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Forgetting Our Faces

by Deborah Rampona Oliver  
12/19/2012 / Devotionals

References verses: James 1:22-25

22But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

I love that James commands us to be Doers of the Word and this passage is deeply convicting. But, I've always wondered about the above passage. Who forgets what they look like in the mirror? Why is that even important as an example? Honestly, I've never given the rest of the passage much thought because I always got hung up on the initial part of the scripture. Tonight as I was praying, I felt God whisper to me about this example.

My father-in-law is a wonderful man of God, husband, father, and physician. In the last several years, we noticed Jim becoming more forgetful. Then his personality began to change and there were times when this gentle man would act completely out of character. On occasions, Jim would go for a walk and get lost in the small town where he had lived for more than 20 years. There were unpredictable episodes of anger and emotional anguish. Jim had always been an avid reader with an impressive command of language, but he started to forget words and became confused easily. As hard as it was to acknowledge, the family realized that Jim was not suffering from the normal process of aging, but from Alzheimer's.

I'll never forget the day that we drove up to the house and Jim was outside. As my husband, kids and I got out of the car, it became clear he didn't recognize us. Our eyes met his and we saw an expression of utter bewilderment and complete uncertainty not unlike that of a child in a new environment for the first time. His large green eyes filled with tears and he closed the door in our faces without ever speaking a word. Ouch! That was such a painful moment. It was almost as though we'd been erased somehow.

Now when we go to see Jim, we visit him at a nursing home. He can no longer walk and struggles mightily to find words that will convey meaning. Sometimes all he does is whisper, "I don't know," and shrug his shoulders repeatedly. I can tell that he feels as though he has forgotten something very important that he desperately needs to remember. It was always my impression that the most painful moments would be seeing him fail to recognize his children. I was wrong. The hardest part of this journey is seeing a lion of a man become reduced to a helpless lamb. The saddest realization for me is that doesn't even know himself any more. Jim's very identity and history are now lost to him. It is a common occurrence with Alzheimer's patients and I would suspect if we gave him a mirror, he wouldn't recognize the face he's worn for 82 years.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be trapped in my own body with limited access to my mind. For those of us watching, it is excruciating. As I reread this passage in James, I can imagine that each time we fail to be doers of the word, we are failing not just to do God's will, but we are forgetting our very identity in Christ. That's a pretty big statement! I'd also imagine that maybe Christ gazes upon us with a profound sadness that families of Alzheimer's patients are familiar with. We don't recognize who we are (children made in Christ's image) and we forget the history and relationship we have with him. Honestly, I can't think of anything more tragic.

I am grieved by all of the times I merely hear. I'm horrified to recall all of the years I've spent passively "hearing" like some sort of a filter feeding organism that sits on the ocean floor idly waiting for the next tidbit to come my way. I've been fixed in one spiritual location which hardly benefits me and certainly does no favors for the reputation of the body of Christ. This new perspective compels me to confess my sins before God and provides me an entirely new motivation for being an action oriented member of the body of Christ. Not only do I want to know who I am, I want others to recognize Christ in me.

Deborah is a military wife and mother of two children. It is her goal to approach moral ambivalence armed with strong opinions rooted in scripture (lively debate encouraged) and with an open, kind heart. She desires to engage both seekers and believers alike that Christ may be glorified.

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