I have a bike in the back of my hatchback car. It’s not mine originally. It was given to me to sell, if I wanted. Although I have no intentions of keeping it permanently, I’ve been storing it there for a little while now. I like how having a bike in my car makes me feel. Every time I do shoulder checks, I see its ultra-light frame and shiny tires and think to myself, This is a nice image of me; perhaps I’ll keep it.

 

No highway shoulders, budded streets, or rooty paths are in store for those treads, though. The only wear it will get will be from the quick side glances while my eyes roll just a fraction slower, taking in the view as I look out the back window to ensure a safe lane change.

 

It is expansive to imagine how my life might be if I was the type of person to take in coastline trails. I imagine a confident, adventurous, lean, and smiling me, sipping on electrolyte-enhanced water and listening to the whizz, whizz of the wind as she whispers compliments in my worldly wise and capable ears.

 

And so long as the bike is in view, I feel like others could have that image of me too: the hip West Coaster, or shall I say Left Coaster, with ambitions and accomplishments and discipline and awards and satisfying relationships and a good cell phone plan. And I smile.

 

Then I bumble out of the car (pants always sagging below where they are supposed to), do the little “pants get UP THERE!” jig, notice my scuffed, style-less shoes, check in the window’s reflection for leftover lunch goop on my face, hoist a rollicking, time-worn bag over my shoulder, and trundle away from that beautiful image. Every step taking me farther and farther from that glorious picture of self-confidence, farther from the image of the type of person who drives around with a hip trail bike in the back of their hatchback car.

 

Why is it so much easier to think something of myself if I imagine someone else could be thinking it of me too, I wonder?

 

From a sociological perspective, we know people are more likely to underperform when self-expectations are lower. Women taking math tests after being told that women typically do not do as well as their male counterparts on such tests tend to score lower than women who were not preconditioned with this statement. I’ve been told that, to some degree, an athlete’s endurance can actually be correlated with how long he thinks he has been training; in other words, if a runner thinks he has energy for only an hour, at the hour mark he’ll start petering out. Tell that same runner he’s been running for only forty-two minutes, and the energy levels will mostly match. Remember Roger Bannister, the guy who broke the four-minute mile world record for running in 1952? Although no one had broken it before him, it became the new attainable goal and has been beaten since. Runners’ biology didn’t change; their expectations about what was possible did. In other words, we can sometimes be limited by our own ideas about our capabilities. Figuratively speaking, looking in the mirror is not always an empowering thing.

 

The person in the mirror, after all, does not have the most authoritative perspective on what we’re capable of or even who we really, truly are. And while the fantasy I have of myself gliding through the air on stylish transports of glory ala the bike in my car may not be an accurate depiction of my true self, the image I see with my physical eyes in the glass’s reflection isn’t the only reflection I am giving off, either.

 

Thinking about image and worth sometimes reminds me of a passage the Bible has about reflections. While the precise interpretation of this section depends a little on the scholar discussing it, what I get out of it is roughly this: as we approach God with childlike curiosity, openness, and wonder, thinking about His goodness, our lives reflect His image and we are actually, gradually changed into His likeness. One translation (The Voice) says this: “Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it” (2 Cor. 3:18). What stands out to me is that a spiritual perspective affects the way we may think about our image.

 

When I think about my reflection, I most often think about what I see in my mirror, not my life as a mirror to others. If I think about it, though, this passage challenges the way I see both myself and the way I see other people. Image and worth are not about the external characteristics of status, influence, and allure my culture tells me they are; they are summed up in the Person we reflect. And here’s a thought: maybe seeing others—I mean, really seeing them—helps us get to know God better. After all, it’s God’s image we are being progressively changed into.