Insurgent, the second installment in the wildly popular Divergent series came out this weekend. Rather than discuss the whole movie, I want to focus on a particular scene. Tris, the heroine, is forced to face herself in a simulation of reality. It’s not a new idea—the idea of having to look yourself in the mirror has been around as long as mirrors have (and before mirrors, they used other reflective surfaces, water, etc.). You have some who look at themselves to admire themselves (the queen in Snow White, Narcissus in mythology, etc.), and others who look at themselves (or who are forced to) in order to test themselves, to see if they are pure (Atreyu in The Neverending Story) and to see if they can face the things about themselves they most want to hide (that’s Tris). While looking in the mirror only to flatter yourself is useless (at best), looking in it to learn about yourself and to grow—that is necessary, and Tris’ battle with herself has much to teach us.
Tris knew she was about to undergo a simulation as a test for Amity—which was ironic because, as Jeanine pointed out, “right now you’re filled with hate, but you need to pass an Amity sim”—a sim which would test her aptitude for love, kindness, and forgiveness. Tris assumed she’d have to face Jeanine, her enemy, in the test. Jeanine, however, knew that Tris’ biggest struggle wasn’t with her, but with herself. Tris was having a hard time facing some of the things she had done. She was filled with shame and self-loathing. She blamed herself for the death of her parents and for, in a moment of self-defense, killing one of her best friends (he was being mind-controlled and was not himself).
In an earlier sim test, Tris had a conversation with her dead mother (sim’s are a simulation, a dream-world, so it’s not weird that she talked to her dead mom). She told her mom: “I never wanted any of this. I can’t help but think that if I was normal, all of us would be together. I don’t want to be divergent anymore.” The reality is that the problems they were having wasn’t because she was different, but because there was evil in the world. That seems obvious, but it’s not always the case. Tris is so human, so very like us in this. She is ready to blame herself at the slightest suggestion that things are her fault. Check out her conversation with herself and see if it doesn’t ring familiar. See if you haven’t had similar conversations with yourself.
Tris: What are you? Tris (2): I’m you, Tris. I’m the real you. … You killed Will and your parents. You’re deadly. No one’s gonna love you, Tris. No one’s gonna miss you, a divergent, and no one’s gonna forgive you for what you’ve done.
Have you had those conversations with yourself? Because I have. Maybe I haven’t accused myself of killing anyone physically, but there are plenty of other ways to feel like you are dangerous to the people around you, to feel like you hurt people and damage their emotions, minds, souls, relationships… Have you not ever told yourself, for one reason or another, that no one would or even could love you? That no one would miss you if you disappeared? That no one would (or could) forgive you…especially if they actually knew all that you had done? Tell me that you haven’t been there, too.
If Jeanine had been the one to say those things (and she had), Tris would have recognized them for the lies they were, or, at the very least, she would have fought against what Jeanine was saying because she would have known that Jeanine couldn’t be trusted (and she did). The problem is that, afterward, after telling Jeanine that she was wrong, in the quiet moments, Tris would have, and Tris did question if maybe there was truth in it. Those little seeds, planted by Jeanine and by others had taken root in Tris’ mind. And when Tris told those things to herself, they were harder to fight against. This is why she had to fight herself in the sim. It’s easier to resist what others say about you than it is to resist what you say about yourself.
As Tris battled with herself, she had the good fortune to realize that she was being tested. She knew that she had to exercise forgiveness and control and kindness, no matter what she faced…even when what she was facing was herself. Realizing she was being tested helped her because she was determined not to fail. It kept her strong. We don’t always have that luxury. We are rarely aware of what a test we are in. We are rarely aware of the fact that we are caught up in the middle of a battle between good and evil and that our minds are our enemy’s favorite battlefield. If we knew this, perhaps we would be stronger and more determined not to give into to our negative self-loathing. Perhaps we would be more determined to fight back the negative with the truth of what God says about us.
How did Tris respond? She was tempted. She nearly took the bait, giving into anger and hate, but she didn’t. Instead, she responded with forgiveness. In response to the accusations that “You’re deadly. No one’s gonna love you, Tris. No one’s gonna miss you, a divergent, and no one’s gonna forgive you for what you’ve done.” Tris said, “You’re wrong. Because I will.” She chose to forgive herself and immediately the test was over. There was nothing anyone could hold over her any longer, because she wasn’t holding anything against herself. She gave herself grace, and when she did so, the things that had made her hide in shame and fear were gone. She was free.
Everyone knows the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We love to apply that verse to how we treat others, but we rarely consider it is just as important to apply it to ourselves. This is what Tris had to learn. She had to be kind to herself. She had to quit dishonoring herself in her own mind. She had to let go of the record of her own wrongs that she had been reciting to herself. She was so quick to forgive others for doing wrong, but for herself she was continually accusing herself with a list of things she had (unintentionally, nonetheless) done wrong. She wasn’t protecting herself, trusting herself or even hoping for the best in herself…and so she stood condemned, not by others, but by herself. That is, until the sim when she finally saw herself as her own worst enemy and refused to her enemy win. She finally overcame evil with good (Romans 12:21), in her own heart and mind.
I can’t help but thinking that this is something important for all of us to learn. We need to learn to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), even and perhaps especially the thoughts about ourselves. And we need to make sure that those thoughts are loving thoughts according to 1 Corinthians 13, and that they are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
This is a more challenging thing that it seems, because it doesn’t mean that we just think happy thoughts. It’s not a call blind positive thinking. It’s not a self-help, feel-good mantra that the Bible endorses, because while we are called to forgive ourselves, we are also told to think rightly about ourselves, to agree with God about how He sees us—and while He loves us, He also hates our sin.
David, in his desire to be holy and pure, begged God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139: 23-24). He was saying that when he looked at himself in the mirror, he didn’t always see the truth. He didn’t trust his own assessment, so he asked God to help him see himself clearly…even his sins and failures. He wanted to look in an honest mirror and see the truth. He didn’t do it to feel bad about himself, but for growth. He wasn’t afraid to see his failures and sins because he knew God loved him and forgave him. God’s perfect love cast out any fear David may have had about confronting the truth about himself (1 John 4:18).
So here is the thing about mirrors: it’s not enough to admire ourselves, nor is it healthy to loathe ourselves. Instead, we need to bring Truth and Love with us to the mirror. We can try to do that ourselves, but it’s easier if we bring THE Truth and THE Love along with us, as David did, asking Him to help us. We need courage to face the truth, love to forgive our errors and truth to see the good with humility. It’s hard. James points out that some look in a mirror and go away and forget what they’ve seen (James 1:22-25). He says not to be like that, but instead, to look in the mirror and learn from it. Use it, not to flatter yourself, or to keep yourself bound by guilt and shame, (both of those keep you stuck in place) but instead to see the truth and to grow from it as David did (this gets you un-stuck and moves you forward). If we do, we’ll find, as Tris did, that the mirror becomes a place of freedom, not of bondage.
Questions for Discussion:
- If you were in Tris’ shoes, having to face yourself in a conversation, what would that conversation be like?
- If Jesus always speaks love and truth, forgiveness and hope to you, and Satan always accuses, blames and condemns, whose side is the voice in your head on the majority of the time?
- When you look at 1 Corinthians 13 on love (above), what parts of that are the hardest for you to do for yourself?
- Would you say that you find it easier to love and forgive others or yourself?
- When you look at yourself in the mirror (so to speak) are you more likely to admire yourself, loathe yourself, or see the truth about yourself (in a way that helps you become a better person)?
- Why do you think David asked God to search him and know him and reveal anything in him that wasn’t good? Don’t you think he knew himself?
 James is particularly talking about the law being the mirror and that as we look into the law, if we do so honestly, to learn, it shows us the truth about ourselves. This in a larger discourse about faith and works…but that’s another article in itself!