I have my annual eye appointment today.
It’s old hat now. But at the first exam, everything was new. Near the end of my initial visit I sat in the chair and peered through the phoropter (that big machine that helps the doctor determine your lens prescription) to look at the eye chart.
“Which is clearer?” my doctor asked. “The chart on the left or on the right?”
“Left,” I answered. And sometimes right. And sometimes both and sometimes neither. He listened to my answers carefully as he worked to adjust the prescription.
At the end of the process, he encouraged me to look forward through the phoropter one more time. “Tell me about the chart on the left compared to the chart on the right.”
“Oh,” I said, confident, “the left is way too blurry. Really blurry. The right one is perfect though.”
He threw me an amused glance. “The left chart is your natural vision,” he told me. “The right is your vision with prescription lenses.”
Vision is a funny thing. I’m nearsighted, which means I see close things just fine, but find that objects grow blurrier as they get farther away. The thing is, prior to going to the eye doctor, I had no real grasp on how little I was actually seeing from a distance. I thought my vision was fine! Imagine my – and my doctor’s – horror when we both realized I’d been driving with a horribly impaired left eye. It took the presence of accurate vision to show me how bad mine was by comparison.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that if we “focus” on God (get it?) we’ll see everything else in our lives more clearly. God is the “lens” (I kill me) through which we view the world. And this is true, actually. It’s true and it’s important.
But if we want to see clearly in a spiritual sense, there’s something else we need to be doing – and that’s looking inward.
People often assume that Christianity is a faith that focuses on the external: on evangelizing others, on outward fruit and expressions of faith. It is external, in that sense, but it is also a deeply internal faith: it requires us to look inside our own hearts. 2 Corinthians 13:5 encourages us to “examine ourselves to see whether [we] are in the faith.” Psalm 4:4 tells us to “meditate in [our] heart[s] upon our bed.” And Jesus in Matt. 7:3-5 reminds us that it is wiser to focus on the plank of sin in our own eye rather than the speck of sawdust in someone else’s.
Shifting our focus inward makes everything else in our spiritual lives much clearer. If we look inwardly at who we really are, it is impossible to be arrogant or smug or self-righteous. If we look honestly at our sin and our nature, we will always be startled by the grace and love of God. And a deep and measured look at ourselves will keep us free of the pitfalls of self-worship, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement. We will, as a matter of course, be kinder and less judgmental of others, more given to mercy, and freer with service and grace.
It’s true that our spiritual vision often blurs simply by the nature of being in the world. One way to clear it and see properly is to focus on God, and another is to look honestly at ourselves the way that God instructs. By doing so, we become what Jesus promised: blind people now gifted with a vision that changes everything.