We were only the second family to set-up at the camp ground for our Memorial Day weekend camping trip. We arrived on Wednesday. For two-and-a-half glorious days it was just us and the trees and the little stream. Well, and the elderly camp hosts, and a distant neighbor.
Then around lunchtime on Friday everything changed.
A parade of RVs and 5th Wheels and and giant pick-up trucks overflowing with bicycles rolled in. One by one the sites around us exploded to life. That’s when the tiny size of the sites became apparent. That’s also when we learned that our site was smack-dab in the middle of a Three-RV- Seven-Bicyle-Crowd-of-Pre-Teens family reunion. One family was on our left. The grandparents were on our right. And we were caught in the swirling stream of kids running back and forth.
Christina and I are introverts. We camp for the quiet, for peace. Our kids didn’t mind the crowding neighbors; Just more people to play with. But we had almost 3 more days ahead of us in what felt like a bustling suburb. Not our favorite!
You’ve been there. Sometimes you’re stuck in circumstances that aren’t what you hoped for. You’ve done what you can, but despite your grand intentions, some things are outside of your control. There you are. How are you going to live in this moment?
One thing kept us from leaving.
Shouting after a running pre-teen clearly ignoring me for what felt like the fiftieth time, I felt like our camping trip was ruined.
These neighbor kids, pressing in on us, seemed in control of our situation. When we got up. When it was quiet enough to go to sleep. When our kids wanted to eat, or play. When we could sit peacefully around our fire.
I could have it out with the thoughtless parents on either side. I could pack up our campsite and head out in defeat. We knew other places, private places, where we could go. I could sit in my camp chair and stare at the fire fighting back my bitterness.
All of those thoughts crossed my mind. OK, they did more than cross my mind; they did a circle dance that lasted for hours. In the end we stayed. And we had fun. I had fun. The neighbors didn’t leave or quiet down. What made the difference?
What is perspective? Mostly we use its abstract definition: The state of one’s ideas. As an artist it has a more concrete meaning for me. Perspective is the view you have.
When you’re learning to draw, perspective is the tool you use to create the illusion of depth in your image. There’s a vanishing point, a horizon, lines that lead to the vanishing point. All of this creates a place for you to look in the drawing. From this angle, perspective is about where you look.
Standing in my campsite I had a choice of where to look. Look to my left and there was our neighbor’s picnic table, fire pit, and pile of bikes, and a view directly into their RV. Five feet away from our fire! Look to my right, and there was grandpa’s canopy and the noise of cooking, a big dog, and the path that this whole family took crossing back and forth at all hours.
Both of these views, honestly, led me to a place of bitterness. I was out here for peace and quiet, for goodness sake. But there was one other view.
This is the view I set my camp chair in front of. I could look across my campfire, through the breaking sunlight in the canopy of trees, across a stream and into beautiful green woods.
What is perspective in this situation? The ability to regain my peace by shifting my viewpoint.
Fix Your Eyes.
You’re eyes aren’t broken. They just tend to wander to the thing you’re most aware of. Too often you’re most aware of your irritations, your obstacles, the things you wish were different.
One of the markers of a maturing spiritual life is the ability to choose your perspective. Facts are facts. We are going to be faced by circumstances that are out of our control. Sometimes irritating, like our less-than-ideal camping trip. Sometimes worse, even painful.
When we cannot control the circumstances, there is always one thing left we can control. Where and how we look. Our perspective.
Hebrews 12 makes this point1 It tells us that when we are facing trials in our faith, or struggles in our lives, one of the best things we can do is mind our perspective. We get to choose where we look. Verse 2 says that we can handle these out of control situations by , “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Fixing our eyes, taking charge of our perspective. Choosing where we look and what we focus on.
My circumstances hadn’t changed much at all. Noisy neighbors still crowded in. This camping trip didn’t measure up to my hopes. But when I planted my chair, and fixed my eyes in that one direction, I could change my whole mental space. An intentional change in my perspective changed my experience.
You are facing cirucmstances that are not what you hoped for. You may have done everything you can about it. But you always have this one thing left. Where are you choosing to look?
- You could look at the aspects of the circumstance that are helping you grow.
- You could pay attention to the new opportunities the unexpected circumstance create for you.
- You could set your eyes on the one part of your context that is beautiful.
- You could choose to focus on Jesus. He is present with you. He has walked a road as hard as yours. Even He faced circumstances that were outside of His human control. That means you are not alone. You are understood. And you have a connection to the One who brings new life in dark places.
Or, I guess, you could miss all of that by choosing to set your eyes on everything that’s irritating you.
- Clearly perspective is not the main teaching of Hebrews 12. This is just a small but practical application for every day. The bigger story there is important, but that’s for another day’s post. ▲