The people's voice of reason

How's Your Peripheral Vision?

Each time I visit my Optometrist my face ends up looking into an instrument which is like a large bowl turned on the side. This test has a fancy name, “automated perimetry.” While my head is still, the person being tested has to stare straight ahead while tiny lights of different intensities are flashed from random points in your vision field. Pressing a button indicates that the user sees the light. The purpose of this instrument is to test for blind spots and the extent of peripheral vision. It tests what you see when you are not looking directly at an object. For example, if you can only see straight ahead, you would not be able to drive a car safely. Certain eye diseases or even something as serious as a brain tumor causes these conditions which range from mild to severe and in some cases may lead to blindness.

Many people fail to appreciate the value of good vision until it is threatened or lost. This is true not only in the physical world, but also in the spiritual part of our being. In a conversation with His disciples one day Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see.” (Luke 10:23) By His teaching and example, Jesus increased the peripheral vision of His disciples. The Gospels are full of stories of the people Jesus took time to notice. Most of the time it was while He was on His way somewhere else that these people caught His attention. It may have been a woman at a well, a beggar by the way, many who were sick or troubled and even a man who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. His purpose was not just to perform miracles, but to raise awareness and to increase the sensitivity of the disciples to the needs of those around them.

As followers of Christ we are challenged to increase our spiritual peripheral vision. It’s not enough just to focus on our own responsibilities and those of our family. What do we see that would catch the attention of Jesus each day? Do we really see the needs and pain of those around us?

I heard the story of a business man who took a commuter train to work each day. As the train moved each morning and evening through the poorest area of the city the man pulled down the shade over the window. One morning another man asked why he did that. His response was, “I try to ignore the plight of those people because I figure there is nothing I can do about it.” His companion responded, “You can at least be more aware of them. That is the first step; lift up that shade.”

How big is the world you live in? No, I’m not talking about physical size or location. Rather, what do you see in your world? For the Christian, peripheral vision is not an option. It is critical to developing a Christian lifestyle.

Let me share with you a favorite story about someone a teacher could have given up on, one of those children a teacher could have endured but easily passed on to someone else the next year. Instead, he got in her field of vision.

His name was Ted Stallard. He was one of those kids turned off by school. He was sloppy in dress, often expressionless, unresponsive and irritating to his teacher. Ted’s teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen -- as she placed big red X’s beside his many wrong answers. If only she had studied Ted’s school records more carefully. They read: 1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation. 2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother is seriously ill. He receives little help from home. 3rd grade: Ted is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year. 4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too. At day’s end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents." He left.

Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude. The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher -- one committed to loving each of them…especially the slow ones… especially Ted.

Surprisingly -- or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few. Graduation came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time.

Then, one day, she received this note: “Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Ted”

Four years later, another note arrived: “Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Ted”

And four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Ted”

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted’s mother would have sat. The compassion she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.

Every day we come in contact with people like Ted. However, for some, the hurt doesn’t always show on the outside. Some people wear a mask to cover the invisible pain that exists just beneath the surface of their lives. It may be your next door neighbor - a member of your family - a spouse - a friend – a co-worker- or a neighbor. Some of us have our head stuck in bowls looking straight ahead and never see the needs of people to our right or left. Just like we punch a button for the eye doctor to know we see all of our field of vision, you punch a button for God to know what you see when you pray for others and reach out to help them out of Christian compassion.

You can’t help but notice in the Gospels the priority of Jesus was people. He was not the least bit concerned about their reputation or possessions. He saw their need and sensed their potential because His Father cared enough for them to send Him. I remember that Jesus said, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (John 20:21) I hope one day it could be said about us as was said to the disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see.”


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