Seeing someone in a crowd that reminds you of a friend or an acquaintance is not that uncommon of an experience. Perhaps it is because we are always looking, hoping for some sort of connection. More often than not, we are drawn to people who are most like ourselves because it gives us something in common that we can relate to. It gives us a foundation on which we can build and make more connections.
A couple of decades ago, I had an experience that seemed a little odd and unexpected. The situation was unique in that the occurrence had not happened before and has not happened since. I was at Disneyland with my parents and we were navigating a crowd of people near New Orleans Square to get in line for the next ride. As I was walking, I saw a maintenance worker dressed in white walking with a broom and dustpan. I stopped for a moment, taken aback. As I watched him, I thought to myself, “He looks just like me!” It was almost like looking in a mirror, or as close to it as I had ever experienced with a stranger.
Seeing this man caused me to ask some additional questions. “Do I walk that way? Is that how I look to other people? I wonder what he is like.” His appearance wasn’t identical but it was close enough that it had a strong effect on me. The image is still clear in my mind.
When you see a person who bears a resemblance to someone who is familiar to you, the type of relationship you have determines the reaction. If I were a criminal who had just robbed a store, recognizing someone may not be a good thing. Instead of hope, I might have pangs of fear. But, if I were to see a close friend that I hadn’t seen for many years, I may wish to become reacquainted. Had I been the robber, I may have been relieved to find out the person was not the security officer I expected. Or, seeing the person I thought to be my friend, I might be disappointed that the resemblance was only that, and not the actual acquaintance. Still, the memory of that friend may warm my heart with gratitude, if only in remembrance. It may also give me reason to look a little more.
Generally, I believe we tend to find what we are looking for. There are exceptions to this rule as we happen upon something wonderful that is unlooked for. Call it serendipity or providence, I believe there is room for both and they are usually discernable. Yet, if we have faith in God, I believe we tend to look for the fruits of our faith. We expect good things to happen. If we are watching, we will recognize more of God’s influence in our lives, and we will have more to be grateful for. This is one case where believing is seeing.
Separate from appearances, there are other times when I happen to meet someone in the crowd of humanity that seems very familiar. In many ways our meeting is like looking in a mirror. We may not appear the same, have similar genetics, or even be the same gender, but there is something else, deeper than appearances, with a striking resemblance. Almost instantly, something resonates clearly and I am left to ponder why. I can’t say I have lots of answers, but I am very grateful for those connections. I have found those associations to be powerful and beautiful.
When you see a person who more than resembles someone you know, and is someone you know, the type of relationship you have with that person also determines the reaction. Quickly we make a judgment. “Is this someone I want to engage in conversation or avoid? Do I have pangs of fear, or do I want to become reacquainted? Is this relationship more meaningful or less meaningful?” I don’t believe there are right or wrong answers, but our answers reveal much about our hearts. It is easier to want to be with people with whom you feel you share something in common.
Since my heart is the truest indicator of who I am, it is my heart that I want to purify. I want to be my best self and not just a shadow of what I can be. I want to take out the trash rather than collect it. The air is much fresher to breathe and I am at ease when I am not surrounded by garbage that builds up over time. I can put many things in my heart – be it fear or faith, love or anger, pride or humility – but once those things are there, they are not easily removed. All matter has gravity, and while the gravity of the earth is strong, I believe gravity of the heart is stronger.
A mirror can be quite useful. It gives a reflection of who we are and what we are like, at least on the outside. Like our hearts, a mirror is very revealing. It shows our admirable qualities and our blemishes. It is not always easy to take the full package and say, “It is what it is.” True, I am what I am, but it is also true that I can change. Even a mirror will show that much over time.
Emotions we associate with our mirrors can also speak volumes about our hearts. Some may love to look in a mirror to admire their own qualities. Some may look in the mirror for hours to improve how they appear. Others may be afraid to look at their reflection because they know what they will see, wishing they were different. Some may not be satisfied with what they see and yet do not feel empowered to change. Some may choose to look at a mirror with indifference, believing there are more important things than self. They are neither enamored nor afraid. Occasionally it may happen that some will look in the mirror and just be grateful. I suspect there are days in which we all look at our hearts they way we look at mirrors with a variety of emotions and expressions. A mirror is a funny place for pulling faces.
The concept of self is an interesting paradox. It is helpful to know where you are to know where you are not. We need to acknowledge self enough to be aware, but not so much that we are distracted. If I have some sense of where my heart is by how my desires are reflected in my actions, I can determine where I need to change. But, if I focus on myself too much in the mirror, I will also miss the import of what needs to be cleaned up. The heart is an excellent place to examine the qualities and blemishes of our intent. This leads me to a probing question, “As a disciple of Jesus Christ, how can I use my heart and my mirror to help me lose self?” A mirror used to see myself is less useful than a mirror that is used to see the Savior.
The prophet Alma, after having taught about being spiritually reborn, offers a few important questions to consider. Speaking of the Lord he asked, “Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? ... I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:14, 19) In order to be a true disciple and be spiritually reborn, we must tie our actions to our faith. Our intent will be reflected in what we do. More importantly, this change of heart cannot be temporarily received, it must be engraved if we hope to keep it. Thus if we look in the mirror and begin to see the Savior, Jesus Christ, reflected in our hearts, our intent, and our actions, we can know that a mighty change is beginning to increase our faith. This is the start, or the birth, of our spiritual growth.
Just as spiritual rebirth begins in the heart, spiritual growth continues to flow from the heart. It is the heart that needs to be mirrored. Losing self can be best accomplished by reflecting the will of God in our own will. As we change our hearts and our desires to match His, we become one with God. Jesus prayed for this as He met with His apostles at the Last Supper. Speaking to the Father, He said, “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:19-21)
Speaking of the prophet Enoch and his people, Moses said, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness….” (Moses 7:18) If we wish to be among the Lord’s people, we need to bridle our desires and our passions and align them with the Lord’s will. When we learn to control the instruments for personal revelation – the mind and the heart – and direct them towards the Lord, then we grow spiritually. It is then that we become one with God.
The Lord revealed this same principle to Joseph Smith, speaking of our focus. He said, “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:67-68) If we will turn our eyes, and our hearts, so that they are single to God’s glory, he will fill our souls with light. As we are filled, the light will chase the darkness from us. The Holy Spirit will be able to sanctify our hearts just as Jesus prayed. When that mighty change is complete, when we see Him, we will be like Him, because His image will be graven in our countenances.
Paul also taught, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, … fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let … each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)
So much depends on love. Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently taught, “Love is what inspired our Heavenly Father to create our spirits; it is what led our Savior to the Garden of Gethsemane to make Himself a ransom for our sins. Love is the grand motive of the plan of salvation; it is the source of happiness, the ever-renewing spring of healing, the precious fountain of hope.
“As we extend our hands and hearts toward others in Christlike love, something wonderful happens to us. Our own spirits become healed, more refined, and stronger. We become happier, more peaceful, and more receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.” (You Are My Hands)
If we wish to become like Jesus, then we must be willing to love like Jesus. We can lose “self” by loving people as our “self”. Then my purpose for looking in the mirror is not to see how becoming I am, but to see how I am becoming like the Savior Jesus Christ.
More often than not, we are drawn to people who are most like ourselves because it gives us something in common that we can relate to. As we draw near to the Savior, we have much more in common with those who are not like us because we begin to feel His love for them. It’s His love that we share in common. Then, as we look in the mirror, hopefully we see less of our own selves and more of His image.
This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.