I’m continuing to ponder the ways that we see others and ourselves. These are all thoughts that I have worked through over the years as I have wrestled with how to see myself and others–especially difficult people.
In the last few days, I have been thinking about being nearsighted and farsighted in how we see others and ourselves.
I’ve encountered people who are very nearsighted. They are very focused on themselves and cannot see past their own wounds and sufferings. They can be overly sensitive and the slightest (real or imagined) offense will cause them to cry, “You knew I was wounded in this way, you knew I struggled with this, and you deliberately hurt me!” Yet, they can say the meanest things and excuse themselves with “Oops! I didn’t mean that! It was an accident. You shouldn’t be so sensitive.” These people tend to want (demand) understanding, patience, unconditional love, but they cannot see that others suffer and need it too. They are very difficult to deal with because they can never SEE you, only themselves.
Before I go any further with this, I want to say that we all go through times of difficulty and suffering, and we all get discouraged, heartbroken, and crushed, and sometimes our deep wounds ache. We all need to have people to encourage us during these times–to remind us of truth, to lovingly help us get to our feet, to walk alongside us. Life is difficult, and none of us can make it alone. We need each other.
I have known people who never share their struggles with anyone, who never admit to a fault, who never acknowledge that they sometimes need help. I believe this can be as much of a problem as focusing too much on ourselves. People who always must be strong often have a pride problem, really, because they want to look good to others, they want to be the one with all the answers.
I believe that no one is weak all the time, and no one is strong all the time. I once pondered that we need to be real about both our weaknesses and strengths instead of be all one or the other because there are things we can learn from both strength and weakness. For example:
- In sharing from our strengths and abundance, we learn to be people of generosity and unselfishness. We get to let God use us to bless others in awesome ways. However, if we must always be strong, we can tend toward arrogance and hypocrisy, hiding our weaknesses and faults from others. We set up barriers between us and others because we hide behind the barriers and don’t let others see who we really are. We prevent God from using others to bless and help us, and we rob others of the blessings of being used by God to help us. We can feel that no one cares when really we don’t let people care for us. In trying to be always strong, we actually set ourselves up as a god to others–the one who is always strong and always gives, something that only God is and can be.
- In sharing from our weaknesses, we learn humility. We get to experience God meeting our needs through others. Sharing weakness can connect us to others who exclaim, “Oh, I thought I was the only one who ever struggled with this!” However, if we are always weak, we become self-centered and parasitical, seeing only our own needs and never the needs of others, expecting others to give to us while we never give to others. We prevent God from using us to bless others.
I remember long ago, in my late teens or early twenties, the son of a couple in our church was convicted of a serious crime and sent to prison. Later, another woman who went through a similar situation confronted the couple and cried, “You could have helped me when my son was sent to prison, but you said nothing. You let me walk through this alone.” I have thought of that through the years: that in sharing our sufferings with each other, we can give mutual help. If the couple had allowed themselves to reveal their pain and suffering, they could have let God use them in another’s life. Their suffering could have become strength and comfort for another–and they also would have found mutual comfort from connecting with someone in the similar situation. They could have helped each other.
When I talk about people who are nearsighted, I’m talking about people who are habitually focused on themselves, who cannot see that others need compassion as much as they do, and who expected to be comforted but never to comfort. There is a difference between periods of weakness and habitual weakness, between needing compassion and understanding and refusing to give it.
We can all fall into the habitual nearsightedness of self-pity and self-centeredness if we are not careful. I have discovered that there is a way to correct our vision. As I share these, please remember that there are times when we ALL need help and we ALL need to look inward to deal with our the difficulties and dysfunction of our past in order to overcome it. However,
1. Instead of focusing on all the difficulties and on all the things that aren’t what I wanted, start thanking God for the blessings He has given me. I’ve had gone through some very difficult times in my life–times when I wept and struggled in pain and sorrow. However, when I look back, I can see that God has used those difficult times to teach me things I really needed to learn, to heal me of dysfunctional wounds, and to deepen my faith. He truly has worked all thing for good. Many times I have had friends say to me, “I came to you with this problem/heartache because I know you have been there and you can understand.” We can remember in current suffering that even though we can’t see it, God WILL use this in our lives just as He has in the past.
2. Share your heartache. The last couple of years has been very difficult for us, with EJ’s father dying, his niece’s husband getting killed in Afghanistan, EJ’s health problems, his work being difficult, trying to deal with my difficult family, and numerous appliances and vehicles breaking down. We got very discouraged. We shared our struggles and asked for prayer. Many reached out to pray for me, and to encourage me. I was overwhelmed with their love, and no longer felt alone.
3. Reach out to others. Several months ago, I was struggling with the heartbreak of my family relationships and a beloved (but nearsighted) friend who pushed me out of her life. Then a friend on a forum shared a struggle in her life that was similar to mine. Even though I was hurting, I shared with her my struggles and what I was learning through it. As we shared our stories, I felt, wow, after hearing her struggles, mine seemed like nothing because she had suffered so much. I was in the process of writing this to her in an email, when I received an email from her saying, wow, after hearing of my struggles, hers seemed like nothing because I had suffered so much. We laughed. The truth is that when I start SEEing others, I see that I am not the only one who has suffered. Others have suffered too–and often in much greater ways. I am not the only one who needs encouragement, understanding, and love. So then I stop looking only at myself, and I start comforting others with the comfort I, myself, have received.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
Nothing corrects nearsightedness as much as looking at what God has given you (instead of what you don’t have) and SEEing the suffering of others. Let yourself be strong AND weak.
Farsightedness can also be a serious problem. I think of farsightedness as looking at the faults of others while ignoring our own.
A friend once shared with me something she had received in one of those email forwards that people sometimes send. By the time she told me about it, she had already deleted it, which is too bad because it has changed my life and I wish I had it to quote. The email revealed how we accuse others and excuse ourselves. It went something like:
- When I tell you your faults, I’m trying to help you. When you tell me my faults, you are just being critical and judgmental.
- When I say hurtful things to you, I’m being honest. When you say hurtful things to me, you are being a jerk.
- When I get offended, it’s because you deliberately hurt me. When you get offended, you are just overly sensitive.
- When I am grumpy after a bad day, I need understanding. When you are being grumpy after a bad day, you need to not bring your problems home with you.
You get the picture, right? We often judge others less favorably then we judge ourselves. There are people who do hurtful things and commit real offenses that need to be dealt with. All of us do, actually. But I think we need to use the same standard on ourselves that we use on others. Don’t accuse others and excuse yourself. Don’t compare others’ weaknesses with your own strengths. Let the judgment be honest and balanced. It’s possible that just as YOU don’t mean to hurt others, THEY don’t mean to hurt you. It’s possible that THEY are trying to honestly help by telling you your faults, just as you are trying to help them. It’s even possible that they see YOU as being a jerk. And it’s even likely that THEY need as much understanding after a bad day that YOU do.
I had a dear friend who had suffered much in her life. Her childhood was very difficult, she had married and divorced two abusively alcoholic men, she was doing her best to raise her two children. We love this family, and poured a lot of love and time into helping them anyway we could. The teenage daughter had become difficult, acting out the pain of her life. She could appear very sweet, but she had become an expert liar and manipulator, had often stolen from family and friends, she was rude and insulting to her Mom, she skipped school, etc. She ended up ruining our friendship with her family with her manipulation, which broke my heart.
JJ struggles with this. Sometimes he says things like “I’m glad I’m not like her!” Last weekend we were discussing various things, and he said that the girl had no right to tell us what to watch on TV. A couple of years ago, she had self-righteously declared that a Christian ought not to watch a certain program that EJ and JJ enjoyed–yet her life has been riddled with things “a Christian ought not to do.” EJ thought, “She’s right” and stopped watching the show. JJ says he enjoys the rather profane show because it is funny and he isn’t going to let the girl tell him what to do.
“Whoa. Wait a minute!” Yes, technically everything JJ said was true. The girl lies, steals, disrespects her Mom, and does all sort of stuff she shouldn’t. She needs help, and her dysfunctions need to be addressed. However, I said to JJ, he has also struggled with lying in his life (not so much now), he is many times rude and insulting to his Dad and me when he doesn’t get his way, and if he’s ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to him, no matter how small, he has been a thief. Get your eyes off her and start dealing with yourself.”
And, yes, technically the girl does NOT have the right to tell you what to watch on TV. Absolutely. However, watching a show because someone you don’t like tells you that you ought not to is faulty logic. Instead of worrying about what others are doing/not doing, you need to ask yourself what God would have you say or do. He’s the only One who matters. If you love God, why do something that mocks or hurts Him? THAT is what you need to consider. You ought not to base your choices on what others say or do, but on what GOD says you are to say or do. Get your eyes off them and on to God.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye ~Matthew 7:1-5
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? ~Romans 2:1-4
Izzy Avraham had a tremendous teaching last week about people saying “they” (they have sinned, they have failed) without realizing that “they” is also “I”: I have sinned, I have failed, and I need to deal with it. In fact, it is his teaching that got us on this subject.
Often when we are nearsighted (focusing only on ourselves), we are also farsighted (seeing the faults of others and not ourselves). We need the ability to SEE others’ suffering and not just our own AND we need to SEE our own faults and not just others’ faults. We need to ask God to correct our vision. We need 20/20 vision for our lives.
When a person is near- or far-sighted, he can have his vision corrected with corrective lenses. In other words, with eye glasses. But a person just doesn’t put on glasses once and their eyes are cured. They have to choose to put on their glasses every day. In the same way, every one of us can become near- or far-sighted, and we need every day to choose to see others and ourselves clearly through the corrective lens God gives us. It’s not a one time thing. We need to see others and ourselves with truth and with love.