There is a great paradox that exists deep inside nearly every one of us. We want to know the truth about ourselves, and we want very much not to know the truth about ourselves. We both seek and resist awareness about the reality of who we are. John Ortberg does a great job pointing this paradox out in his book Everybody’s Normal until you Know Them.
Start with the truth about our bodies. We buy scales and mirrors and pants with measured waists to tell us the truth about the condition of our bodies, and then we avoid, argue with, or get rid of them when we don’t like the truth they tell.
The problem with a scale is that it’s hard to finesse. We try. Many people (particularly people of a certain gender that shall remain nameless) approach a scale with extreme caution. They take off their shoes before they get on it; in many cases they want as much privacy as a confessional booth. They will only get on during a certain time of the day – usually in the morning, before having eaten and after having gone to the bathroom. They remove whatever clothing they may be wearing as well as jewelry, hair accessories, loose tooth fillings, and heavy lipstick before they get on it. They exhale before looking at the numbers.
It turns out, experts tell us, that scales are not the most accurate tools to reveal the truth about our physical condition. (Good news – perhaps I’m in better shape than I thought.) not far from our house is a facility that for a modest fee will measure the fat content in your body by having you expel all the breath out of your body and sit in a chair underwater until you can see an image of Jesus coming at the end of a long tunnel of white light.
Ken Davis says he has invented a less expensive (free!) method for measuring fat content:
Next time you get out of a shower, grab a stopwatch and stand in front of a full-length mirror totally naked. Start the watch and stamp your foot on the floor as hard as you can. When stuff stops moving, punch the watch and check the time.
I’m down to two days, three hours, and six minutes.
We try to finesse mirrors, too. Savvy department stores have people try on clothes in front of mirrors where the lighting is so dim that customers can’t see any blemishes or wrinkles at all and in fact can barely make out their own features. The goal is to convince them that the clothes have smoothed their complexion and taken years off their appearance.
Our clothes, too, try to tell us the truth about our bodies, but we find ways around that as well. Clever marketers now sell clothes with wonderful euphemisms like “relaxed fit” jeans. The idea is that the fabric is so relaxed that it can be worn by someone two or three sizes larger than the one printed on the label. One entrepreneur said he was going to start a store called “Size Two” and have every garment in the place up to size of a pup tent say “Size 2” on the label on the theory that women don’t care what size their clothes really are as long as the number on the label is small.
Scales and mirrors are tools of accountability. They tell us about reality. We can try to outsmart them if we want, but if we allow them to, they will reveal the truth.
Community is a place to get on the scale. I don’t know if you need an instrument to tell you how many pounds you’ve gained or a tape measure to tell you how many inches you’ve added, but I know this: Every one of us needs a few people to tell us the truth about our hearts and souls. We all have weak spots and blind spots that we cannot navigate on our own. We need someone to remind us of our deepest aspirations and values and to warn us when we may be getting off track. We need someone to help us question our motives and examine our consciences.
We need someone to perform spiritual surgery on us when our hearts get hard and our vision gets dim. We need a few Truth-Tellers.[i]
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
Question: It was stated, “There is a great paradox that exists deep inside nearly every one of us. We want to know the truth about ourselves, and we want very much not to know the truth about ourselves. We both seek and resist awareness about the reality of who we are.” Why do you think this is?
Question: Why do people sometimes shy away from wanting to know the truth about themselves?
[i] Ibid. John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, 170-171.