By David Bolick
I read a post by Rabbi Evan Moffic the other day that made a lot of sense to me. Here’s the last paragraph:
“Life,” philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “is lived forward and understood backward.” The power to understand the backward part of lives lies within us. We can’t change what happened, but we can change what it means. What we choose to remember helps shape who we decide to become.1
A good example of someone who did that was Joseph in the Old Testament. He said to his brothers, “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”2
I have noticed that, like Rabbi Moffic, I also tend to rewrite history, and that I use what you could call a “nastiness filter” that airbrushes out a lot of the bad stuff, or even if it leaves it in, relegates it to a place of less prominence than it had at the time. A lot of this isn’t something I consciously choose to do; it just happens, I think, as a corollary of Romans 8:283—one of the many perks that come with the territory of belonging to the Lord.
There are some things, however, that I have to make a conscious effort to reframe by catching myself when I notice I’m heading toward the dark side of memory lane and rerouting my thoughts so that even if there’s nothing particularly bright about what I’m remembering, I make some brightness shine on it by deliberately giving the person or the situation that’s bothering me the benefit of the doubt, or by pointing out to myself that even if I can’t see anything great about it right now, that doesn’t invalidate Romans 8:28.
A tactic that has proved very effective for me in bummer neutralization is to say something like, “So-and-so really rubbed me the wrong way, but I’m sure I must have rubbed her the wrong way too, and it was probably every bit as hard for her to live with me as it was for me to live with her.” This might be likened to using a flashlight to navigate when there’s no natural light. It’s not as good as sunshine, but it sure beats stumbling around in the dark. And I’ve found that if I keep it up with my artificial lighting, it’s not usually very long until my normal, natural perception of that previously gloomy patch takes on a more positive tone.
I have found this principle to be effective not only with scenarios that had cast me as the victim, but even with those in which I was the villain. In fact, my biggest breakthroughs have come when I spotted the wolf beneath my sheep’s clothing and recognized that my need for forgiveness was every bit as real as my need to forgive.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a similar point when he returned to Russia after his long exile and made an extensive tour of the country, meeting with many who were ideologically aligned with those responsible for his exile. His supporters criticized this and did not approve of his associating with that kind of people. Solzhenitsyn said, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
It’s been dawning on me more and more how very nuanced and complex an affair living life is. I’ve had to acknowledge that I’ve been simplistic in many of my assessments and embrace the reality that I am not well enough informed at present to be able to pass truly righteous judgment on many matters. Paradoxically, this has actually helped me be more understanding of people and situations.
Perhaps this could be likened to the way our peripheral vision is more acute in dim light than our central vision. Perhaps by easing off on my attempts to understand people and situations via my own limited powers of perception and relying more on what I know to be true of them from what God’s Word has to say, I am actually able to comprehend a lot more.
In most of the foot races I participate in, there are usually a few visually impaired runners right in there with the rest of us. If they had to rely on their own vision, they wouldn’t advance any faster than the stereotypical blind man tapping his way slowly along with his cane. But each of these legally blind runners is connected, via a band on his or her wrist and a 12- to 15-inch-long tape, to a sighted runner’s wrist. The two run alongside each other, the sighted runner navigating for both of them, and they get along just great.
“We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know … but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”4
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”5
2 Genesis 50:20 The Message.
3 We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (NKJV).
4 1 Corinthians 8:2–3; 13:12 The Message.
5 1 John 3:2 NASB.