Sometimes it takes a friend's difficult words to help us recognize and deal with hidden sins in our lives.
I hate it when I realize I'm ugly.
Not physically, but on the inside. I don't know why I'm surprised. Scripture is certainly clear on the ugliness of the sin nature. But it's easy enough to fool myself into thinking I've somehow slipped by — that I am just a truly nice person.
Then I'm reminded otherwise.
A couple of weeks ago, I was directing a skit for church, and my actors had met an hour before service for a final run-through. I watched in chagrin as the whole thing fell to shambles. One of my actors had lost his script and didn't know his lines. And my co-leader, Audrey, was blanking on her part and kept having to start over. The pastor looked on with a worried expression. A diehard perfectionist, I felt frustration welling up inside at my team's lack of preparation.
I wish I could say things got better, but predictably, Audrey panicked during the performance and forgot her lines. The rest of the team limped through the remainder of the skit. The performance was less than I had hoped for.
My younger siblings will tell you about "the look," an expression that has gained mythic proportions in my family. "The look" is the facial expression of pure disgust that I generate when family members are not meeting my expectations. It has been known to paralyze my younger sister's confidence in a single glare and convince my brother he's worthless. But that's family.
That night, as my actors stumbled through rehearsal, "the look" went out in full force. And as Audrey came off stage after the performance, she apologized for forgetting her lines. I mustered an unconvincing, "It's OK," but my expression communicated the opposite.
After church Audrey approached me and asked if we could talk. In frankness, she told me she had felt demeaned by "the look." She explained that she had practiced her part all week and had simply suffered a moment of stage fright. She pointed out how my negative demeanor during practice had affected the confidence of the whole group.
After hearing Audrey's charge against me, I immediately wanted to justify my actions and point out that she was also to blame. After all, she'd forgotten her lines. But as I kept my mouth shut and listened, the Lord whispered gentle conviction. I had let my desire for perfection — for the purpose of making me look good — come before the feelings of people. My look, and the attitude behind it, had been intended to make my team members feel shame for their failure. Instead of showing grace, I had sought to make them pay.
My stomach tightened with that sick feeling I get when I've been caught at my ugliest and realize my sin has affected another person. I apologized and asked for Audrey's forgiveness, which she freely gave. By the end of our conversation we were laughing and planning to meet for coffee.
As I drove home, I confessed my sin to the Lord. I thanked him for Audrey's boldness to confront me. As much as the rebuke hurt, I knew Audrey had delivered it in love and concern for our relationship.
In the weeks that followed, I related the experience to several of my closest friends. As I told them about "the look," they would nod and smile knowingly. I was slightly taken aback, but curious. Under further questioning, my friends admitted that they had also witnessed "the look" of freezing disapproval. Although I had known my perfectionist tendencies, I was unaware that my facial expressions were affecting many of my relationships.
Window of Opportunity
In college I learned about "Johari's Window." The window, a square with four quadrants, is a self-awareness tool. The first quadrant represents open area — the things you know about yourself and others know about you. The second quadrant represents your blind spots — things others know about you that you don't know about yourself. The third section represents the hidden area — things you know about yourself that you have not disclosed to others. And the fourth quadrant represents the unknown area — things neither you nor others know about you.
I think many times I fail to consider that there are things others see in me that I can't see in myself. Often these "second quadrant" things are negative characteristics. Blind spots may include things as simple as non-verbal characteristics, such as lack of eye contact, or as serious as sinful behaviors, such as pride or gossip. These blind spots have the ability to hinder relationships or even damage a witness.
As believers we are to be above reproach. How often have you heard a non-believer complain about a Christian he knew who was a jerk? Perhaps this impression could have been prevented had someone told "Mr. Jerky Christian" how others perceived him.
Breaking the Cycle
The first step in ridding yourself of ugly blind spots is to invite feedback. People want to be nice. But your friends aren't doing you a favor by ignoring your less-than-pleasing characteristics.
Offering correction is risky to a relationship, and most people would rather not attempt it. Although many of my friends had experienced "the look," only Audrey had the boldness to bring it up. When I asked my friends about it directly, however, they openly offered gentle, helpful critique.
Scripture is full of examples of accountability. Nathan came to David to rebuke him for committing adultery and murder — a pretty major blind spot in David's life! The Proverbs are peppered with verses that say a wise man cherishes rebuke.
Proverbs 27:5-6 is a good example: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses."
Those who love you are the best to offer critique. To avoid living with glaring blind spots, regularly ask those you trust to give insight into your life and point out areas that need improvement.
Then be prepared for criticism. When I began asking my friends to share how they perceived me, part of me hoped they would give me a pat on the back and reassure me that my behavior was understandable. When they didn't, I was hurt. Words like "uncooperative" and "critical" caused my defenses to rise. But as I forced myself to listen and consider their perspectives, I recognized attitudes in myself that did need correction.
Of course there are times when a person's criticism of you may be unfounded, but ask the Holy Spirit to show you the truth in what they're saying. Even if a complaint is invalid, a humble attitude and loving spirit will allow you to be Christ-like.
Once a blind spot has been revealed, take action and change.
In the month since Audrey clued me in about how I was coming across, I have applied this knowledge to other groups and relationships with good results. I completely resolved an ongoing personality conflict, for example, by owning up to my faults and approaching this person with a humble attitude.
I'm also more aware of controlling my facial expressions. When I find myself in a stressful or potentially frustrating situation, I focus on keeping a pleasant demeanor. As I've used this new technique, I notice people responding positively, which eases tension.
I have also learned that I need to constantly ask the Lord to reveal areas where I need improvement. When I do, He is faithful to convict me where I need it. This doesn't mean I should be paranoid or beat myself up over my shortcomings. Through faith in Christ, I am a new creation and can rise above sinful tendencies.
Hebrews offers this encouragement: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Hebrews 12:5-6). I need to remember that rebuke is a sign that the Lord is refining me and removing impurities.
It hurts to be confronted with my ugliness. But as I've discovered, these painful moments can also be a catalyst for change. I'll never be a truly nice person. I suspect I'll still give "the look" in moments of weakness. But as I deal with blind spots and as I continue inviting loved ones to help me better see those blind spots, I can be confident that I'll come out looking more like Christ.
Copyright 2005 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.