Most of you know that I am not the most observant person. It takes a lot for me to notice things, that is unless I have a camera in my hand. Give me a camera and I notice everything! I see things differently. I notice both fine detail and collective beauty. Maybe that’s why I love photography so much? When life becomes so blindingly distracting, I take great pleasure in seeing what other people walk by. I love seeing surprising vignettes of beauty, particularly when they are surrounded by ugliness.
Of course, there is nothing special about me. I think we all have these two modes in our lives. There’s a lot we ignore, overlook, push aside, and hide. And, there are some things we become enamored of or fixated on. Some things we just can’t see and some things we can’t not see. We filter life for the sake of the hope of self-preservation or for the comfort of self-delusion or the pursuit of self-interest. We all do it as a normal course of living, that is, until something shocks us and forces us to reboot.
The Bible gives us hints of people seeing things differently in a moment of rebooting:
‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’ (James 4:13-14)
“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5)
“For we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.” (Job 8:9)
Good old Job! In case you are wondering why Job is never quoted on bumper stickers, now you know! Still, that last statement from Job resonates, don’t you think?
We are all feeling a little like Job these days. We feel our regular lives have been sidetracked by a shocking turn of events we have no control over. What this means is that our filters have been removed and we are starting to see things we don’t normally see. But at the same time, some of the things that we have had our focus for years have lost their sparkle. We may still be looking at them, but we are starting to wonder why we are. We are all looking around trying to get our bearings and wishing that “our preferred normal” would be normal again.
But to all this wishing for “our preferred normal” to return as quick as a bunny, I say, “Not so fast!”
We are in a unique situation. We are experiencing things we have never experienced before and that means that we are seeing things and feeling things that we have never experienced before. True, given what these experiences are, I can understand why we would like to move on and get back to our “regularly scheduled programming”. But don’t waste this moment. The things you are experiencing right now are not necessarily a curse; God can turn them into a blessing! It all depends on how you look at it. It all depends on what you are willing to see.
C. S. Lewis once made this comment about World War II: “The only reason why cancer at sixty or paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.”
He then goes on to add: “If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we [are now] disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”
Lewis’s point is clear: being faced with something we can’t push away and forget that reminds us of a reality we will all face, namely death, is a good thing. That’s particularly true when it helps us to see that the things we usually invest in and pursue don’t provide any real hope, peace, joy, or security. They are “but a vapour,” as James would say.
It’s good to think about our mortality. Let’s face it, we are all mortal, but we usually push that thought away. But in so doing, we squander life itself. We waste it instead of embracing it. We end up being trapped in the trivial. To value the gift that is life is to understand that it is an uncertain, beautiful thing that is often surrounded by ugliness and decay.
If we all grow in our appreciation of life, of love, of community, of family and most of all, of faith in Christ, then I believe we will all have new eyes to “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)