Learning Prayer from Cooley’s Looking-Glass

The term, “looking-glass self” was coined by American Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 to describe one’s reflection of how we think we appear to others.

In this theory, our sense of self and our judgments are developed when we imagine how we must appear to others in a social situation before reacting to the imagination of how we feel others perceived us. Based on this theory, people change their behavior based on what they feel others think about them. Over time, these behaviors that we have learned through social interactions will habituate to shape our character and our self.

Likewise in our relationship with God, we may apply this theory in our prayer life in order to build a more intimate relationship with Him based on our perceived image of Him that we’ve learned in our studies of the scriptures.

Let me break it down into three segments in accordance with the looking-glass self theory.

1) Imagine how we must appear to God in a social situation.

If you’re standing before a king, how should you react? Should you be yourself, or should you be at your best behavior? Now, think about how you should behave when you speak to the king? How must you present yourself? What can you say? How must you appear before a king? Surely you have to be at your best. Surely you must watch every word that you say. Surely you must observe all the unsaid etiquettes so as not to anger the king.

2) We imagine and react to what we feel God’s judgment of our perceived appearance must be.

Now, think about what we have done in order to present to the Lord. All our good works are like filthy rags before the Lord and we know that He was angry (Isaiah 64:5-6, NIV). We were wearing our old self that belonged to our former manner of life that was corrupted through deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22, ESV). How should we react to a Holy God based on how we appear before Him? What should our attitude be like when we confess our sins? Do we say, “depart from me for I am a sinful man,” (Luke 5:8, ESV) or do we pray boastfully in places where we can be seen by others (Matthew 6:5, Luke 18:11-12)?

3) We develop our sense of self and respond through perceived judgments of God.

Now that we know how God looks at us, how should we react? What should our posture be before Him? How should we pray? How should we live the lives that He has so graciously given us?

Now, when you consider that He has washed our sins away (Hebrews 10:11-12) and we can draw near to His throne of Grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), how should our attitude and our posture be? How should we treat the gift of mercy and grace that He so graciously gives us? How should we react and respond to all the things that He has given?

By examining ourselves, we will be able to determine the right posture that we should have before we come to the Lord. We will watch what we say so as to not anger the king. We will also receive our gifts of mercy and grace with utmost respect and gratitude; praising God and sharing with others just how thankful we are.

When our posture is right before the Lord, we will be able to build a closer and more intimate relationship with Him. Naturally, our prayer lives will likewise become more and more pleasing in His eyes.

Footnotes:
Learn more about Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self theory here:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looking-glass_self

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