by Sharan Bennett, 23 October 2017
I am supine, the only motionless individual in this large, bright room. Around me hover blurry figures in blue “scrubs” and puffy caps; they seem to move purposefully; all extraneous conversation has ceased. My head is in a brace—not uncomfortable, really, but authoritative. At my left side, a pretty woman (young enough to be my granddaughter), is in charge of keeping my emotions at a simmer. They would boil over without the prick of her needle and the fluid she monitors as it flows into me; for above, a surgeon is slicing into my right eye to remove a cataract. It’s been fully anesthetized, but painless or not, the very idea ought to put me in a panic of self-protection!
And all at once, it’s over. The needle is out, I’m swung to the side of the table and encouraged to let my head clear. What? No bandage? No, thanks to modern technology, I have no obstructing dressing, so I can already see, although now through an “UN-matched” set of eyes. I am amazed.
Into the wheelchair and out to a hallway that leads to a curtained cubicle. A friendly soul offers me apple juice—delicious! Do I want peanut-butter crackers? I’ve been without food or fluid (NPO) for 12 hours now, so that’s a silly question. Yes! They are the best peanut-butter crackers ever manufactured, of that I am convinced.
I begin to absorb the changes in my vision that are already apparent to me. Squinting by habit, I focus on my immediate surroundings. Blue–it’s everywhere, in shadows, around the edges of the light fixtures, in the veins on my hands. And white! I switch eyes and notice that I have traded a blur of ivory for pure, blinding white! This is going to be fun. After months of living in a blurry world, moving about with cautious uncertainty, here is clear vision. What else will I discover?
At home, I fall into bed to recover from the effect of the sedative, and—truth be known—the storm of emotional arousal that has been suppressed for hours. Eventually, I stumble to the bathroom and, in passing, consult the mirror.
What? Who is that wrinkled old woman I see? The heavy-lidded eyes that confront me peer over blue-tinged hollows; a nose perches at the apex of a triangle formed by deep grooves that frame the crevices bordering dry lips, presently set in a firm line of disbelief.
I close my right eye, the newly “accurate” eye, and survey my countenance through the golden filter of my remaining cataract. Ahhh, there I am! That’s the face I recognize: smoothish skin dusted with sunshine; a few soft creases that betray my many cheerful smiles and laughter. Is this not a face to respect, perhaps admire? I don’t know that other person; I’ve never seen her and am fairly certain I don’t want to make her acquaintance.
I did not bargain for this. ‘Didn’t think to mentally reach beyond the promise of an improved ability to survey and comprehend my world; did not imagine that I’d have to re-assess myself, too—and accept a revised version, a revised vision (if you please)—of who I am!
The wrinkled woman in the mirror isn’t very pretty, but I realize that she is loved. She wears the face her grandchildren recognize, the face that receives a husband’s goodnight kiss. Her friends recognize her; they hug the sagging body, peck at the dry cheeks. Those wrinkles were recorded with their own soundtrack: laughter, song, sympathetic tears. The blemishes tell stories of beach picnics and Sabbath afternoon hikes, of reaping a harvest of fragrant, sun-kissed sheets from the line. (Yes, well, they remind me that a lot of those things happened before we knew much about sunscreen, too!) Beautiful or not, I can read my history in my face. Can I learn something new from this surprising encounter? During the next few days, I begin to wonder if a spiritual metaphor is developing.
I grew up imagining a God who waited in stealth, planning to stun me with a view of my rebellious heart. Without warning, He would pounce upon a malicious thought or dismissive phrase. “See there? He would say. That’s who you are!” Ambushed! Caught! Like a flare, every insight would illuminate a dark corner of my character. I anticipated the momentary disorientation and sudden shame that each of such encounters might produce. Deep-buried guilt, euphemism-enhanced habits, He knew all about them. I felt bare, uncovered, as I imagined that God lowering my nose to the mess inside me.
With God, there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy”. How could I ever, every gain His approval when He would always know all about me? What would He do with all that information, with an ability to detect every wrinkle in my character, every spot of mold, all the weak and ugly choices that have made me, and my face, what they are?
Over many years, I’ve come to know Him as Friend. And everything is different.
In my long friendship with God, He seems to send insights effectually, sometimes years after the conversations or events they recollect. God is deft, economical. He sends only what I can bear, only what I need to clarify my vision, recognize what I must turn over to Him. It’s not because my flaws are innocuous or scarce. It’s because true reality includes not only a marred human, but a God who cannot act in contradiction to His own character of unwavering love.
I’ve learned that God treats me, and you, with the gentlest kind of tough love: reality in the smallest effective dose, administered when we are most able to comprehend it, at moments when we are most willing to submit to His correction.
I have learned, too, that the overwhelming sense of utter worthlessness that attacks sensitive individuals is from another source altogether. God never wrings all hope from us; even when we believe that we must have caused major disappointment to Him, it is safe, it is essential to rush into His arms. Out of his own experience with despair, David wrote, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:10-13)
My gloomy, irritable heart belongs to a person that God loves, loves so much that He poured out Heaven for me in the person of Jesus! The shock I feel when I “see” myself should, if I appreciate my own experience with Him, be followed immediately by the overwhelming thrill of His constancy. No matter my bad choices, He loves me. He never turns away in disgust; He brings good out of my mistakes. He binds my self-inflicted wounds and accepts my tears of remorse. We can go on again, together. No matter that advancing age will eventually limit the number of my opportunities to praise Him; the very length of my friendship with God must surely strengthen the credibility of my testimony!
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon…They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green, to show that the Lord is upright…” (Psalm 92:12, 14) “Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:17, 18)
Some morning soon, read the autobiography you can see in your own bathroom mirror. Peer as long as you like, at the scars, the sagging jaw, the receding hairline or whatever visible flaw you find most repellant. But recognize that the person you see is one whose value to God is simply immeasurable. Let gratitude flood your face with color as you acknowledge what that face means to your friends and family. Take a deep breath and know that you are inhaling from the atmosphere of love in which you move, nourished by the hope that only Jesus can give. Calm your fears, offer Him your uncertainty, give Him your guilt, your distress. The person you see in the mirror is beloved.
Then recognize that you and I live in a world full of people who have been spiritually NPO for far too long. Perhaps only your smile, or mine, will assuage the fear that new realities, no matter how positive, arouse in them. Maybe it is only one of us who can inject into their lives the peaceful assurance that will allow them to present their own blurred vision to a divine Surgeon, a precious Friend. Because they know us; because our faces are so familiar.
My good surgeon lived up to a reputation for excellent surgical results. He performed a perfect intervention for my aging eyes. Then he examined me to make sure that the renovation was successful, complete. Now I can recognize myself, and everybody else, more accurately than before.
Jesus’ intervention in my spiritual vision is still underway; this surgical procedure will last as long as does my earthly life. But the “good work” He has begun in me—and you—will also, at last, be brought to completion (Philippians 1:6) because the Lord never starts something He can’t finish. His results are amazing.
Yes, I see myself more clearly. But I see Him, too: the face of Grace. And as my spiritual vision improves, I will see Him more clearly. But I’ll never stop being amazed, just amazed. It is always amazing to be confronted by Grace. Just amazing.
“I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see.”
Sharan Bennett, a lifelong member of the Adventist church, has been a public assistance worker, housewife, stay at home mother, teacher at high school and university level, and leader in an Elderhostel program. In Puerto Rico she taught Bible, ESL, and World History; in China, ESL, creative writing and a class for medical professionals about the Adventist microculture. Her law degree led to active practice for 5 years; she was recognized as among 50 top pro bono lawyers in Arizona. In her home church in Arizona she’s been head elder and a Sabbath School teacher.