One of my favorite comedians has a sketch about going to the eye doctor. He begins by admitting that it sometimes takes him years to update his prescription. When he finally gets new lenses, he’s amazed at how well he can see. “‘Man, I could have been seeing things!’ How could instantly-improved vision not be at the top of your to do list? … I’ll see tomorrow. I don’t have time! I don’t have time to see clearly.”
As with most of his routines, I laugh at the absurdity… and then realize why it’s funny. Because it’s so true. Last week I updated my own prescription after eight years. The change each time I had been to the doctor wasn’t enormous, but over eight years, those little changes add up! Once I got around to actually ordering new glasses, the effect was substantial. So substantial, in fact, it took me a few days to adjust to the new glasses.
Thinking about this led me- as thinking about ordinary events in my life often does- to a spiritual life connection. I had become accustomed to my old glasses – so accustomed that I didn’t notice I wasn’t seeing as well as I could. I had become desensitized. My sense of sight wasn’t precise, but I didn’t even notice until I made a change. And then I realized how desensitized I had become.
How often do we get used to “seeing” badly in the spiritual life? We get used to our sins, especially those pesky habitual ones. They become part of us to such an extent that we don’t even notice them. We become desensitized to sins in the culture – to certain ways of thinking or treating others. We become, like the parable of the frog in the boiling water – so accustomed to the ways of our secular culture, we begin adapting to evils and rationalizing sin without even noticing how far we’ve fallen.
How do we prevent this? Just like we require an optometrist to help us see better, we have to turn outside of ourselves in the spiritual life, too. We do this by seeking the sacrament of confession regularly- even when we “only” have committed venial sins. We do it by going on retreat, even just for a day or a weekend. We do it by stepping out of our normal routine to seek God is silence. We need these things to put us back on track.
Seeking help can be humbling. Anyone who has had an eye exam knows how awkward they can be. “No, sir, I can’t see any of those letters. Apparently I’m blind.” The adjustment may be painful, and it requires some patience. It’s taken me awhile to adapt to the new glasses – it didn’t happen overnight. But is it worth it to see? Of course!
Once we strive to correct our desensitized moral and spiritual vision, we will find that it takes time, it takes humility, and it takes sacrifices. Perhaps there are behaviors we have slipped into that now we realize are preventing us from a true friendship with Christ. Maybe our language needs to be purged of gossip or taking God’s name in vain, or there are television shows or movies we realize are contributing to our desensitization. Perhaps there are habits, like setting aside time for prayer, that we know we need to implement in our daily routine.
I should have put “instantly-improved vision” at the top of my to-do list. In the same way, our spiritual renewal – our daily prayer life, frequent confession, and the sacrifices that come with pursuing a life of virtue – need to be at the top of our to-do list.
The world today needs a spiritual eye exam! And while it usually seems easier to see where others need improved vision, we must, as Christ reminds us (Matthew 7:3), begin with our own. What are you doing today to correct your spiritual vision and “see” more clearly?