To remove a tumor from the cheek of a young woman, Surgeon Richard Selzer had no choice but to sever a facial nerve near her mouth. Which gave her lips an unnatural curve. And reshaped her mouth. He describes her husband’s response.
"Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. Dr. Selzer answers ‘Yes’. Explaining why.
"She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It’s kind of cute.” I understand and I lower my gaze. Unmindful of me, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth. I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the angels sometimes appeared in Bible times as mortals, and I hold my breath and wonder”.
This pure selfless kiss says more to me about love than all the books in the world. Just think what it said to her. His kiss communicated what words could never say. It said ‘It’s you I love. And you’re still you.’ A message her heart needed to hear.
To grieve her loss is not a sign of vanity. It's natural to care about how she looks. But my guess is she felt a much deeper concern. One we could all identify with.
“Will you still love me if I change? If I lose my beauty? Will I still be beautiful to you? Or will you look at me the way I look at me right now? Because what I see when I look at me is not what I want to see. Nor is it what I want you to see.”
And her husband? “He twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” She's naturally concerned for her appearance. How she looks. But his concern is her. How this affects her. How she feels. So he does what love does. He lets her know it hasn't changed how he sees her or how he feels.
Maybe you've never had a surgery that altered your appearance. But is there any event or moment that changed the way you see yourself? Something you did or failed to do? Something others did or didn't do? Words said to you or about you?
As a man who wrestles with insecurity, I must admit that I’ve been most influenced not by what God thinks of me. Nor what I think of me. Nor what others think of me. It’s what I think others think of me that tends to shape the way I look at myself.
That’s especially true of my Dad. I saw me as I thought he did. I later learned I was wrong. While his story affects mine, I won’t blame him for my issues. I must own them. Years later, he owned his. We became dear friends. Which I always wanted.
I wanted to please Dad more than anything. Which meant meeting his standards. But I couldn’t. I never really knew what the standard was. Until I failed to meet it.
One day, Dad was working under the car and asked me to get a certain wrench. I brought him the wrong one. Three times. I could feel his anger starting to boil. Since he was under the car, I didn't want him have to get out and find it himself. On my 4th trip downstairs I begged God, “Help me know which one he means!”
I didn’t find it. He stormed down the stairs, quickly grabbing the correct wrench. He never struck me. But the look on his face and the words he said left a bruise in my soul. “Can’t you do anything right!?” With an emphasis on the word ‘anything’.
It hurt. Yet I thought "He's right. I can’t do anything right! No wonder I can't please him." Both lies. Yet it sure felt true to a 10 yr. old boy who seldom 'did it right'. Every failure since has just reinforced what my Dad said. ‘I can’t do anything right’.
I learned two things that day. What matters most in life is doing things right. I also learned this. I can't do anything right. So I can't do what matters most. At least not what mattered to Dad. So how do I please him? Which is all that mattered to me.
This is one of the reasons I wrestle with insecurity, self-doubt and a fear of failure.
Yet I can’t blame Dad for my view of me. I believed a lie. Not Dad's. Satan's. Even after hearing the truth. Even after Dad's sincere apology and genuine affirmation. I chose Dad's rash words as my truth. For that I'm responsible. But if I'm to grow up, I am also responsible to test what feels true. Is the me I see the me God sees?
Tim Keller says a worldview is how we see the world. ‘It’s a set of beliefs so basic to you that you’re hardly aware of them. You don’t look at them as much as you look through them. Like a pair of glasses, they determine how you see the world.’
My view of me matters. Yet it's so embedded in my subconscious, I’m rarely aware of it. Like my glasses. Yet just like my glasses, it affects how I see everything else.
We all have a picture of ourselves. A self-portrait. But is my view of me true of me? I want to see the me God sees. Yet I can't with these eyes. All I see is what I'm not. It's as if I laid my sad self-portrait over His original masterpiece. And called it ‘me’.
So just what was my self-portrait? And where did I get this picture of what I’m like? Basically, I saw myself the way my Dad did. Correction: the way I thought he did.
The kid who ‘can’t do anything right’. With a long track record of failure, it felt true. So if I can’t meet Dad’s expectations of me, nor mine, how can I ever meet God’s? There is nothing I wanted more than to please God. Yet I didn’t see how I could.
Did you notice my view of God? I assumed God looks at me as Dad did. I felt the same expectation from God I felt from Dad. The same disappointment if I blew it. The lies I believed altered my view of everything. Especially God, Dad and myself.
All I saw in me is what I’m not. Unable to appreciate who I am. How could I when I measure who I am by what I do and what I do isn't good enough? This is who I saw in the mirror. A boy who just can't 'get it right'. A disappointment. A failure.
So how did I get this view of me? How did my lenses get so distorted? Reasons vary for all of us. But here's the one that affects me most. I’ve already hinted at it.
If someone important to me, who I love and respect, shames, ignores or rejects me, I’ll likely question my worth. And the younger I am, the more likely I’ll believe them. I’ll look at me in the same way I think they do. Perhaps for the rest of my life.
Unless someone else shows up who sees me differently. If I find them trustworthy, their view of me is one thing that can make me question mine. They expose the lies of my accuser. And show me the real me. The me God sees when He sees me.
This is my story. Someone who matters a lot to me convinced me I matter to them.
A story I'll share in the next post. Along with a sweet ending to my wrench story. I'd like to say I believed the truth once I heard it. But I didn't. Truth is hard to hold on to if it doesn’t feel true. Like a compliment on the day you feel least beautiful.
Let me close by telling the end of the story before you hear it. It doesn’t end with Super Saint leaving a phone booth. Without any weakness. Immune to kryptonite. My weaknesses are still alive and well. I still can’t find the right wrench. But it's OK. It's not what matters. To God or me. I've never felt so weak yet never felt so loved.
I still ask 'Will I always be this way?' The answer's still 'Yes'. He still hasn’t ‘fixed’ my 'issues'. But He's shown me they don't define me, nor change His view of me. And His unchanging view is what's changing mine. I still don’t like being weak. Yet I'm glad I am. My weak spot is where I usually meet Him and where I feel most loved.
It's as if He's trying to show me that our 'kiss still works'.
NEXT POST: ‘The Me I See’ Question for Reflection: Do you see you as God sees you? Let Him show you you!