November 1, 2000
 Respecting Our
Blind Spots

 Sometimes It Takes a
Second Look to See
God's Best
  
    
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During my first semester at Fuller Seminary, I took a seminar in historical theology which required a mammoth term paper. I knew from the start that I couldn't take this assignment lightly. The professor of the course, Dr. Geoffrey Bromiley, was one of the most respected scholars in the school. He was also known as the most meticulous reader of student papers. As translator of The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Bromiley had developed an eye for catching errors the most conscientious editor would miss.

Evie had taken a secretarial job with an advertising agency in Pasadena. Her office was equipped with an IBM mag-card typewriter, a precursor of the modern word processor, which allowed her to make corrections on disk before printing out the final copy. This state-of-the-art wonder, retailing at $35,000, was enough to make any grad student saddled with a major term paper drool. Evie's supervisor graciously allowed her the use of this magnificent machine for typing my seminary work.

I determined to be the first student ever to present an error-free paper to Dr. Bromiley. After several months of furious work, I presented the mass of material to Evie, who typed a draft. Then I scrupulously combed each page, flagging every mistake. She typed in the corrections and printed out the final copy--over one hundred pages without whiteout or penned corrections--unheard of for a student paper in 1974. Certain that not a missing comma had escaped my notice, I proudly handed my tome to Dr. Bromiley.

When it came back, it looked like a checkerboard! Scarcely a page had escaped the vile slash of his pen. Ironically, most of the mistakes were ones I would have corrected myself if I had noticed them. It was as though I had proofed the paper with a blindfold on.

Missing the Obvious

As a writer I now understand the problem only too well. While you can become adept at catching others' mistakes, you never spot all of your own, no matter how hard you try. It's a problem I continue to experience far too often, no matter how hard I work at writing.

As much as we'd like to think otherwise, we have blind spots as writers which keep us from being good judges of our own work. I've come not only to appreciate editors but to believe they are indispensable to good writing.

The parallel to life in general is only too obvious. We have blind spots that interfere as we look at our life. These include attitudes and assumptions that distort our perception and many preoccupations that keep us from thinking clearly. We are also suggestible, usually much more than we realize; we're affected by our environment, our culture, the opinions of others, the persuasiveness of advertising. Add this all together and our view of reality can be skewed, sometimes dramatically.

The Power of Suggestion

Often the effect is simply laughable and doesn't greatly affect our destiny. I'll never forget an experience I had on a Sunday morning in April 1986, which impressed on me how I can overlook an important detail and be fooled by the power of suggestion. A news report the previous evening had announced that metal shavings had been discovered in some boxes of a brand of cereal that was a favorite at our home. No less than three unopened boxes of it were on our pantry shelf at the time.

6:30 the next morning found me groggily staring at these boxes wondering "should I or shouldn't I?" In my suspicious frame of mind I did something I rarely do--I checked the expiration dates on the box tops. Two read "February 28" and one "March 6." Now I was really frustrated. Metal fragments and stale cereal--what a horrible combination! Other breakfast choices were untempting, though, so I decided to take the risk and poured a bowl from the March 6 box.

Fortunately I found no shreds of metal. But just as I expected, the cereal tasted bland and the usual crunchiness was gone--exactly what you would expect from a box of cereal six weeks out of date. I had to force myself to finish the bowl.

When Evie woke up, I complained about the stale cereal and reminded her of the need to check expiration dates when buying food. Later, as I was leaving for church, she handed the cereal box to me and asked me to read the expiration date aloud. "March 6," I replied. "Read the whole date," she insisted. "March 6, 198--er--7." Well, of course, I knew that . . .

When I ate cereal from the same box the next morning, I was pleased to find it had regained its flavor and crunchiness. But I was humbled to realize how easily I'd been tricked by the placebo effect, and this because I overlooked a critical detail. As small a detail as it was, it made all the difference in how I viewed reality on that occasion.

When Blind Spots Are a Serious Problem

If we're honest, we'll each admit that we've had many experiences like mine with the cereal which show that we sometimes look at life with blinders on. It is fortunate that the results are often merely amusing. We have the chance to laugh at ourselves and gain some priceless stories to share with friends.

There is a more serious side to the problem, though. We can miss important opportunities God brings into our life because of blind spots in our thinking. These can include golden opportunities for relationships and using our gifts. It may that be our ideals are unrealistic: we see a situation as less than perfect, while God sees it as the right one for us given who we are. Or it may be that we're preoccupied with other areas, and the tyranny of the urgent keeps us from appreciating what is most important. Or we may simply find it hard to believe that God will open a door that he is indeed willing to unlock for us; our need is for courage and faith.

Grasshoppers and Giants

At one point during the Exodus, Moses sent twelve spies on a reconnaissance mission to Canaan. The purpose wasn't to determine whether they should invade the promised land--for God had already told them to do so and had promised them victory--but to gather the data needed for a battle plan. Still, a full ten of the twelve returned with a gloomy majority report: "We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. The land devours its inhabitants; all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature, and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them" (Num 13:31-33 RSV condensed).

In this case, low self-esteem blinded ten mature leaders to God's intentions for them. They couldn't see past the limitations of their physical size. Even worse, they suffered from a tragically low view of God. They assumed he was restricted by their limitations. They failed completely to appreciate his infinite power and to regard him as faithful to fulfill his promises.

Their example reminds us of how we can so radically misjudge our prospects for success that we convince ourselves we will fail at a point where God intends us to succeed. We should take this warning to heart and remember it often.

The Good News--And the Challenge

Fortunately there is also reason for encouragement in what we're saying. The fact that we have blind spots means we may have reasons for hope in discouraging situations that we've overlooked. We can take encouragement precisely in the fact that we don't always see things clearly, in other words, for it means things may not be as bleak as we assume. We can take heart also in knowing that situations which seem less than perfect to us may have potential we haven't yet recognized and may be worth another look. From God's standpoint they may be the right situations for us and in time will prove to be so.

All of this points to the need for each of us to have people in our life who are adept at pointing out our blind spots. We need those special individuals who view our lives optimistically, see our potential better than we do, and are gifted at helping us recognize where we're missing the whole picture. Such people come in the form of friends, spouses, teachers, pastors, counselors, Bible-study members, employers and fellow employees. Like ours, their judgment will be fallible at times. Yet when we open ourselves to their assistance, God will use them to help us better understand his will and to gain the courage to take steps of faith.

In some cases their help can make an enormous difference in our destiny. I think of a friend of mine who found an excellent opportunity for marriage because a counselor encouraged her to take a second look at someone whose offer she was ready to reject. Jeff LeSourd was eager to marry Nancy Oliver. Nancy loved Jeff as a friend, but not romantically. An insightful counselor pointed out to Nancy that her emotional side had been so severely damaged through an abusive childhood that she was incapable of falling in love with the sort of man who would be right for her to marry. Her only hope for finding a healthy marriage was to make the decision more with her mind than her heart.

Jeff had all the qualities of compassion, maturity and spiritual strength that Nancy longed for in a husband. Her counselor advised her to accept Jeff's proposal, even though she wasn't in love with him. Nancy followed his advice and married Jeff. In time she developed strong feelings of romantic love for Jeff, which have only grown deeper over more than ten years of happy marriage. (Nancy relates this story in her own book, No Longer the Hero.)

Clearing Our Field of Vision

Nancy's example is extreme, to be sure, and I'm not suggesting everyone should take such a stark leap of faith in deciding to marry. Yet her example does challenge each of us to look for unhealthy patterns in our own decision making. Our backgrounds affect each of us in ways that work against our better judgment. In certain situations we may be prone to instinctive reactions which do not reflect what is best for us or even what underneath we most want to do. In considering particular opportunities, we may be inclined to focus too much on certain details and overlook others which if we took them into account would lead us to a different conclusion about what to do. How greatly we need those people who can function as editors in our life, and help us come to grips with where our thinking is flawed.

We should pray earnestly that God will bring these people to us, and draw liberally on their help in all of our major decisions. The proverbs promise again and again that through our interacting with wise friends and counselors, God will fine-tune our thinking "as iron sharpens iron" (Prov 27:17). Even more, we open ourselves more fully to the extraordinary benefit Paul spoke of when he said, "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2).
  

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