Viewing Relationships Through New Eyes
The raging narcissism in American society tends to see every human as property. The prevailing cultural view teaches me to measure every person according to their value or their threat to me.
One of the reasons abortion is such a grinding and horrendous offence is the issue of ownership. The “right to choose” assumes that one person owns another and, therefore, has the authority to make choices about that person’s life. We can even kill them if they get too burdensome, sick or inconvenient.
In fact, the raging narcissism in American society tends to see every human as property. The prevailing cultural view teaches me to measure every person according to their value or their threat to me. That view leads men to view woman as sexual objects, business executives to see employees as units of production, pastors to consider visitors as potential members, teenagers to look at their parents as cops, etc. Of course, those perspectives are not universally true. But our reduction of people to mere extensions of our self-interest has grossly perverted the way we see human beings.
Who Are These People?
One evening in 1988, when our children ranged from 15- to 21-one years olds, we pulled off I-30 in Texarkana to eat dinner. As we sat at the table, for some reason I suddenly saw my children unlike I had ever seen them before. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. As they and their mother ate, talked and laughed together, I gazed at Eddie, Paul and Amy with brand-new eyes.
In that restaurant, I was consumed by a question: “Who are these people?” In that moment, I did not see them as “my” kids. Rather, I saw them as fully-formed children of God. And I wondered what He had in mind when He created them. What did He see in their future? How was He preparing them for life? Was He asking something of me in relationship to that?
I have admittedly slipped back into my “old eyes” from time to time, but I’ve never really seen them the same way again. From that night, I became acutely aware of the fact that they belonged to God before I ever knew them. He was their Father before I was. And He would always be their Father whether I was around or not.
Seeing them that way brought me to a new level of respect for them and for their personal relationship to the Lord. I clearly saw that some things about Eddie, Paul and Amy were simply none of my business. I had no right to treat them as my possessions. Their value had almost nothing to do with what they could do for me.
All of that came back to me in a fresh way recently when Joanne passed through a harrowing health crisis. God and circumstances revealed that I once again needed “new eyes” for viewing my family.
After trying and failing to register concerns with me, our children contacted our pastor to ask for his help. This time, the issue was not how I viewed them, but that I was seeing Joanne as my wife and not as their mother. These adults, in their 30s and 40s, had full rights to be included in the steps and decisions faced in Joanne’s journey. Her role as their mother deserved more consideration than I was extending.
My mind had slipped into an unconscious assumption that Joanne was my wife before they were born and, although we were very close to them and their spouses and children, we had a life apart from them. So, Joanne and I – mainly I – made decisions about treatment options, hospital and financial details and support systems without consulting them.
Yes, I changed again. I’ve wondered how often my eyesight will need further adjustments in the future!
The great Bible scholar and preacher Ern Baxter once said life is best lived in the same way we button a shirt. If you get the top button in the right place, all the others will follow very naturally. But, if you get the top button in the wrong hole, none of the others will find their right place.
God is the first button. When we relate to Him properly, all human relationships fall in place.
That means that the way I view my wife, our children, extended family, neighbors, coworkers and people in the community must start with their Creator. I have no right to view them for their value or their threat to me. He created them and has placed them in society and relationships as it pleases Him. So, I first have to deal with Him. He takes His own very personally and very seriously (even if His own are also known as “my” wife, child, brother, mother, neighbor, etc.). My respect of Him orders the way I think about and treat them.
Years ago, an African-American friend gave me a life-altering “eye exam.” In a moment of deep and difficult candor, he said, “White people are obsessed with understanding black people. But, as a black man, I want your respect. And, I don’t care if you ever understand me.”
When I heard his words, I realized that he spoke for every human on the planet. People must know that they are respected. If our respect is continent on understanding and agreement, then we are only giving conditional approval. But, that is not respect. In fact, it is profoundly disrespectful of their Creator.
Much political debate seems to revolve around the issue of “change.” More specifically, it comes down to the tension between love (or patriotism) and change. For example, do we love the planet or do we want to change it? Do we love America or do we want to “improve” her? Do we appreciate and admire the military or do we feel the need to “modernize” its mission so that it conforms to our philosophy? Do we love people the way they are or do they need to be changed? The list goes on.
Some of that debate probably reflects the end of an era. But some of it reflects a lack of respect for God. Some assume that they “see” better than He does. Therefore, they believe they have a better understanding of how to manage a planet or a country than He does. What stunning “audacity!”
We all have a choice: we can love people or we can try to change them. When humans work at changing people, the result is inevitably dehumanizing. Whether the changers are motivated by sales, sex or religion, the message comes through loud and clear: My respect requires you to change.
Like so much in life, what and how we “see” is a primary issue. When men see women as God’s daughters, they make the very wise decision to respect and not seduce them. When employers see their workers as children of the Lord, they refuse to exploit them. When religious leaders see people as belonging to the Lord, they see them as far more than their mere giving potential.
Every relationship is a gift from God. We can receive and cherish and enjoy them. But, the only way to do that is to see – and never forget – that they are His, not ours.
Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (firstname.lastname@example.org). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Copyright 2008 Ed Chinn. Used with permission. All rights reserved.