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The face in the mirror

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Unfortunately, as we grow up and older, the mirror often becomes a source of self-criticism and disappointment.


When my granddaughter Alice was just months old, she would lie on a blanket, surrounded by a plastic toy structure that had colorful objects hanging from it. When the structure was jiggled, things would twirl and rattle.

But the best part, a plastic mirror, hung from the center so Alice could see her own reflection. The baby in that mirror delighted Alice, who would smile and coo at it.

Her face would become animated, and so would the baby in the mirror. She would try to "talk" to that adorable baby, and the baby would talk right back. Alice loved her reflection. That baby was the best.

It was funny to watch, but some mornings when I stumble out of bed and confront my early morning reflection in the bathroom mirror, I think about Alice's mirror in a more sober light. Ruffled pajamas, no makeup, bed hair angling in every direction, wrinkles accentuated by the bright bathroom lights: How delighted am I with my reflection?

And on a deeper level, how delighted am I with that person I confront each morning?

I wonder how old a little girl in our society is before she's disappointed with the face in the mirror. I remember my daughters being infatuated by their own reflections even after they were old enough to realize they were looking at themselves. When they began sneaking into my makeup, bright slashes of lipstick smeared across their little faces, they still found the mirror a source of delight.

Unfortunately, as we grow up and older, the mirror often becomes a source of self-criticism and disappointment.

Am I fat? Is my nose too large? Is my skin breaking out? Do I like these freckles? Is my curly hair too curly, or why is my hair so straight? And most important, do I conform to the false standards of beauty that are imposed by social media influencers, television ads, magazines?

Do I love that person in the mirror? Or am I disappointed on a deeper level?

Because this is more than just a question about physical attributes. It speaks to the basic spiritual concept, as Pope Francis often reminds us, that we are "loved sinners."

We are loved immensely by the Creator who made us. Our God loves us with the same delight that Alice loves that baby in the mirror. God loves his creation and so should we. If we don't, we're disrespecting God.

Why is this such a basic spiritual concept? Because we are, all of us, sinners, and that part of the equation can weigh us down if we forget the first part, that God loves us unconditionally. God is so much bigger than our sin.

As we grow older, we have wonderful memories but also regrets. Sometimes the regrets grow deeper as we age, and it's a temptation -- a temptation from the evil one -- to dwell on those things, the "coulda, woulda, shoulda brothers," as someone once put it.

Dwelling on past sins prevents us from exploring God's desire for us this day. It's an impediment to our spiritual growth moving forward.

Think of how often we worry about how people see us. And yet, some of the most joyful people are the ones who are least obsessed by their appearance and least consumed by regret. We can't go back to being like Alice, entirely free of regrets and self-image issues, but we can strive to look beyond our failings.

A spiritual practice we might find helpful is looking at our early morning reflections and saying our first prayer of the day: Thank you.

- Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.

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