I went to my annual eye exam last week. I knew the first question they would ask would be, “How was your vision in 2020?”
Although they would pose the question quite literally, I sat in the waiting room thinking more philosophically: How was my vision in 2020? Looking back, I don’t think I saw things clearly.
Just then, the tech called me back and began the intake process. Sure enough, she asked, “How was your vision this past year?”
“Well,” I hesitated, pondering, “Honestly, things seemed pretty blurry.”
“Oh?” she said, writing this into my file.
“Yes,” I continued, “I would think I saw things clearly, but the more I looked, the more uncertain I became.” She looked puzzled, but wrote this down, too.
“Let’s get some pictures inside your eyes,” she said.
Yes, I thought, maybe a picture would help. Maybe there’s something blocking my perspective?
“While you’re at it,” I said, “maybe take a look behind the eyeballs, too?” The tech started to laugh, then cleared her throat and took the pictures. “Keep your eyes wide,” she said.
Then, right onto my pupil, she flashed a bright white light simultaneously with a sudden puff of air. I jerked my head back. Wow, I thought, that is exactly what 2020 has been like. First, you get blindsided by a newsflash (“Virus Outbreak in China, No Cause for Alarm”) and then you’re assaulted by a sudden cold puff of more news (“It’s a Pandemic!”).
I sat there blinking and squinting, trying to find my bearings. Just as I was beginning to recover she did it to my other eye. Yes, just like 2020, I thought. Just when you think things have settled a bit, it happens again. Health scares, social unrest, politics. Recoil, recover, recoil.
The tech led me, half-blind, to the examining room to wait for the doctor. I sat there blinking at the exam equipment on the pole beside me. A mechanical monstrosity with eye tools hanging off folded arms, like a giant Praying Mantis waiting to pounce.
The doctor walked in and greeted me while reading the notes, “You had a little trouble with your vision last year?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I kept focusing on all the things happening right in front of me, but lost sight of bigger things.”
She looked at my file again, “Well, you are nearsighted…” Nearsighted, I thought, Of course! I had been focused on the little trivial things, like toilet paper, lost opportunities, my schedule… and fear. Yes, I had been very nearsighted, indeed. And then I remembered this scripture from 2 Corinthians:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Thanks, Doc,” I said. “That’s exactly it. I’ve been so focused on the things that are seen, that I’ve not been looking to the things that are unseen.”
She stopped writing, “But, you’re supposed to see things that are seen….”
“Well, yes,” I answered. Those are real concerns, of course. It’s not like I want to not see present concerns. But I had lost the context, and when I lose context I become reactionary.
“Ok,” she said, “Just rest your chin on this tray and look through these lenses. Can you read that bottom line?”
“C, A, L, M, 1,” I read.
“Good,” she replied, sounding relieved. Then she added, “Now, you’re not seeing any [she makes air quote gestures here] ‘unseen things’ on the chart, are you?”
“No, silly,” I laughed. She relaxed a little. “But you’ve really helped me to remember them,” I said, thanking her. She backed away a little.
“Are we done?” I asked.
“Oh, for sure,” she said.
I got up to leave. “Oh,” I remembered at the door, “How’s my eyesight?”
She looked confused, “Same prescription as last year.”
“Great!” I went to pay my bill. “Your doctor is very good,” I told the admin, “but she seems, I don’t know, a little addled today, just so you know.” I walked out to my car and sat there for a few minutes.
I confess, I’ve been focused on all the “seen things” (the real afflictions, some more important than others) of 2020. I’ve focused on the less important, like toilet paper and the inconveniences. And I’ve rightly focused on more serious things, too: the fatality rate, the unrest, the politics, the fear. All these things needed my attention. They are the very real concerns of not just my outer self, but everyone’s.
But those real afflictions aren’t the whole story. Though I am clearly situated in the present “seen” story, I am also rooted in an eternal “unseen” story. If I want to be whole, if I want to be wise, and yes, if I want to be loving in this present story, then I must remember that my inner self is vouchsafed in the eternal story. I have to choose to see ‘unseen’ things – the eternal weight of glory that God gives His children. Then I can look directly and the present afflictions with perspective. I can boldly acknowledge what is wasting away and yet not lose heart. Regardless of how a particular calendar year is grinding down the outside, God is renewing the inside, day by redemptive day.
Oh my, I’ve been very nearsighted.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.