When I taught second grade, I had a number of students who struggled with writing. One of these students had a habit of writing down words that made no sense when read by others. When he would read them to us out loud, however, they suddenly made sense. Missing nouns, articles, prepositions, and adjectives were suddenly inserted between the words actually on his paper. Only when I would use a pencil to point to a word would he start seeing what was missing. He wasn’t seeing what he actually wrote, he was seeing what he wanted to have written. He needed others to help him throughout the year to see what was actually there. I must confess that I am much more like this student than I want to be, except I don’t make this mistake with writing, I make it with the reality in front of my very eyes.
When Johanna first became sick many years ago, she started having reactions to many foods. Foods she had previously been able to eat without thinking suddenly caused a myriad of strange symptoms. Some foods would make her nauseous, others would make her asthmatic. Some even caused her to run a fever – a symptom the doctors didn’t believe until she was admitted to the hospital and we demonstrated it in front of them. We never knew what would happen when Johanna ate. With particular foods, however, Johanna and I were slow to accept what was happening. One of our favorite snacks to share together was a banana ice cream, made from ripe, frozen bananas, and sometimes accompanied by peanut butter, chocolate chips, or a homemade blueberry sauce. Johanna had to stop eating peanut butter and chocolate chips earlier in the year, but we still shared our banana ice cream with homemade blueberry sauce. Johanna fell ill on nights we shared this treat, but since it was one of her favorites, we were reticent to admit it was making her sick. For many days, in fact, we continued to share this treat together, blaming her worsening health on other foods she had eaten during the day.
After continuing to eat it, her reactions worsened until, one evening, she had an anaphylactic reaction. I rushed her to the emergency room. After a few days in the hospital, she returned home, no longer anaphylactic, but still very sick. It took an emergency room visit for us to admit and accept how sick this food was making her, and she finally had to stop eating our banana ice cream treat. We should’ve stopped making it much earlier, before Johanna had an anaphylactic reaction, yet neither of us wanted to admit what was happening before our very eyes. Our desires and wishes helped us selectively ignore the reality that one of the few foods Johanna loved, and could still eat, was no longer safe for her. It is easy to let our desires shape reality. It is much simpler to conform what’s happening to what we know and want, rather than admitting we need help to understand or accept it. I was unhappy and unwilling to see Johanna lose the favorite of her few remaining foods. So instead, I let my desires shape a reality where it was not the cause of her reactions.
Facing reality entails loss. Johanna had already lost much of the health, food, and life she loved to her illness. For us to acknowledge banana ice cream as unsafe, then, meant accepting yet another loss. To rightfully face what’s before us, we need to know what grounds us. If we’re going to admit we’re losing what we love, we need to know what we haven’t lost. For me, when Johanna couldn’t eat this food anymore, I needed to believe that joy was still possible, that God could sustain Johanna as she became more and more unable to eat food. Instead, the loss of this simple treat felt like the nail in the coffin of her health and joy. My inability to grieve, lament, and trust that God could carry us through these continual losses made it easier to ignore reality. I found all sorts of creative ways to explain Johanna’s reactions, mentally tiptoeing around what was actually causing them. If I had been able to open my hands and humbly accept reality, instead of letting my desires twist it, we may have been able to avoid much pain, and an emergency room visit.
Moments like this one remind me that, like my second grade student, I need help to see reality. I need God and others around me to point out where I’ve engaged in self-deception or reality distortion. If left to myself, I am prone to imagine things differently than they really are. Again, like my second grader, I don’t need this help once, I need it often. This is one of the reasons why I am so thankful for the Bible. The Bible serves as a constant reality check by being an unchanging source of truth, a place I can always go to learn more about God and listen to His voice through the scriptures. And within these pages of scriptures I hear words encouraging, changing, and challenging me. I hear the Apostle Paul saying, ‘God’s power is made perfect in weakness’. I hear Jesus praying in the garden before his crucifixion, ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done’. I hear Jesus exhorting his disciples to heed his words, ‘Let these words sink into your ears’. The Bible is full of truth and promises which circumstances cannot change. It reveals the words of God – the deepest reality life has to offer.