Another generation heard the story last week. This time it was told to illustrate the capricious nature of a beloved grandmother, although previous versions focused more on the self-centered nature of one who should have been a trustworthy caretaker.
I was horrified the first time I heard the story related by my adult child who cast me as a self-serving villain. As she remembered it, her daddy and I took three young children on a perilous canoe trip through mud-colored water under a ragged canopy of trees. At the moment when the children were comfortable enough in this alien landscape to remove their shoes, I intentionally tipped over the canoe and dumped my entire family into the chilly waters of a rapidly flowing river—just because I was hot and needed to cool off. For purely selfish reasons, I took three frightened children and their untethered, never-to-be-seen-again, tennis shoes into the turbid waters of the Tangipahoa. Only life vests saved my children from the same sad fate as the shoes.
This outrageous tale of an audacious action would merit dishonorable mention in the Bad Mother Hall of Infamy if it were true in the way it has been remembered and recounted. I would be annoyed at the inaccuracy of the telling if I didn’t identify so strongly with this human tendency to view the incidents in our lives through the lens of personal perspective. How often do I grieve over a misguided understanding of someone’s response to me? Or misinterpret an action because of an incorrect assumption? Or pass judgment based on an assumed motive? I do it with uncomfortable frequency with other people and also with God.
This story reminds me of the perils of holding fast to a view filtered solely through the lens of self-understanding. It awakens in me a fresh awareness that not only is my own recollection often inaccurate, but it also threatens my sense of well-being. Hanging onto a distorted view can leave me vulnerable and afraid. Left unchallenged, it can interfere with relationships with other people or with God. After all, who chooses to be close to someone, whether a human or a deity, who may not have your best interests in mind? Who can trust the heart of one who is callous to your comforts as he seeks his own ends?
I do not blame the child who misunderstands the details of this harrowing event. She was, after all, three years old when it occurred. How could she have recognized that my light-hearted reassurances were an attempt to keep her from grasping the true danger we faced? Why would she remember the fallen tree in the river that snagged our canoe and held us captive, or the efforts of her father to release us? Neither would she have known we had been assured the river bed was waist deep for adults, and that the unexpected depth where we capsized was the result of the snag that held us. She couldn’t have seen my aching legs that struggled to make infinitesimal progress against a raging current as she was held above the water by loving arms. She wouldn’t have known that the day was planned for her pleasure or that every action following the accident was for her protection.
I am no longer a child. I cannot excuse my self-centered misperceptions on immaturity or inexperience. I must agree that, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:11-13 NLT). I am ready to put away my childish view of things. I want to see through a clearer lens, one that informs me that my perception of a situation is not the actuality. I want to stop ascribing motives to other people or assigning them blame. I want to wait patiently for truth to be revealed.
Love is the key that releases us from the prison of self-focused perception. When I stop staring steadily through my own perceptions at difficult circumstances, problems with people and disappointment with God, I can view them through the lens of love. When God’s incomparable love floods my heart and I receive it without questioning his motives, I can let it flow to others with no reservations. Through love I can give people the benefit of the doubt for “Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]” (1 Corinthians 13:7 AMP). So I choose love.
And if the story of my life is remembered and retold, I hope it begins with “She loved well and saw clearly.”