Seeing Clearly

January 10, 2018

First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What we fail to reconcile in our own hearts will inevitably be projected on others. It’s an inviolable principle of Scripture and psychology summarized in Augustine’s words: Noverim me – Let me know myself. Our inner work makes honest engagement with another’s sin not only possible, but possibly transformational. It also frees us to know and be known by God.

This transformation is so very important in a day when reactive social media engagement has replaced reflective, patient, interpersonal dialogue. As an early adopter of Twitter and Facebook with a fairly active presence, I’ve participated in toxic, quick-fire back-and-forth’s that went nowhere, convinced no one, and served only to magnify the log in my own eye. This modern-day, call-and-response liturgy mirrors our culture’s addiction to rushed and anxious communication. It fosters disconnection rather than connection, which only further exhausts our anxious limbic systems, fuels shame, and erodes trust. We risk undermining the very change we seek in others and in our world.  

So, I start with me.

It would be easy to blame the social media platforms. In addition, there are seemingly omnipresent Christian social media personalities who might be easy targets. And then there is the system. Let’s not in any way minimize how we’re all caught up in systems of power and privilege which breed suspicion, injustice, and a righteous desire to express concern. In many respects, social media has given the voiceless a platform to speak. But I start with me, because if I don’t do my work and examine my heart, then I’ll be firing arrows into the air haphazardly, unaware of whom I hurt.

Disciplines of daily silence and self-examination allow me space for meaningful reflection and centering. It’s in these times that I am most in touch with the shame that underlies my anxious lifestyle and the grief that I keep at a distance through addictive habits. True repentance is borne out of pregnant moments of silence and solitude, when what lurks in the shadows can be revealed.

How do you experience silence? A while ago, I was talking to a CEO who said, “I’d never want to do that … I’d have to be with myself.” He laughed, but the shame and self-contempt was palpable. He is unaware of how his avoidance nullifies any prospect of inner transformation. He cannot see the anxious system he leads. He wonders why retention is so low and why production stagnates. Those who work with this man experience his abusive tactics every day, as he blames everyone but himself. And yet, in that one moment, I caught a glimpse of the absolute terror that the prospect of silence stirred in him.

Though we were created in and for relationship, the drama of Genesis 3 reminds us that we are also fully capable of self-sabotage. Both Scripture and psychology affirm the centrality of relationship – that we’re made in and for love – but the very thing we long for so deeply is often the thing we sabotage. A newly married young man called me three days into his honeymoon in tears, saying, “Jill just caught me looking at pornography,” while his wife sat curled up in the corner of a 5-star hotel room, angry and ashamed. Why?

Shame may be the most powerful emotion in the universe. It whispers within, “You’re not enough.” It whispers to the CEO and the star athlete, the stay-at-home parent and the young pastor. It floods the body, fueling self-contempt and a crying out for relief. Our strategies for relief are endless – busyness, achievement, ingratiation, pleasure, addictions, even spiritual activities. Instead of turning our attention within to experience God’s love and kindness amidst our shame, we look outside, often turning our shame into contempt for others, exercising control of our lives, and correcting everyone but ourselves.

“I’m just so mad at the world,” one woman told me after her candidate lost in an election. “What’s wrong with us?” In the days after, she found herself in toxic conversations with co-workers and late-night rants on social media. She vacillated between depression and rage. Only a few too many glasses of wine could calm her down enough to sleep.

When we sat down to talk about her anxiety, she looked exhausted. In the next hour, we explored what was beneath. Of course, the rage came first, but then the sadness. Profound grief. Tears flowed as she shared her heartache about the state of the world. After this stage came the powerlessness. “I can’t do anything,” she cried, recognizing her manifest attempts to fix herself and to fix the world in ways that were only causing more pain. Beneath this, the shame – “I’ve been so angry I’ve alienated good friends and said things in haste that I can’t take back.” She scrolled through her Facebook feed and showed me strings of comments where she’d battled those who saw things differently.

All too often, rather than facing our own shame, we place it elsewhere. Rather than naming our own powerlessness, we power up. When faced with the chaos of the world and our own lives, we grasp at control. In doing so, we become complicit with the very “powers and principalities” that are fueled by contempt and control. The work of exploring our own “logs” is work done not just for ourselves, but for the sake of the world. We uproot our sin so that we can do good. We become recipients of grace so that we can extend grace.

When we recognize that we are the “poor in spirit,” those powerless to change the world, Jesus comes. God dwells within. The source of power is redemptive. Even challenging another is borne out of love. St. John of the Cross once said that the Gospel mission is to put love where love is not. Rooting out the log in our own eye is the first act of love, as we remove every obstacle to union with God within in order to experience the depth and breadth of Divine Love.

In a time when it’s easier than ever to call others out, the invitation is to return to the wisdom of Jesus. He doesn’t tell us to ignore the speck in the other’s eye or turn a blind eye to the world’s injustices. He simply wants us to do the work so that we can see clearly.

About the Author
  • Chuck DeGroat has enjoyed a fluid combination of pastoral work, clinical counseling, and teaching over the past 16 years. He founded City Church Counseling Center (San Francisco) and co-founded Newbigin House of Studies, a seminary and church planter training center. He is an associate professor at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan, and has authored three books: Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self, Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places and Toughest People to Love.