A Poem for the Half-Blinded
I wish I could see everything.
When I first got glasses, the crisp green leaves
Defied belief. But now they are dull
Again, and I wonder:
What could make them clear?
My wife Katie is always disgusted when she takes a close look at my glasses. “They’re so filthy!” she complains. Katie is the sort of person who keeps a microfiber cloth handy so she can spot-clean her glasses frequently. I am not that sort of person.
Katie ends up with much cleaner glasses than mine. My vision is constantly obscured by small specks of grit and dust, but my glasses are so close to my eyes I don’t notice. It’s not until I take them off and look at them that I realize Katie is right; they’re filthy.
[This week we continue our series of Work Meditations. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources on living an integrated Christian life. Subscribe to get the next post in the series in your inbox.]
At work, I often have dirty glasses, too. I think I’m seeing things the way they are, but really there’s grit and dust in the way that distorts my view. My perception of my coworkers, my own work performance, and the work itself is flawed.
What could it look like to take my dirty glasses off and see what’s getting in the way of a clear view?
Your Heart Sets the Limits of Your Mind
In his delightful series Heart and Brain, cartoonist Nick Seluk finds the comedy in how our reasoning mind and our gut-level emotions so often contradict each other. This recent comic hits the nail on the head:
Cold, rational Brain challenges inspired Heart to live out the implications of the insight that something needs to change. This is often how we think about ourselves: If we could just live up to what we know in our heads to be true, we’d do so much better.
But there’s another dimension to our internal conflict. What’s inside our minds, what we think we know in the first place, is also limited by what’s in our hearts. Our heart sets the limits for our mind. I’m using the word “heart” here not to mean our emotions, like in the comic, but in the deeper sense of our core character. Our heart is who we most deeply are, the source of our decisions for good or bad.
Our character affects our perception of situations, other people, and ourselves. It’s not just that we don’t always live by what our minds know to be true. It’s that our minds are faulty, too.
Loving the Darkness
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about light and darkness:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
(John 3:19-20 NRSVue)
The placement of the “because” in those verses is not what we might first expect.
You’d think the passage would say something like, “People’s deeds were evil because they loved the darkness.” First the mind goes dark, and then the evil deeds follow.
But in this teaching, it’s the other way around: “People loved darkness . . . because their deeds were evil.”
The deeds are already evil, reflecting the condition of the heart. Then, because of that dark heart, people “hate the light.”
They simply can’t come to the light, to see things the way they really are. Their hearts don’t let them.
Some kinds of ignorance are self-inflicted. If our hearts are dark, our minds will be, too. We’ll have dirty glasses.
Grit and Dust
Let me give an example. I recently stumbled across an email from a dozen years ago. I had always remembered the summer when a friend and I had a falling-out. I offered to meet, but they stiff-armed me and didn’t want to.
Here’s the thing: The email chain makes it clear that they didn’t stiff arm me at all. They offered to meet. I’m the one who dropped the ball on actually making time to get together.
In this particular instance, the truth about the past jumped out at me in the form of an old email. It was like I suddenly had a microfiber cloth in hand, and could clear off the dust that had accumulated over the years when I remembered what happened with my friend.
But what if I hadn’t found that email chain? I could have gone on the rest of my life self-deceived in the same way.
This makes me wonder: In my work relationships today, where do I need a microfiber cloth, and how can I find one?
After all, misremembering is just one of many ways that my heart can set limits on my mind. I can misperceive things in the present, too.
My need to be competent can make me overlook my mistakes, without extending the same mercy to my coworkers.
My need to be important can make me exaggerate how impressive my projects are.
My need to be right can make me blind to facts that contradict my assumptions.
I know there’s grit and dust on my glasses; I just don’t know where.
Finding a Microfiber Cloth
There’s no silver bullet to overcoming self-deception at work, or anywhere else.
But Jesus points the way in the same passage above. He says, “But those who do what is true come to the light” (John 3:21 NRSVue).
Those who do good already have a certain character in their heart. Their heart lets them come to the light, to see things the way they really are. When our hearts are open to the truth, we can begin to perceive it with our minds.
So, we start with the heart rather than the mind. We have to confront the patterns of our character that may be keeping us from seeing things.
The spiritual practice that we find in Scripture and Christian tradition for confronting character flaws is confession. We start by naming the flaws we can see, the ways we have gone wrong, owning our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness without making excuses.
We do this in our own private prayers but also, as appropriate, with a brother or sister in Christ.
We bare our heart to someone of our own free will, letting them see what’s in there.
Richard Foster, a Quaker writer on the spiritual life, says this about the practice of confession:
[When] we know that the people of God are first a fellowship of sinners, we are freed to hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters. We know that we are not alone in our sin. The fear and pride that cling to us like barnacles cling to others also. We are sinners together. In acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.
In releasing our sins through confession, we find that we begin to see things a bit more clearly. We still have a long way to go, but each time we find the courage to come into the light, a bit of dust falls away.
Reflect and Practice
Think of a coworker with some kind of bad habit or character trait that affects your work. How does it cause problems?
Now think: If your coworkers were to feel this way about some aspect of your life at work, what do you think would be on their minds?
If there’s some heart work you need to do, find a friend you could talk about this shortcoming with.
Consider praying now with this traditional prayer of Confession from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.