Once in a great while, I will try an experiment in church. On the appointed Sunday morning, I will ask for a volunteer from the congregation. When the victim, er, the volunteer, comes to the front, I ask him or her to stand in a corner with his/her nose touching the wall. That, done I ask, “Without moving your head or body, and remaining perfectly still, tell us what you see.” The answer that always comes back is, ”I can only see the wall.”
And, of course, that is the whole point of the experiment. When we get overly focused on something…a problem, depression, talk radio, politics, a relationship gone sour…all we can see is the thing right in front of our eyes. It is as though the whole rest of the world ceases to exist for us and the broader picture is lost.
When I was a social worker, working as a case worker in child protective services, my world became the world of abused children, neglected children, and bad parents. True enough that at least half the referrals we received were without merit, but one severely abused or murdered child made us forget about the other people who are doing a pretty good job. I was young, in my twenties, and, after 2 1/2 years on the job, lost perspective and burned out. Everywhere I looked were violent and neglectful parents. It wasn’t really that way but it was all I came to see.
Police officers are subject to the same type of wall-seeing. Almost every contact that a cop has with a member of the public is an unpleasant one. A thug is going to be disrespectful and nasty when arrested but it is likely that that CEO who drives a luxury car and gets a ticket will be equally disrespectful and nasty. And, because they live in a cop world, cops tend to socialize with other cops. And, again, perspective is skewed. Not only are there dirt bags in the world who are potentially violent, wall-staring causes one to believe that the entire world is like that.
But the world is not like that. There are good people in the world, there are good parents in the world, and once out of the corner, there is much to see in the world that is bright, decorative, and beautiful. The world is not all talk radio, or politics, or things gone wrong. There is good and beauty all around if one just looks away from one’s own personal wall.
I had a friend who was down on life. I mean all of life. This friend is not and was not a member of the parish I belong to. He was down on relationships gone bad, the government, the lack of honesty in people, the church…in fact I don’t believe he saw the good or hopeful in anything. Every encounter left him feeling violated somehow. The negativity seemed to attach itself to me and, for a short time following an encounter with him, I, too, was depressed, negative, and looked at the world through his eyes. I shared his wall. I had to eventually, for my own health, cut down on the encounters. I don’t know what drove him to face his wall, but the wall was all he saw. As far as I know, all these years later, his nose is still pressed against that same wall.
The world, and life itself, is imperfect and there are downs as well as ups, relationships gone bad as well as relationships that are just waiting to be made great, and defeats as well as victories. To a great extent our world is what we make it, it is what we see it to be. I have, if I so choose, things to complain about. There are opportunities to moan and groan. But there are also reasons, many more reasons than not, to be grateful and thankful.
So, step away from the wall and expand your field of sight. Look for the right instead of the wrong, the lovely instead of the ugly, the hopeful instead of the hopeless. Look for reasons to be thankful and grateful instead of succumbing to bitterness. There is life away from the wall.
David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com