines of honesty and confession in prayerful reflection. They discern with God the true condition of their heart. In view of their brokenness, they acknowledge that apart from God there is nothing they can do to solve the problem.
As we open these places of sin and brokenness to God, we experience his love and truth and discover his presence with us. As a result, we can begin to be, as Henri Nouwen says, wounded healers. Having discovered God’s love in the truth of our own brokenness, we approach “outsiders” differently. This may lead us to respond to “outsiders” in honesty and confession as well. I suspect we will also respond with a new heart to the sin and brokenness of these outsiders. A heart that is being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit is marked by his qualities of integrity, love, gentleness, thoughtfulness, embrace, and forgiveness, and outsiders will notice such fruits of the Spirit’s work.
My hope is that we will embrace the process of transformation that must take place and recognize that change within the church is not a bullet-point list of action steps, but a messy journey because our heart is sick and its healing is ultimately outside our control. The Holy Spirit is the true agent of change. We are called to open the unhealthy places of our heart to the purging that is necessary, rather than attempting to add virtuous character qualities to what is sick. Our first move, then, is not avoiding or fixing, but willingly embracing honesty and confession in opening to whatever God has for us in the truth that is being revealed.