I’ve been bludgeoning my students for years. It’s a hard lesson, but they’ve got to learn it.
“Look for the good,” I tell them, again and again, until they’re good and bloody.
So why am I so passionate in wielding this aphoristic club? Partly because, once upon a time, those daily swings of grace finally provoked me to get out of a pit. That movement first began with a single Post-it note nailed down to my desk at school. I determined to jot down a few good moments for which I could be thankful. In the beginning, I discovered them slowly.
One or two words at a time.
But I did begin the work of using my pencil to start scratching, and I did it every day until the scratching felt good. It became a training. I was on a mission to see again.
And now, years later, I still keep out a Post-it note every day on my desk. It stays there with the weight of furniture. But even so, days will often go by when I don’t bother to stop and sit down.
And be thankful.
Lately, I’ve noticed a movement. It’s become vogue among Christians to archive and publish their moments of goodness. Instead of using yellow or blue squares, they post them online or print them neatly in prayer journals. There’s even a handful of popular books now, I believe, which seek to train calloused eyes in the ways of thanksgiving.
I’d like to say that I’ve been happy to see this larger wave of gratitude wash over more and more people. But no. I dismissed this movement as a splash, catchy and flimsy.
I hate bitterness. It makes me silly, even ungodly. Because, really, so what if I learned it — “organically” — via my own pretentious muck and mud?
So here am I, now, back at square one. And realizing that some of my vision is gone. I’ve lost sight of an important piece of furniture. That old yellow square got buried somewhere, probably beneath a pile of dirty laundry.
But let me be clear: I am no enemy of this popular, rising tide of thanksgiving. Gratitude matters. It transforms us. And it works.
But I also don’t think I’m alone in my frustration of constantly missing the mark. We frequently beat ourselves up for failing to look through the eyes of a child — for failing to see through the lens of thanksgiving. In the beginning, we dutifully make our lists with a fresh and holy wind behind us. Eventually, though, we drop our bullets and become distracted by ugly things like bitterness and TV.
Why must it be such a struggle to see?
The truth? We are born with blindness. It’s our natural, fallen condition. It’s a miracle, really, that we see beyond our brokenness and selfishness at all.
Yes, it is a miracle.
But there’s a blind man who might see things a bit differently than you or me.
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent).
So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7 NASB)
This miracle wasn’t just about healing. Jesus was up to much more than merely opening up another pair of eyes.
Or at least physical eyes. The blind man’s miracle plays out across a greater journey. He was told to go to a new place. To a place of being Sent.
Tonight, I know I’m being sent into a deeper miracle. Now, I’m beginning to see the transaction which took place between a man’s meeting and his leaving.
So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.
It was a transaction held together by a sticky faith, and much stickier than any small paper reminder, because true prayer is more than seeing. True prayer is seeing through mud.
Prayer is seeing through a dirty, uncomfortable mud, which can also, in the end, somehow help to heal us.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for my repeated failures at spiritual seeing. After all, Jesus wants me to see something even more wonderful than a list of sunrises, perfectly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils and toasted brie.
Maybe I don’t sin in missing these moments. In fact, maybe, for a time, I need to be blind. Because even when I miss the good moments, I’m learning that Jesus will always remain standing before me — with two arms, always open, for me.
His arms outstretch even the emptiest Post-it note. Sure, maybe today He’ll hold out my favorite pencil as a gift. Or maybe not.
Either way, it doesn’t really matter because I once was blind. But now I can see that I’ve been sent to go rub my eyes.
And, like the blind man, I’m coming back. To see.