Eyeing up a splendidly colourful shirt in the shop window, I decided to investigate further. The ‘ding’ of the doorbell announced my entrance and I was greeted by a chap who’d begun his day by pouring himself into skinny jeans that were surely restricting his circulation. Smiling, he looked me up and down. “Good morning, sir. Looking for something a little more trendy, are we?” Resisting the temptation to flee, I affirmed my interest in the psychedelic shirt. Emboldened because the item was on sale, and brushing aside any concern that I might look like Joseph with his famous coat of many colours, I emerged from the store wearing my new purchase.
Throughout the rest of that day, people complimented me on my fashion choice, although one or two smirked as they did so. Was the shirt a bit too much, I wondered?
Arriving home, my wife, Kay, put on sunglasses in response to my dazzling attire – and then burst out laughing as I did a twirl to model my new look. Apparently the lean sales assistant had forgotten to remove a very large label from the back of the shirt, and so I had spent the day sporting a tag that read: “Massively reduced – won’t last long!”
Others had seen something about me that was screamingly obvious, but I hadn’t noticed it myself.
It happens all the time, often at a much more serious level. There’s that chatty friend who dominates every conversation by talking about themself, outlining in agonising detail stories about where they have been, who they have met, and what their future plans are. When they finally pause for breath and someone seizes the opportunity to share something, their response is predictable: “Oh, that happened to me too! Let me tell you about it…”
Sometimes this lack of self awareness morphs into something more sinister, as we harshly criticise others for doing what we do all the time. I watched in horror as a senior church leader berated his staff for always being late for meetings, apparently unaware of what they were all thinking. Being unpunctual was his own continuous habit and, ironically, he’d been 20 minutes late for the gathering in which he rebuked everyone.
In a teaching style reminiscent of Monty Python, Jesus painted a portrait of a hapless chap who runs around with a magnifying glass, mustard keen to identify specks of sawdust in the eyes of others but oblivious to the whacking great plank that sticks out of his own head (Matthew 7:3-5). Apparently this ‘log’ in Jesus’ day would have been the main support for a house, which would have made it about twelve metres long; a significant protrusion.
If we’re to avoid this self myopia, we need friends who can tell us what we don’t want to hear about ourselves. And more positively, they can also help us discover what’s right with us as well as. We can be just as oblivious to the positive aspects of who we are. Our worst moments of regret or shame can blind us to the good work that God has done in shaping our character. When we’re looking to identify our spiritual gifts, those closest can help us discover our God given strengths as well as our human fragilities.
There was another smile to come on the day I bought that super-loud shirt. Kay, who had jokingly donned sunglasses when she saw it, later spent 20 frustrated minutes searching for them. It turns out they were parked on top of her head. She just hadn’t noticed.