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Looking In The Mirror

When we are young, we are beautiful people. We are lithe and fast and strong. We climb, we jump we run and our bodies are seemingly elastic. I recall doing things, like jumping from a tree limb, scaling a wall, and other things that; if I did them today, would land me in the emergency room. It’s just incredible what a young body can do.

And…they look good too! It’s why as we grow into adolescents, we look in the mirror so much. The human body in its youthful form is incredibly beautiful. God knew what he was doing when he made us to grow into our youth. In form, our bodies are strong and long and lean. Young men admire a young woman and young women stare wantonly at muscular young men. AND IT’S FUN TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR! I told my son Isaac once,

“Dude, really enjoy your strong body, because the older you get, the more your body will limit you; regardless of how much you stay in shape.”

He kind of stared at me for a few moments while a smirk formed on his face and laughed and said, “Well, thanks for helping me to look forward to that!” I laughed too…what a wet blanket I was!

A publication I read once did a study about selfies that stated while all age groups take self-pictures known as “selfies”, the younger the person, the more the selfies by a significant margin. Although I see plenty of older people placing “selfies” online too.

You’ve seen it… Youth looks good and they like taking pictures of themselves. If I would have had a cell phone with a great camera on it, I would have taken a bunch of selfies in my youth. I’ll be you would have too.

I’m not convinced it is all vanity. You know, I can be as judgmental as the next person, but I want to say that part of the appeal of being young is the ability to attract others and thus propagate the species. Beauty is the attraction of youth. It’s the strong suit…the dominant characteristic that unfortunately we define ourselves by in our younger years. Tragically; however, when we are not so lovely according to the fickle crowd in a society that highly prizes beauty, it is too easy to withdraw and judge ourselves as worthless.

Part of the reason the Holy Spirit wants to interrupt our lives is because as we age, we are able to relate to them and share how God has become so central to us as we have aged past those years of youth.

You remember those days…don’t you? Maybe you were young pretty and popular or maybe you were not the “homecoming queen” and less attractive. God wants to use whatever experience you had in your youth to reach the people He brings your way. The question is, “Will you be ready for Him to use you?”

Janis Ian in the 1970’s wrote THE song that hauntingly tells the story of a girl who understood the value of being young and beautiful called, “At Seventeen”.

“I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say “Come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems
At seventeen…”[i]

In this song, Ian describes the pain of a self-described “ugly duckling girl” who was deeply affected by not being able to define herself as beautiful. Her words cut us to the core, when she says,

“To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball.”

As I have grown older, suffice it to say, I look in the mirror less and less. It’s because the outward features we fawned over in youth fade in our age. In fact, I believe as we age, we begin to see the REAL person we are… revealed. If we relied on our looks in our youth, but failed to develop the inner person, we discover a void, and an emptiness of character emerges. This is broad brush analysis, and I don’t mean to generalize, but what I wish to point out is that, as we age, we begin to discover other, more enduring qualities that perhaps have been hidden beneath the good looks and popularity that are far more interesting and infinitely more attractive than our fading exterior. I passed by the mirror the other day and said, “Hey, what are YOU doing in my house!” It was as if some stranger was staring back at me in the mirror.

We have all heard about “grumpy old people,” but, I refuse to generalize them just as I refuse to generalize about youth. Not all older people are grumpy. But I DO believe that the reactions of our personalities as we age are either the result of learning wisdom from our experiences in life, or harboring resentment because of them.

From youth and naivete, we grow to understand about being used by others. We learn during the season of raising children, our own selfishness and; if we are submitted to God, we allow Him to change our inner person to one that seeks the best in others. As grow older, we begin to value the contributions of our parents into our lives, and those of others who helped us to mature.

As our children leave the nest, we begin to value our grandchildren and hope to grow into a mentoring role for others. The visits to the mirror become less frequent, and even when we do visit, we no longer admire the reflection for it’s attractive qualities. Rather, if; when we look into the mirror there is kindness in the eyes, joy on the face and peace in our brow, it compensates for ANY wrinkle or weight gain. That’s because whereas in youth we wear our beauty on the outside, in our older years, the beauty of what is inside comes shining through, just as God has designed it.

Also I have thankfully noticed that the Lord uses me in the lives of young people to encourage and love them. He uses the frailties and mistakes I have made in life to encourage them to do better than I did.

It is how redemption works. God takes our biggest messes and uses them like a flashing light to help others avoid the same blunders. The more we expose our frailties; believe it or not, the more useful we become to others. We show the “cracks” in our aging vessels and tell the story of how we got each and every one of them

Let me encourage you to embrace where you are in life. Let others benefit from your life experiences.

This is the season of mentoring, the season of elding. We are elders, and we can demonstrate to those younger than us, how God uses “Cracked Pots,” like the author of the book of the same name says. I may not look into the mirror much anymore, but I pray that the fractures in my pottery can be useful and show more of Jesus and less of me. Don’t hide your imperfections, use them to show that character developed in youth is what will truly be beautiful later in life.

[i] At Seventeen lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC- Janis Ian © 1976 All Rights Reserved

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