Rubbing My Eyes

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.

20 thoughts on “Rubbing My Eyes

  1. I was blessed to have a mother who always seemed to see the good in everybody. She would look at situations that others would criticize and find a logical explanation for how others reacted. I think maybe this is a way she saw what others didn’t want to see or were not capable of seeing. I think a little of this rubbed off on me because I find myself doing the same thing many times.
    Thank you for sharing this thought provoking post.

  2. We don’t appreciate the light until we’ve struggled in the darkness. We don’t want that to be true because dancing our thankfulness on the mountaintop is more desirable than shuffle step blindness in the valley.

    • So beautifully said, Pamela. It helps me remember that, in God’s eyes, the valleys aren’t so deep — and He is faithful to see and watch over our wobbly, shuffling steps. It’s all part of a movement of grace.

  3. Thanks so much for this. And it’s so good to hear from you, too! Your comment blesses me by reminding me, in a new way, of the importance of spending time with Jesus.

    In other words, sometimes we might need to go off on a private journey of our own — much like the blind man on his way to the pool of Sent. But really, the blind man’s trip wasn’t made entirely alone: The Word which had been spoken to him was now living inside him. And growing. The Word grows in us and, ultimately, opens our eyes.

  4. So often I have found myself saying, “From now on, I’m not going to raise my voice at the kids”, or “From now on, I’m going to exhibit more patience with my spouse or kids.” “From now on I’m going to exhibit the fruits of the spirit.” But I miss the mark every time when I try to do it of my own will, want to, or “will power”. It is then that I realize to be more like Christ I need to spend more time WITH Christ, through prayer, meditation, quiet time without the TV and other distractions, like you said. And with eyes that see the blessings big and small that are as James 1 says, “good and perfect gifts”. As always, I enjoy your words. Keep them coming. Blessings to you.

  5. I think we get caught up in the “thankfulness moment” because we don’t have a lot of experience in being thankful. We do, however, have a lot of experience in taking things for granted — and particularly we American Christians.

    The real miracle is how much good happens in spite of, or perhaps because of, our blindness. The whole idea is that we become less as he becomes more (like what C.S. Lewis said about us becoming “little Christs”). As that process continues, more and more good things happen.

    Thoughtful post, Matthew. You’ve set me to thinking.

    • Thanks, Glynn. You add a very interesting point: “I think we get caught up in the ‘thankfulness moment’ because we don’t have a lot of experience in being thankful.”

      What an amazing thought: God uses our blindness to open up miracles — and not just in our eyes.

  6. “True prayer is seeing through mud.”

    What a perfect definition of faith. I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective lately. So often we focus on our blindness and the fact that when God offers us healing, we dismiss His instructions because we don’t understand them. At first glance, the mud doesn’t make sense — putting another layer over blindness? And yet, God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. We must have faith and trust that this mud is purposeful.

    • You make a great point. We generally scoff at “putting another layer over blindness”. Instructions like that look absolutely ridiculous.

      But what’s more ridiculous is our belief that we can sort through the ways of God. And then somehow arrange the knowledge on the neat hooks of our tiny, closet-sized brains.

      Even though most of us understand virtually nothing concerning the role of space-time, relativity or quantum theories in the larger universe, we still think we can grasp a neatly intelligible
      theory concerning the role of God’s wisdom in our lives.

      His love is so long-suffering and kind. He just smiles at us and gently adds one more layer of mud to our eyes. Until we see.

  7. I think I would miss the beauty of that “Aha!” moment if my eyes were always clean of the scales. For me it’s that constant rhythm of a hit and a miss that keeps me seeking after out good God with all my heart. So thankful for Grace. So, so thankful.

    • And I hear its peaceful rhythms in your voice. It’s inspiring. Many are listening to you, Laura. He’s using you to teach others some of this new movement of grace. You’re one of His trusty instruments. And I’m “so thankful”, too.

  8. It was years before I noticed the little bit in that story about the blind man. The part where Jesus says, “He’s not blind because of anyone’s sin. But because he is blind, now everyone can see for themselves just how great God is!” Okay. I’m paraphrasing.

    All of your wrestling and writing it down on a post-it or not? I think all of it is what God uses to show us just how great He is. I see Him here. Because of you.

  9. Matthew, Ken Retzer shared this with me yesterday and I am a better person today after reading this. Your words are such an inspiration to all who read, I wish I had this gift of writing.
    In Christ, Dave Halligan

    • Thank you, Dave. Ken is a good man. An inspiring, faithful servant. I’m quite humbled and encouraged by your words. God uses all of our gifts in mysterious ways. And, trust me, He has used yours to encourage me on a day like today.

  10. You wrote a beautiful exposition of this miracle and led me along through your writing to a deeper “seeing”, too. Your last four sentences made a huge impression. Thank you. I’m so thankful that you share your insights so beautifully and clearly. I will hold your word pictures in my heart and cherish them.

    • God unfolds such beautiful truth before our eyes. It’s like a slow journey into a miracle. Sometimes, though, we get impatient when we’re Sent on another muddy mission. But it’s still good mud in the end.

      Thank you.

  11. I love this wrestling and wrangling, Matthew. I believe there is no wrong way. I believe God rejoices when we appreciate the gift of toasted brie. And he rejoices, too, when we get good and muddy in the grit.

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