Each person has an inner lens through which s/he views the world. The lens can be clouded with prejudices, assumptions, preferences, self-serving attitudes or it can be clearer, able to see reality more truthfully. The source of these things that can cloud our vision of reality can be our religion, our culture and even the regions we live in, our families and our own decisions when we are children about how we have to be in the world or how life will work out for us.
Maybe we can see from the profusion of influences on us as we grow and mature that each one of these angles on life can be distorted and how those distortions can overlay each other and multiply to cause us a blindness of which we are not even aware.
Take religion for example and the Christian religion in particular. There are many different interpretations of what Christians believe—all from one source, the Bible. Now there are estimates of 20,000 to 40,000 Christian denominations today [https://theway21stcentury.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/how-many-christian-denominations-worldwide/ 5/24/14]. Each denomination has its own slant on beliefs in Jesus. And they differ widely. So each denomination colors the lens through which we see.
Of course, I can hear you now saying, “Well, my church has the right beliefs!” What I am suggesting is that to the extent that each church or denomination advocates a limit on what its members can believe about God and Christ, that as long as those beliefs limit who God and Christ are, as long as God and Christ and the Spirit are contained in a box, as long as the denomination is the source of all the beliefs and people are not encouraged to let God teach them who God is, then the beliefs can be a distortion of the reality of God who is mainly a mystery, not someone who can be defined and limited.
Add to the discoloration provided by each denomination’s take on Christianity, each cultural conditions its citizens with a particular point of view about reality and how its people are to be in the world—this view of reality also clouds our lenses. With more than 190 countries [www.worldatlas.com/nations.htm, 5/24/14] in the world, imagine how many versions of reality there are; so add the cultural distortions to each person’s lens. Plus within each country there are regional differences. Add those regional variations to the lens.
And then there is the family’s point of view to add to the fuzziness of the lens and maybe you begin to see how hard it is to see reality, to see life as it is.
But there is one more layer of cloudiness to add to our lenses and that is our personal take on how life goes for us and what we expect from life.
Sometimes the distortions are easier to see in someone else rather than in ourselves. My mother sorted for rejection. I saw her time and again take an ordinary gift of love and receive it as rejection. Maybe it was her work as an operating room supervisor where the nurses bore the brunt of all mistakes. Or something in her family of origin. I don’t know, but it was clear to me when I was an adult that she didn’t see clearly.
In my own case beyond the religious and cultural distortions I believed that life would not work out for me. Anyone else looking at my life would have seen the blessings and gifts, but for years I couldn’t see them until my eyes were opened to the distortions in my own lens.
What attitudes or expectations or assumptions keep you from seeing reality? From seeing the truth? What muddies your lens on the world, makes you unable to see what is real, what is true?
A spiritual journey consists of removing the distortions, cleaning the lens through which we see life so we can see what is real and what is false. We have to take back our projections onto life and see our lives clearly. We have to remove what distorts our image of ourselves and the world and God; then we will be able to see other people and life so much more clearly. We are then able to see life more as God sees it.
With a clean lens an illness like a cold could just be an opportunity to get the rest I need instead of an annoyance. Something more challenging might teach me the next lesson I need to learn about life and God and me, not just something to be resisted or resented. When we look at life with a clearer view of reality we see things differently. We can see life as a school that will teach us how to live, how to love if we will somehow embrace the lessons we are confronted with.
It’s not about getting rid of the distortions as much as bringing them into alignment with what is true. It’s not about throwing out the wrong assumptions as it is about bringing them into reality. It’s not about getting rid of the problematic, erratic, wavering parts of ourselves as it is about embracing them. It is really about reframing our whole view of reality.
The personal distortions we experience come from a misunderstanding of our training as children. Even in a loving family a child misunderstands the process of training a child to be obedient, to wait his turn, to remember the rules, etc. It takes up to eight to ten years to train a child so that she remembers the rules every time. During those long years every time the child forgets to obey, he feels at least guilt and often shame for not being able to remember. These experiences pile up and damage the image the child holds of him- or herself. “I’m bad.” Or “I’ll never remember.” “My parents are so frustrated, I must be a bad child.” Or, “If only I were a good girl, nothing bad would happen to me.”
I’ve watched my seven-year-old grandson wrestle with this. He’s a spontaneous, in-his-own-world sort of child, often inappropriate, but very endearing. Recently he was invited along with other first graders to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag on the school’s morning TV show which is broadcast to all the classrooms. Undone by the TV cameras he was silly and inappropriate. He heard about his behavior from the principle, his teacher, his two brothers in the same school, and his mother. I could see the shame building in him as he got this feedback. Only his father said something affirming, “He’s only seven!” and forgave him. This one incident will be added to all the other shameful experiences he’s had.
To compensate for the lack of obedience the child develops some compulsions that make sure he or she remembers. And these compulsions control us into adulthood. There’s the neat-nik. The one who hoards. The one who is always nice. She who caters to others or always takes care of them to win their approval. He who maybe never decides anything. The one who is always anxious, lest she let someone else down. And many other compulsions.
Each of us unconsciously chooses the compulsive behavior that will “fix” our shame and guild. Underlying the compulsion is a belief in how shameful we are. For me my underlying belief was that “life won’t work out for me.” As I look back on this belief which held me captive for years, I am sad that I wasted so much energy on something that is patently untrue. I allowed that belief to convert my best energies into anxiety. Looking that belief squarely in the face I could let it go. And clean my lens of a great swath of cloudiness.
Other assumptions that clouded my view of reality like a dependence on buying things to make me happy, on the belief that the right clothes would repair my self-esteem, on inhabiting roles like wife and mother and volunteer instead of knowing who I am, on my own expectations, preferences and the sources of all the remaining fuzziness had to go. Finally, my lens was clear and clean enough to see the blessings and grace that have clearly been in my life. I could also see the challenges innate to my personality, my rebellions, and more. These were easier to clean off the lens once the underlying sources were removed.
I am sure that there is more standing in my way of seeing reality, but I see so much clearer than I ever did and I am enjoying entertaining the truth instead of my beliefs about the truth. So the questions become for all of us: Am I ruled by the belief system of the child within me or by the very clear lens of my soul? What is clouding reality for me? How do I release these false beliefs?
Jesus often called for those who have ears to hear, let them hear and understand.[Matthew 11:15, 13:9, Mark 4:9] But these false beliefs and assumptions keep us from moving into the life that God has designed for us.] They keep us busy and distracted from what is real in life, from God. They keep us small and insignificant and bound to our own, our family’s and our culture’s view of reality which are not real and true. Somehow we have to clear up our compulsions and the underlying beliefs; then we will then be able to move into our created purpose and fulfill our lives.“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:32 NIV] Jesus clearly taught the centrality of truth in our lives as we follow him. The truth will set us free from the distortions, the false assumptions, the prejudices, the cultural paradigms—all the things that cloud how we see the reality before us. As we let go of these, we will see more and more as God sees us and life itself. The reality. The truth.
Questions to ponder over the week: What distorts my view of life, of God, of others and of myself? Am I willing to let God help me clear away the distortions? Will I go where God wants to take me? Or do I want to hold on to these distortions that seemingly serve me? And why?