Updated: Apr 13, 2020
By Lisa Lowse
I have heard it said that everyone has a cultural lens, and that lens colours how we see the world. And most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re wearing lenses. I guess it’s like wearing glasses; your sight adjusts without you even realising. You don’t realise that you’re looking through something that is actually distorting what you are seeing. And you only seem to take note when something happens to challenge what you believe…
I remember the first time I became aware of my cultural lens; the one I didn’t know I had, that is. It was in my teens…
I love learning languages. The French teacher gave us a task of writing a letter about something massive we had to share with someone. I don’t know why I chose to put this topic in a letter; the self-centredness of youth I guess. I chose to share news that someone had died! Perhaps I was going for dramatic effect! I had to translate that someone had died into French. Learning a language challenges you to think how another culture feels about issues from the inside out. Saying ‘she died’ in French could only be translated as ‘she’s dead’. Far too brutal, I decided. ‘She passed away’ or ‘she’s not with us any more’ would cushion the harsh words. The problem was, if I translated that exactly, the French reader would probably ask where had she gone to, where did she pass to, without any idea that the person had died.
I was stuck! What to do! The deadline was the next day. I had to make a decision. Then a light bulb moment happened. The French reader of my letter wouldn’t be expecting any other words than ‘elle est morte’. They wouldn’t see it as harsh. That’s the way they express the death of a loved one. Our English-language thinking framework trains our mind, like a climbing rose is trained by trellis. And I had been trained to think in euphemisms.
But the bigger picture was how else had my English language thinking, or my Melbournian suburban childhood, or my traditional Christian faith journey, and many other lenses trained my mind? Am I looking through something that is actually distorting what I’m seeing?
I only took note when something happened to challenge what I was believing…
I thought I had taken great care to align how I see God, with what the Bible says. I see Him as full of love, as a good ‘fun’ Father and a powerful King, who doesn’t stand on ceremony. He willingly humbled Himself to live like one of His children out of His passionate desire to nurture a loving relationship with us. I thought I had ‘trained my mind’ out of images of God as a stern, distant, disciplinarian, ready to wag His finger when I stepped out of line. And I know this has reached my heart. I feel and see His loving ways to me.
So I was quite surprised when, just this week, something happened to challenge that…
It was during a prayer time with God. I was chatting to Him, enjoying being with Him. I said to God, “Lord, let’s chat about whatever You’d like to chat about.”
I heard in my imagination, “Come and sit with Me, Lisa, and we’ll chat.” It came as a shock when a picture of me as a child sitting on a hard wooden chair popped into my imagination. I was small, like a child sitting on the chair outside the principal’s office, waiting to be called in to the office to chat about something I had done, something that wasn’t good. And then I saw a flash to times when the boss had asked to see me in his office, and I automatically imagined he was going to upbraid me about something I had done.
I was really surprised, so I asked God about it. “Lord, why am I seeing this picture? You know that I know You as full of love, as a Father whose lap I can snuggle into, etc., etc. What is going on?”
I sensed Him reassuring me that I did see Him this way. But He said that often I set the agenda in our chats, about my day, about my desires, about what God is really like.
I felt Him say to me, paraphrased of course: “When you let Me choose what we’ll chat about, you are less sure about Me. Sometimes your lens gets a little distorted when I break into your thoughts.”
We chatted some more. God helped me to see there were still some wrong ideas I held about Him. And He graciously helped me to remove those lenses (I know there’ll be more).
He led me to understand that when we ask God a question, like when David said, “Search me, oh Lord”, when we truly mean it, He will help us remove lenses which distort what He is really like. We don’t know what we don’t know. But God does.
I remembered people in my past warning us against such ‘dangerous’ prayers. But maybe they are trapped wearing lenses that make God out to be a stern, distant, disciplinarian.
And God prompted me to reflect… what good Father will teach his child to swim by throwing them in the deep end of the pool?
No, God is in the pool ahead of me, arms outstretched, inviting me to jump into His arms, when I’m ready. He has given me everything I need to succeed. He leads me gently.
Why would we fear praying the ‘dangerous’ prayer, “Search me, oh God”? He only has better things for me when I give Him permission to remove my distorted lens, when I learn to see Him through His eyes.
When God asks you to let go of something, it’s only to replace it with something better.
So I have decided to often touch base with Him and pray that ‘dangerous prayer’. The deep end of the pool is heaps more fun than splashing in the shallows. Mind you, God loves splashing!