Windows and Mirrors


In 1786 poet Robert Burns penned a line that is memorable. Paraphrased, it suggested it would be a great gift from God if we could see ourselves as others see us. I am speaking to myself now as well as readers.

The two types of glass with which we are most familiar are windows and mirrors. Through windows we observe the rest of the world and through a mirror, we observe ourselves. The evaluations we make during these two different observations are worth considering. Here is my simple point for this article: How about we spend less time and judgment looking out the window at others and more looking in the mirror at ourselves?

We are alike in being quite effective in observing others and often quickly identifying their faults—not just faults, but sometimes behaviors so serious that one might call them sins. These might be attributes that are harming the person in question, or harming others or society. On the other hand, we must admit that each of us contains not only seeds but full-grown behaviors that, were we observing such in others, we would count as sinful. Let us not be shy with using the word “sin”—let us use the word every place it fits, not just with others.

Introspection reveals that I routinely ignore in myself beliefs, behaviors, or attributes I criticize in others. Somehow, I give myself a pass on characteristics simply because they are mine rather than someone else’s. Each of us seems to have a filter that removes our ability to recognize undesirable qualities in others but misses seeing them in ourselves. In parallel, we each seem to have a list of sins in mind, and some are worse than others. And lots of the worse ones are those others possess.

It does not take much observation to see this trap that we all fall into. Our local newspaper recently published a letter to the editor by a writer I do not know. He makes an important point with which we would all agree and that is that behaviors that are legal are not necessarily moral. The writer then identifies three behaviors that he believes fit that category and puts them in the context of biblical teachings. 

Without discussing these three examples he uses, it is worth noting that all three deal with sexuality. This is a common theme of this trap. Anything with a connection to sex immediately gets moved to the top of inappropriate behaviors.

I am not naïve enough to miss the power of sexuality in our lives, but to consistently rank it as the number one problem of humanity misses the whole point of “. . . all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

“I was hungry, and you gave me no food” says nothing about sexuality. “I was thirsty, and you did not give me something to drink” says nothing about sexuality. Nor does not welcoming the stranger or not giving clothing to the naked. How about not visiting those in prison? No sex in that command. 

When you search the words of Jesus, there is an amazing lack of comment about sexuality and yet it seems to be the first thing we identify as problematic with God. We can leave it to Paul in Galatians 5 to strike closer to home. “The works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” I do not believe these are in any order. Does my mirror reveal any of these traits?

Let us emphasize the parallel positives: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self -control.” This is what I want to see reflected back to me. 

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain


  • this is good; thanks


  • I love the Burns’ poem you referenced. I once heard a story about a woman who often criticized her neighbor for the dingy look of her sheets hanging on the clothes line. Then her husband told her the neighbor’s sheets weren’t dirty but her own window was! Good lesson!


  • Jim, you do cause me trouble. I would rather look out the window than into a mirror. I’ll keep working on this. Good point Nancy with the dirty window.


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