Of circus mirrors and true reflections {OR How to survive accusation}

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She stands in the doorway, glaring down at me and listing all the ways I’ve failed.
Lined up behind her, peeking over her shoulders, are the others from around the world who have asked more of me than I was able to give, all of them, through her agonized voice and angry eyes, accusing me, “Look at this face—it’s a person you hurt.”
The husband and children of the mother of seven who died under my hands with an ectopic pregnancy that I diagnosed too late. The teenage mom whose blood poured out all over the black plastic delivery mat, all over my skirt, all over the floor, less and less in her veins until within a few impossibly short minutes her blood pressure dropped and she stopped speaking sense and she died, my hands in her trying to staunch the flow. The father of the ten year old, his only son, with the distended belly. I thought he was turning the corner, that if I waited and reassessed him in the morning I would find that he didn’t need surgery. There was no other doctor to ask. I had been on call all week and was too tired to operate safely. He died overnight.
Sometimes it’s another person accusing me. More often I am my own prosecutor, the trial taking place in the hiddenness of my own thoughts and imagination.
My prosecutor stands, embodying all of the people I have ever failed, laying out the details that best support her case, refusing to admit any other evidence or listen to any counterargument. She demands an apology. I try to word one. I am not sorry I asked her to leave.
“You can use your ordinary voice,” she demands again. “There’s a person in there. I know you have a normal voice.” She paces at the door, her tall body taut with anger.
“This is the only voice I have right now,” I respond, barely able to squeak out the words from my chair in the corner.
There is truth in what she says, enough that I can’t deny it, but it is so manipulated and distorted and removed from the context that it seems a set-up, a circus mirror. I can’t argue with her—it is me in that mirror. I can’t apologize either, since I can’t agree that the picture is true. I am left, once again, voiceless—exposed and angry, terrified and ashamed and confused, all in the same paralyzing moment.
Here I finally understand: the Accuser who stands behind all other accusers is at the same time a liar and the father of lies. Some part of me has unthinkingly assumed his accusations are truth—ugly truth presented in a nasty manner, but truth nonetheless. They are not. Our Accuser is a distorted mirror, himself so bent and twisted that he cannot offer a true picture. He cannot speak truth, he can only twist it.
Still, however distorted, it is me in that mirror. “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” I pray with the tax collector (Luke 18:13). There is freedom here. In the midst of confusing accusations, I don’t have to figure out which bits are true and which aren’t. I am a sinner—that is clear enough in my idolatrous fear of seeing sin in myself, a fear grounded in my reliance on the opinions of others for my self-worth. The prayer isn’t a list of specific sins but a confession of the distortion in my heart which makes me unable even to see my own sin clearly. All I can pray in this place—and all I need to pray—is “Have mercy on me!” as I turn back to Jesus who is at once my Defence and the only mirror who, being of true cut himself, can reflect me to myself truly.
Jesus comes full of grace and truth. The two are inseparable. Even before we get to what grace does with the truth of my sinfulness—forgiving, removing, healing, setting free—there is so much grace in truth. It doesn’t confuse or distort, shame or manipulate. It may not be pretty but it’s wonderfully, freeingly true. All the details, fully seen, in context—the context of our past and present and of the truth of God’s enfolding, sovereign love.