“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
Reflection is a fascinating word.
It can mean our own inner processing of our day, our relationships, our decisions, and our life.
Reflection can also represent the image we see in a glass mirror, the water, or in another person.
The above quote from Thomas Merton challenges us to “reflect” on both versions of the word.
When we consider our relationships, how do we see ourselves in the other person? Do we see only the parts that we like? Do we see and eventually judge their “deficits” and “failures” according to our expectations?
This leads us to the first sense of the word reflection, and that is an honest self-assessment of how often we reflect in our lives. Call it prayer, meditation, mindfulness- it is an intentional internal processing of all that we think, say, and act.
How often do you give yourself this time to reflect?
Psychologist Carl Jung invites us to reflect deeper saying, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
In a similar way, author Hermann Hesse makes the same point, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part yourself. What isn’t part ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
That last line by Hesse blows my mind. How often am I not irritated by others? I am not bothered because it doesn’t strike a nerve within me, or as Jung and Hesse propose, it isn’t a reminder of something I hate, or irritates within.
I am struck by the amount of hate that we have in our world at this point in human history. This hate is born out of fear, which is born out of misunderstanding. We do not take the time to truly understand others (especially those most different from us as well as those most similar) and we do not take the time to truly understand ourselves (how we/why we feel the way we do based on these interactions).
Merton’s quote begins with a call for freedom. Let others be themselves. In the same sense, let yourself be your true self too.
This appreciation is not easy, especially when we are hurt, tired, and disappointed.
The call remains.
From the depth of our soul God is calling us to this freedom- a gift we can only receive if we can reflect not just on our inner workings, but also on the image and likeness of God that all of us possess.
This is the call of true love, a love that is divine. It is a constant exercise of reflection, a universal call that can lead to less hate in our world, our homes, and in our hearts.