Learning To See

Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all.

~C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

Lately God has been teaching me a lesson that is glaringly simple, yet something I had never before even considered: how to see.

The comforts and mundanity of every day life tricked me into simply looking instead.

What’s the difference?

A person who looks…

Is always looking forward to something in the future. They think more about what isn’t there (perfect weather, perfect comfort, different circumstances, more of something) than about what is.

In summary, a person who just looks is discontent.

A person who sees…

Is immersed in the moment. They notice the beauty of what is there. They are focused on the gifts that they have been showered with; they are grateful for the riches of the seemingly simple, everyday aspects of life.

A person likes this knows what it means to be truly content.

How I learned the difference

I’ll be taking down the updates from my Greece trip pretty soon, but if you’ve been keeping up with them you’re familiar with the story of the week I spent in the hospital there. During that time, I felt pretty helpless/useless/angry/a host of other negative things. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But it got me thinking about everything I had been taking for granted: freedom, sunshine, simple hygiene the beauty in the noise of a city…not to mention the things my body used to be able to do–running, swimming, lifting weights, the list goes on.

I was ready to not take those things for granted anymore once I had them again, but I was still focused on what wasn’t there, what I used to have but then lost.

I can only explained what I learned next as coming from God, because it was something I’d never thought about before, never even considered.

Once you learn to see, every moment can be beautiful.

Saving a million dollars

A couple days ago I was reading Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and I came across a passage that helped me put all of this into words. In it, he is actually discussing something that C.S. Lewis taught him, so I’m not sure which man taught it to me. At any rate, it’s a concept that God started teaching me weeks ago, but I never thought about it in a meta-cognitive sense. I recognized it immediately as I read it.

He puts it into much better words than I ever could, so I’ll just include it here:

“To wake up in the morning and be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (“quiddity as he calls it). He helped me become alive to life. He helped me see what is there in the world–things that, if we didn’t have, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He made me more alive to beauty. He put my soul on notice that there are daily wonders that will waken worship if I open my eyes.”

What do you have that you would you pay a million dollars for if you didn’t have it? Would it be a survivable planet? The ability to feel joy? That feeling of connecting with another person? For me, it’s those things and more. The list gets longer every time I think about it.

Turns out, I’ve saved millions of dollars without even realizing it.

Seeing with all of your senses

To really see a moment, it helps to use all five senses. Even if you’re just sitting in your living room, using all of your senses adds so much depth.

Notice the feel of the cushion against your back, the taste of your coffee even some time after you’ve finished it, the smell of the summer air coming through the window, the sound of the music playing or the TV providing white noise in the background, the sight of the contrast of your plants against your walls.

Seeing the invisible

What is going on under the surface? Maybe it’s your friendship with your roommate sitting on a different couch, or the bond you share with your son as he plays on the floor. What do you have planned for later that you can anticipate right now? What is there in the room with you that provides a reminder of gifts God has given you in the past, maybe gifts that you’ve long forgotten? What is a dream of yours that you are taking a break from working towards, but one that you’re excited to reach one day? Is there a good memory that you can once again immerse yourself in for a second?

What about your salvation? The freedom we have in Christ? The message of the Gospel? The presence of God? The promise of the return of Jesus?

These are things that I know I am not reminded of enough, and if I spent more time dwelling in them I would be a much more joyful person.

I want to get into the habit of this, because every time I become aware of the sheer depth of every moment, I am immediately flooded with gratitude and worship. There is so much more than we could ever know just by looking. We have to open our eyes and see.

Seeing in hindsight

One thing I’ve never been very consistent with is processing.

I had lots of opportunities to do that over the last few weeks, and the difference it made in my life was shocking.

What is processing?

In simple terms, it is dealing with something that has happened to you.

There are lots of ways to do this. Some people are verbal processors and they do best when they can talk through things with another person. Some people are internal processors and they do best when they can simply sit and think about something that has happened, or journal it out.

Why is it important?

Processing helps you move forward, leaving the negative in the past and bringing the positive into the future with you. It helps you move toward the person you want to become–and as Christians, that person should be Jesus. Processing helps us use our experience as sources of learning and strength so that we can look more and more like Him every day.

Not only that, life without some form of processing is overwhelming. Without it, everything just becomes a chaotic series of snapshots of faces, emotions, and moments that seem to repeat every day. We end up not dealing with negative feelings. We end up reacting rather than acting.

Whereas the conscious act of seeing helps us notice the depth of the present, processing helps us notice the depth of our past experiences.

I would encourage you to somehow implement this practice into your life. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy–just talking through things with a friend or journaling. Maybe try prayer as a way to process with God. Test it out and see if it makes a difference.

Go forth and see

Sorry if this got a little bit too abstract. If you’re willing to think through all this with me, I think it will add the same richness to your life that it’s done for mine.

Until next time,


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