The Siesta. Albert Besnard. c. 1890 – 1920.

At age eight, I desperately wanted glasses. I liked the elegant look they afforded adults and thought perhaps the intelligence they conferred could cloak me as well. One of my schemes to acquire this special good was to fake an eye condition. I complained to my mother that my eye vision was blurred, and, as a dutiful mother, she took me to the eye doctor. As I sat through the eye tests, I hoped the doctor would find some ill worthy of an eyeglass prescription. To no avail, alas. My vision was fine and I returned home, my eyes ungraced by glass. The laws of nature foiled my deceit.

As a young adult now, I am grateful for my vision. It has endured dimly lit reading rooms and the strains of late night online classes. It is the organ that I would be the saddest to lose.

I value my sight, both physically and metaphorically. In a way, I have always been looking for a new pair of glasses, always desiring to find a new way to increase my sight, my knowledge. From a young age, I noticed a lot, analyses running through my head as I observed people, settings, objects. From my corner in the classroom or in the crowded streets, I was alert to the world, to my surroundings. And my sight has been source of pleasure in people-watching, an asset in my literary analysis, and a strength in my extension of compassion. It has given me the insight to reach out to and encourage those silently suffering. It has allowed me to write in a way that tunes into the world around me (and within me).

However, in recent days, I have noticed a danger in depending on my perception, my own perspective. It can be easy to magnify the perceived power of my strength because I depend on it. Because a certain sense of pride envelopes it. A week or so ago, on one of my final walks in Malaysia, I was convicted of my blindness. As the cool breeze brushed my face, I read the printed verses in my hand. It was a passage from Isaiah 42:

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

~ Isaiah 42:16 ~

In that moment, I saw that I was one of “the blind.” At first, my brain struggled with this truth as it filtered through compliments of my insight, my perceptiveness. But the image of Christ leading me, pulling me through gauzy grey shadows by the light of his lantern appeared in my head. I was a child stumbling in the dark, led by the one who sees. A sense of peace settled over me at the picture.

On another morning, as I listened to my prayer app (Lectio 365), the reader read an excerpt from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Pursuing God’s Will Together:

“Those who admit their blindness see. Those who are convinced that they see… will not be able to see anything new. They will not progress on the spiritual journey. This story shows us that true discernment has very humble beginnings. It starts with the admission that we are not all that good at seeing.”

~ Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together (Transforming Resources) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), Kindle Edition. p. 30.

This quote struck me, reminding me again of my blindness. In an academic culture that places so much emphasis on what we know — from the technological advancements to the status credentials of higher education — it is easy to live in the illusion that we have seen it all. That we have read the books, have experienced life, have measured the depths of the earth. We are certain; there is no need for reconsideration. At times, I catch myself “closing the book” on issues, ideas, or literary riddles I have thought through, mistakenly confident that I do not need another voice, that there is nothing I did not see.

But this misplaced confidence leaves me more blind and erodes true humility. Recognizing our blindness, as Ruth Haley Barton conveys, is the path to sight. Seeing our need is the path to growth.

Part of this process of sight is listening to and interacting with people we overlook in our blindness. I tend to listen more to people I agree with and who think similarly to me and, in turn, listen less to people I do not understand or who are very different from me. But this leaves me blind to their perspective on the world, to the ways they can shape me (even in ways I may not realise or expect). My friendships and conversations with spontaneous/outdoorsy people, people different than me in many ways, has challenged me to step beyond the confines of my literary/indoorsy habitat and see the world around me in a different way. In the beauty of nature, the grittiness of hikes. And, while stretching, I have appreciated the perspective my friends have shared with me.

Actively acknowleding one’s blindness also means receiving (and learning from) criticism. My stubborn octogenarian self desires to grow in this. On reading Proverbs 9:7-9 a few months ago, I realised that the wise take criticism with grace.

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; 
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.
~ Proverbs 9:7-9

Awareness of one’s blindness lays the grounds for humility, for wisdom to flourish. The more I listen, the more I am corrected, the more I learn from my errors, the more I see that I don’t see, the more I can grow in understanding. As I enter a college setting in a land unfamiliar to me, I desire to grow in the grace to listen to people very different from me, the humility to reconsider my views, and the wisdom to remember that I am blind.

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