“That’s not really how I look and sound,” he frowned.
My oldest son pressed the “play” button once again, viewing the homemade video that he and his brothers had recently made. I watched as he studied himself with wonder, fascinated at the face staring back at him from the screen, unsure if he liked the voice that was coming out of the mouth that looked like his.
“Actually, it is,” I said. “That’s exactly how you look and sound.”
He cocked his head and smiled. “Really?” he asked. “I’m surprised! I guess I thought I look and sound different because I only know myself from inside myself. I needed my video to see me right!”
He giggled as he ran off to find his brothers, content with his newfound identity.
I smiled and returned to my book. It had been several months since I began it and I was still less than a quarter through the massive tome, but some friends were reading Kristin Lavransdatter, and I wanted to finish reading it with them. The candle flickered on the table beside me as I returned to 14th Century Norway, struggling to remember the unfamiliar names, but intrigued by the Medieval setting and the story of young Kristin.
I recalled a discussion about the book I had with those friends some months earlier. One friend had remarked how she hated Kristin, appalled by her depravity and foolishness. Others, who were much further along in the story than I was, heartily agreed. I had kept silent. At the time, I was only a few chapters in and Kristin was then just a delightful child. I braced myself for the fall from grace I knew was coming by their admonitions of her behavior.
As I read on, though, I found myself unsettled. I realized that I hated Kristin too, yes. But I was unnerved by the discovery of how much I actually understood her. I was startled to find that her thoughts were my thoughts, her feelings the same as my own.
“She thought about her own heart, which fully understood what was right and wrong, and yet she had always yearned for what was not righteous.”
The words resonated deep within me. Our sins were different, of course, but the stubborn willfulness to continue in them and to justify our actions were identical. And I was aghast.
“Surely not,” I thought to myself, as I wept over the pain and anguish she caused her loved ones. My heart broke for those she had dishonored and betrayed, but also for Kristin too--for her obstinate and foolish insistence on her own way, in spite of the consequences. “It cannot be,” I whispered.
That’s not really how I look and sound.
Stories have a way of helping us see what we cannot see. They inspire us. They delight us. But they also reveal us. Through story, we are able to step outside of ourselves and see motives and actions from the perspective of another. And as we view the thoughts, behaviors, and hearts of the characters from a different angle, we sometimes realize that we are looking not into a movie, but a mirror. And, like Snow White’s wicked stepmother, we don’t always like the truth that the mirror reveals.
I put the book down, shaken to the core. I could not deny what I had seen in those pages. In the tragic character of Kristin Lavransdatter, I saw my own selfishness. My own foolishness. My own hard-heartedness. And it broke me.
In contemplating the darkness and far-reaching consequences of Kristin’s sinful actions and attitude, I was forced to face my own. Though they were different, like Kristin’s, my sins caused pain and anguish for those most dear to me and for myself. Just like Kristin, I had “played and romped with [my] sin, measuring it out as if in a child’s game.” Through the lens of Kristin's story, I could finally see the full demands of sin's price in my life: peace, integrity, communion with God, and (in my case) precious, precious friendship--all paid in exchange for my foolish and recalcitrant behaviors. The pain left in the void of those losses was one of the deepest I have ever experienced. Because of Kristin’s example, I was able to recognize what I did not have the capacity to see in myself: sin, though it may begin small, ripples outward in ever-increasing waves, a wake that upsets the peace and stillness of the soul and life, until everything it touches is shaken; upset.
As the wick of the candle burned down, the flame cast a glaring light on the page and I forced myself to continue reading. Though it was difficult to endure, I knew I had to finish the story, to know what destiny held for Kristin and those she loved.
Stories are mirrors. They hold up the truth so that we are able to see plainly what we cannot easily see from inside of ourselves. And sometimes the hard truth is that we are not as fair as we thought that we were. But, if we read them well, with discernment, stories can also be crystal balls. In the fate of the characters so like ourselves, we are able to see the possible consequences of our actions; and in the outcome of the story, we can anticipate the possible endings--both good and bad--in the chapters of our own lives.
Like all good stories, fortunately, Kristin’s tale echos the beauty of the one, True story. Though her sin entangles her and its consequences are far-reaching and tragic, all is not lost. Ultimately there is redemption. As promised, there is beauty from the ashes.
With tears streaming down my cheeks, I closed the book and blew the candle out. For a moment, I sat in the darkness, feeling its full weight. But then I thought again of Kristin.
“Each time the fruit of sin had ripened to sorrow, that was when her earthbound and willful soul managed to capture a trace of the heavenly light.”
It was faint, but in my heart I felt the flicker.
In the end, Kristin’s repentance and faith brought salvation, for herself and others. And so, in the darkness, I prayed for that to be true through my own life too. Though I may not always see myself as I truly am, or even understand why I make the choices that I do, I still believe fully that there is One who does. Just as I had already seen and known the truth that was in my own precious child--the truth that he could not see from inside himself--I have a Father who already sees and knows me completely...and loves me anyway. And though, like my son, I may be momentarily disoriented, struggling to reconcile the reality of what I have seen in myself with what I have always believed, I know with unwavering certainty that the day is coming when He will once and for all redeem and restore all things to Himself--including me and my ever-wandering heart.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12