“I am not who I think I am.
I am not who you think I am.
I am what I think that you think I am.” 

This is called the looking-glass concept of self. We see ourselves in the eyes of others. If we are loved, we know ourselves as lovable. If we are praised, we see ourselves as talented. If others believe in us, we gain ambition to reach our goals. 

Like so much psychological lore in our modern age, it is both true and dangerous. It is so true that St. Paul makes it the key assertion of his Epistle to the Romans. No matter what befalls us in life, St. Paul says that “we are more than conquerors because of him (Jesus) who has loved us” (Rom 8:37). This truth is dangerous because our psychological age seems to produce so much self-centeredness. We worry so much about ourselves, place so much emphasis on our self-development that we forget about others, about God and make ourselves miserable. 

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Christians should be happy, but many are not. One year at our annual clergy retreat in October at Manresa Retreat House in Convent, La., Father Mark Link SJ a nationally famous retreat master and writer, said, “If you believe that God loves you, and focus on the good part of yourself, you have it made.” But then, why aren’t there more happy Christians? 

Perhaps it is a question of grace. We can’t grace ourselves. Grace can only come from others, ultimately from God, but often from God through others. Others are our looking glass, and God’s love shown to us by them is what makes us happy. In today’s terminology that is called affirmation. 

Jesus was a master of affirmation. He looked at a bunch of smelly fisherman and said, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” He showed his disciples what they could really be what God wanted them to be, and they sought that pearl of great price for the rest of their lives. 

Jesus taught affirmation, not self-affirmation, but affirmation of others. He called us to be affirmative looking glasses for others, especially the young. Psychology has the right theme; it is just too me-centered. Jesus didn’t teach his disciples to help themselves; he taught them to help others. 

We can learn from the way Jesus treated his disciples. He believed in their goodness. Jesus told St. Peter, “You are the rock.” St. Peter did not act like a rock at first, but through Jesus’ assurance, patience and forgiveness he became a rock. The German poet Goethe illustrated this point well. “Treat people as they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.”

Jesus prayed for others: “For these I pray, not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours” (Jn 17:9). If our prayer and our concern are for others, we tend to forget our own troubles. We also understand better God’s will for us by considering the courage and faith of others. They can be a looking glass that inspires us. 

In his affirmation of others Jesus was creative. He was a master of the principle “Don’t argue, illustrate.” That’s the point of his parables. It was the way he treated people like St. Peter who had let him down so badly, even denying that he knew him. Jesus not only forgave St. Peter’s triple denial by three times telling him that he was still leader of the sheep Jesus’ disciples, but he also predicted that now St. Peter would be faithful until death. “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. He said this signifying by what kind of death he (Peter) would glorify God” (Jn: 18-19). Encouraged by Jesus’ vision for him, Peter once again followed him. 

So will others, if they see themselves loved by God in the looking glass we are for them.

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.