Eye of the Beholder

A few years ago a young woman named Evy McDonald was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and told she had a year to live. As her body deteriorated, so did her self-image. She would sit in front of a mirror in her wheelchair and look at herself with disgust. But instead of hiding from her disease, Evy decided to face it. Every day she forced herself to sit in front of the mirror and study her body.

After a while she was able to pick out certain parts of her body that were, despite everything, still acceptable to her. “My hair is truly pretty,” she would observe. “I have lovely hands.” “My bright eyes and warm smile light up my face.”

To her amazement, the sessions in front of the mirror gradually became enjoyable. She discovered beauty that she had not noticed before, not even before her illness. But the most striking result of her sessions was that in time she made peace, not just with the healthy parts of her body but also with the weak parts.

“I couldn’t pinpoint just when the shift occurred,” Evy wrote in a newsletter of the Canadian Holistic Healing Association, “but one day I noticed that I had no negative thoughts about my body. I could look in the mirror at my naked reflection and be honestly awed by its beauty. I was totally at peace, with a complete, unalterable acceptance of the way my body was – a bowl of jello in a wheelchair.”

Evy McDonald’s story recalls a comment by the psychologist Carl Jung. He once said how much he admired Christians because they saw Christ in the poor, in those who are hungry, naked, in the hospital, and in prison. What he could not understand was that they could not see Christ in their own poverty.

Jung wrote, “The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

“But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved…?”

To deny or to reject any part of ourselves is to miss a meeting with Christ. The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “That part of yourself which you most hate, that part of yourself which you are most afraid of, that part of yourself which you most reject, that poor oppressed man within, that poor little woman within…holds your greatest gift.”

If we have the courage to look long and honestly at our naked selves, Christ will teach us to love what is poor and helpless in ourselves. We will find beauty and grace in unexpected places. Looking at our image in the mirror, we will recognize the perfectly lovely image of our perfectly loving God.

This article was originally published in Liguorian September 1990, reprinted with permission from Liguorian, One Liguori Drive, Liguori, MO 63057.