A moment of clarity

October 29th, 2018

Several of my friends are in long-term recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction. Many of them tell stories about hitting bottom. 

They lost a job or a spouse. A DWI landed them in jail. Their children, their parents, and their friends wouldn’t speak to them anymore. An overdose or liver disease nearly killed them. Their life had become so unbearable that they had to find another way or resign themselves to an early death.

Other recovery stories feature what some call a moment of clarity. For instance, one of my friends — we’ll call him Bill — drank to cope. Homeless, he slept in a local park favored by alcoholics. 

Each morning he awoke in abject misery and rushed to the store to buy his first pint of Thunderbird. He spent the rest of the day panhandling to keep the Thunderbird coming until bedtime, making sure to hold back just enough change to get that first pint to start the new day.

One morning Bill got up and thought his usual first thought, “I feel miserable. I need a drink.” Then he heard, “It’s the drinking that makes you miserable.” From that moment on, he could never see things the same way again. He had had a moment of clarity.

Don’t misunderstand me. This epiphany did not translate into an instantaneous transformation of Bill’s life. Initially it just ruined his drinking. But eventually, he checked himself into rehab, seriously worked his twelve-step program, and faced the damage he had caused to others and to himself. He actively made amends.

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Today if you passed Bill on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice him. He prefers navy blue suits, white shirts, and bland ties. He’s boring. Reliable. Good-natured. And one of the kindest, most compassionate men I know. He never judges. He assumes that everybody is struggling with something. He’s been there himself.

Experiencing a moment of clarity is like taking the blinders off. What’s been hidden or what we’ve refused to see comes into view, and it changes everything. Or, at least, it can change everything. As Anne Lamott puts it, “We can choose to see or to squinch our eyes shut like a child, which looks silly on people over eighty pounds.”

In other words, with a moment of clarity comes the challenge to learn to tread the earth in a radically different way. Tentatively and gradually at first, with greater confidence over time. Always imperfectly.

I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he asked obviously blind Bartimaeus what he wanted Jesus to do for him. I mean, really. The guy couldn’t see. He wanted to be healed, right? He wanted his vision restored.

I think Jesus was saying something like this. “Sure, I’ll bring sight to your physical eyes. But that’s not all you’ll get. You’re going to see things—comprehend things—in a way that will change the world for you. Starting with you.”

Turning to Anne Lamott again, 

"Awareness spritzes us awake. Being awake means that we have taken off the blinders…. Awareness means showing up, availing oneself of the world, so there is the chance that empathy will step up to bat, even in this lifetime. If we work hard and are lucky, we may come to see everyone as precious, struggling souls." (Lamott, Almost Everything, p. 76)

Jesus came to take off our blinders. But he’s very honest about what that will mean. We will begin to see the world in a dazzling new way, and what we see will challenge us to live in a radically new way. A way that will look crazy to the rest of the world.

For much of the world, life appears to be a fierce competition for scarce resources. We have to gather what we can and cling to what we manage to accumulate in the desperate struggle to have enough. To be safe. To be significant. 

We are not in this thing together. We are set against one another. We will be winners or losers. Haves or have-nots.

Jesus helps us see things entirely differently. He says,

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. (Matthew 6:25-26)

Our Creator has tenderly braided us into a single, marvelously textured fabric. God’s love reliably sustains all that is at every moment. God is not holding out on us. There is enough to go around. Not because we have earned it or deserve it, but because God is, well, God.

And God spreads the wealth through the channels of our compassion and generosity. After all, we were created in the image of God.

That is why we do crazy things like turn the other cheek and love our enemy. That is why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless.

It’s never about who deserves what. We’ve caught a glimpse of the world as God means it to be, of our selves as we are meant to be. We’ve had a moment of clarity.

"A Moment of Clarity" originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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