Optical illusions are sometimes fun. The picture with a thousand dots that at first seem to form nothing in particular until you stare through the picture and not at it, or perhaps at a particular point on the picture. Your eyes glaze over, and then another image is evident, one you did not readily see before but now cannot seem to shake. Visual phenomena that opposes reality- or from another point of view- confirms it, the original image just a hologram, a kind of false reality that conceals what’s really there.
My vision during the first half of my life thus far was like glancing at an original image, an array of meaningless shapes or dots, blatant profiles of faces, staircases that very simply led to another floor, or concentric circles that were no more than just that. What was presented to me, what I saw, was taken as truth and my actions and reactions sprung from this truth I swallowed whole.
In magic, an illusionist rarely divulges his secret. But in the times that he does, a trick that seemed before so complex, so enchanting, becomes simple and much less thrilling. When we learn what we were missing before, we now see in a second performance very clearly. “How could I have missed that? It is very well evident. The rabbit was in the hat before the trick began, the hidden door is in the floor, and I was much too focused on his right hand when it was his left hand that was deceiving me.”
I entered college with a solid plan for my life that quickly went awry halfway through my senior year when I found myself, and it was very much as if I had woken up one morning and stumbled upon myself, pregnant. Still some time later, I got what I believed was my dream job and my life should have been set up the way I wanted it. But something was missing. Something was always missing. “Maybe if I had a better job…” I’d say to myself until 3 jobs later I ran out of things I wanted to be.
“What is it you really want to do?” I could say this was a question proposed by a mentor or a friend but really it was me questioning myself in the late night hours when I tried my hardest to visualize my path to happiness.
“Write books. Maybe teach creative writing.”
“But what do you want to do that’s practical?” the questioning continued.
“Umm… Nothing.” And it was true. Nothing else seemed to suffice. It all just seemed so pointless and I found myself siding with the writer of Ecclesiastes counting it all folly. Truly I enjoy helping people but even if I could cure cancer, what’s all the years of work and research for if the patient will die anyway, a few years or decades later. I could make a million dollars but still the rich man meets his grave just like the poor one. Knowledge of the stock market, writing self help books, making a living in education. It all brought me back to a single question.
Is this all there is?
Have I glimpsed all of my options? Do I really live in a “what you see is what you get” kind of world? Did the infinite God, the one who created heaven and earth stop here and go no further? Am I sentenced to this kind of an existence for the rest of my days?
I wasn’t sad. Not necessarily depressed but simply unmoved. Life had become a hassle. I’d sit in church and listen to the saints thank God for another day above ground when I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. Being underground seemed much…easier. If we were all REALLY Christians, and we all REALLY believed the Bible and its claims about heaven, why is it that we prefer to be here than there? Surely I was missing something; I just didn’t know what it was.
It was the optical illusion before the reveal. I was looking at life…and not through it. God admonishes us to keep our minds and hearts centered on Him. Look at me, he says. Focus everything in you on me, and then you will be able to see quite clearly everything else. In an intimate conversation one night, I lamented to a dear friend that I had become disillusioned with life. I needed more money, or more excitement, or more… something.
He said calmly, “God is all you need.”
I said, “That’s not enough,” through tear stained cheeks.
He said, “Then you need more God.”
And at the moment, I didn’t know what that meant, but in the months after, it stayed with me. You need more God. If God was really the answer to my feelings of boredom, then I needed to talk with him and find out what in the world I was supposed to be doing with my life. I didn’t want simply another prayer lying on my back in the moments before I drifted off to sleep. This conversation required a face to face meeting. In a board room behind closed doors. I ate God for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I learned to find delight in sitting still with him, in the hours after the children were in bed. I petitioned him for more of his time. I needed God to put me on his calendar. When he did, which I imagined took some time because he only takes these kinds of meetings from those truly about his business, he directed me to The Great Commission in the latter verses of Matthew 28, and the same in Mark 16, Luke 24, and again in John 21. Four times, God had identified my purpose as a disciple of Christ. The gospel is a mystery but this part was no puzzle, not a series of hidden sentences written in small print at the bottom of a magazine ad. He says loud and clear, “Follow me, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. As you do this, I am with you until the end of the age.” (paraphrased)
It was then that the array of dots fit together nicely, the illusion was revealed and I was amazed I didn’t see this before because here in this resolve, the yearnings of my heart made sense. All else is useless child’s play, which may be fun for the moment, but have no lasting satisfaction. Ministry assigns value to life. Practical living finds itself in the day to day, provisions organized by God. I had been searching about in life for satisfaction, suspecting perhaps that my desires were too enormous to be filled, my cravings too strong for my available options to nurture.
C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
If I look at the picture, and not beyond it, any and every occupation has no real value in and of itself, and God is surely heartless to allow such pain and suffering in the world considering both his willingness and ability to stop it. If I see life in the here and now with an opaque backdrop, a period at the end of our term on earth, then the missing Malaysian plane, the 9/11 Attacks, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the Sandy Hook mass murder were devastating atrocities that stole lives and left behind casualties of sorrow, and no good thing.
But if instead, I look through the picture to see all that is behind it, the hidden door in the floor, and the set backstage, I see a different picture. I see children relieved from the secret sexual abuse they had been facing at home, others spared from the suffering they would see later in life, women granted passage to glory after their work on earth was done, and men reuniting with God. When I look through the picture, I see staircases that lead to heaven, concentric circles that form a rose, and where before, I saw a meaningless facial profile, I now see the face of God. It’s an image I cannot shake, and when others find it difficult to see what I see, I encourage them to look harder. It’s there. Don’t look at the picture. Look past the picture. As a matter of fact, just close your eyes. The just live by faith, not by sight.