My husband and I have a little dog that I love like my own child. A true dog person, my eyes light up when I see a dog. Take a walk with me and our conversation will most likely be interrupted by me loving on someone’s dog and engaging them in conversation about our mutual love of our babies. When I see a dog, I see a companion. Others may see a guide. Others may see a threat. None of these is wrong or better than the other. But it does show us how differently we perceive something. This is called our lens. All you have to do is live with someone to know that different people see/hear/feel in different ways.
It’s easy to forget that all women wear different lenses. We don’t think, dress or act the same and that’s okay. Our trouble comes when we assume that we do. I can’t stress enough – my way isn’t the only or right way; it’s just my way and when I understand that about myself, I can understand other people better. The challenge comes when we try to look through another’s lens – or perhaps we don’t try at all. I’ll be the first to admit that some people’s choices don’t make sense to me, but why would they? I’m not them. But honestly, isn’t it just easier to hang out with people who have the same lens as us? However, easier is not always better.
Jesus made connections with people wearing all sorts of lenses: religious, political, social justice, psychological, cynical… He was judged and despised for it, too. Why does he have those friends? Doesn’t he know who she is? What she’s done? And he was despised because he saw through different eyes – eyes that saw the heart, acknowledged the pain and fear, felt the shame, burden, hopelessness. And he had the antidote for all of it, not just some that he agreed with or felt comfortable around.
How we see leads to how we think, which leads to how we behave. We have the same kinds of lenses as those in Jesus’s time and if we see almost exclusively through them, it will affect things like our circle of people – usually those who agree with us or think like us. It’ll affect how we hear news and sermons, which books we read, even where we shop or which charities we support. Do you ever wonder what things look like from another lens?
Yes, it’s easy to surround ourselves with people like ourselves – that is a normal tendency. But it can also be a problematic way to live life, especially if you struggle to spend time with someone who sees things differently than you or won’t have a conversation or share a meal with them. Being perpetually curious, I find it fascinating to talk to someone with a completely different background than myself. For a lot of people, though, that falls outside their comfort zone.
In 2007, William P. Young published The Shack. That book certainly made its mark on the Christian community. People loved it; people hated it. Some wouldn’t even read it… it was a whole thing. I was in the “loved it” category for lots of reasons. Because I was so into my lens, I assumed that everyone else would love it, too. Girl, was I wrong. While at a school event, I overheard a group of women critiquing the book. Some were indignantly telling others they hadn’t read it and certainly would not and those who had read it gave reasons for their offense. They even revealed their lens: to them, it was straight-up unbiblical. But I knew there were more lenses from which to view that book.
I read The Shack in small bites, for it was the kind of book that was akin to eating a multi-course meal. I would nibble, knowing more was coming and I didn’t want to get overstuffed. Plus, I wanted to savor the bites, think about their components, truly savor the course. This was not a gulp-it-down meal on the way to the next outing. It was a take-your-time meal. I had marked a number of passages that were particularly moving but I held close to my heart the words, “God’s so very fond of you.”
Growing up, my parents didn’t seem particularly fond of me; in fact, not many adults were. That’s a whole other post (or memoir), but essentially, I didn’t feel loved so therefore my lens was that I was unlovable. So, when I read The Shack and the author emphasized how crazy God is about us, that hung with me like a sweet perfume. Therefore, it came as a surprise when I heard women saying how disgusted they were with the book. What had I missed?
William Young shared an experience he had on a plane ride shortly after the book’s publication. The author had his copy in the seatback pocket and the woman next to him said something to the effect of, “I hope you’re not reading that trash.” He said he was and asked what she thought of it. She went on a passionate diatribe about how the author did this and that and had totally offended all the Christians she knew. He asked her gently, “Do you know why he wrote it the way he did?” Then he explained his story of abject neglect and trauma as a boy and how the wounds stayed open for years, with regular doses of salt poured in as the years went by. In adulthood, his life came crashing down as a result of choices made out of deep pain that had festered in his heart, causing him to doubt God’s love and the extent to which He’d go to save him. When he was finished, the women thought differently, but the best gift he gave her was to see the story from a different lens. His goal in writing the book was to sort out his pain with God’s loving guidance, to work it out in an artform that made sense to him: story. She had never thought of it that way, she had just been offended because of her own personal lens. I can relate to her because I’ve done that myself.
Plenty of times have I seen something only through my lens and didn’t stop to consider another. I’ve misread situations, assumed wrongly about people, been offended when no offense was intended. It happens in conversation, with current events, with books… anything!
I once was rather irritated with a woman who talked expansively on only one topic: sports. I was so tired of it. Seriously, wasn’t there more to talk about than last night’s scores? But then, after months of rolling my eyes and avoiding her, I realized that I could see this differently. So, one day, before she could launch into an athlete’s prowess on the court over the weekend, I asked her if she was much of a reader. Turns out she was in a book club and it was one of her great passions. No one had ever asked her about it in the setting we’d shared before, but once I did, I had a new friend. She and I often shared favorite titles and it made my time around her a joy instead of a trial.
Earlier I said I loved The Shack, but when I learned more about the author’s backstory, or saw it through his lens, I loved it even more. In fact, I saw how the book was soaked in love. That’s what all of our stories are: soaked in love, friend. It’s hard, but the bottom line – the one I see more clearly all the time – is that He’s so very fond of me! In fact, “fond” seems too light a word – He’s crazy about, mad about, head-over-heels in love with me. And with you. You, the one with the totally different way of seeing things. That Facebook friend who seems to be coming at things from an entirely different perspective. Those people who seem flat-out wrong and those that agree with you completely. No matter which lens we’re seeing the world through, it can be really hard to live with and among people who see the world so differently from us. It causes tension and rifts, but we need to see things from one other’s perspectives, too. Or at least try to.
Maybe we don’t have to get so worked up about how other people see things. Maybe we can just have peace that we were designed differently and that it’s possible that another person’s way of seeing things have merit, too. It’s not just how we look at things outside ourselves, but also how we look within ourselves. It helps me to tell myself that as God loves me, He loves them, no matter the lens from which they see the world.
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