Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I Can See Clearly Now

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 14, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” Whenever I hear these words and the lively, reggae-inspired music, I am transported back to my high school days. In the fall and winter of 1972, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the beautifully fuzzed-out guitar, the lithe, supple bassline, and Johnny Nash’s effortless voice singing lyrics, full of life and joyous redemption. The song spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts and gave us hope that there were better things ahead.

Johnny Nash was 32 when he hit #1 with “I Can See Clearly Now,” and he’d already had 15 years in the music business. Nash came from Houston, and he grew up singing in church. As a teenager, his beautiful tenor was compared to Johnny Mathis’s voice. In the 60s, he moved to Jamaica while co-running a record company and helped launch his friend Bob Marley’s career. He enjoyed some success in 1968 with the song “Hold Me Tight,” but “I Can See Clearly Now” was his most successful single.

The obituary that ran in the Associated Press when Johnny Nash died in October 2020 referred to his biggest hit this way. “‘I Can See Clearly Now” was a story of overcoming hard times that itself raised the spirits of countless listeners, with its swelling pop-reggae groove, promise of a “bright, bright sunshiny day” and Nash’s gospel-styled exclamation midway, “Look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies!”, a backing chorus lifting the words into the heavens.”

Seeing clearly is essential in life. A few weeks ago, I had a bad experience while floating the Ouachita River. During one of my unintentional swims in the river, I lost my glasses. I could no longer see things clearly. That week, I called my ophthalmologist, Dr. Ennen, and made an appointment to get my eyes tested.

On the day of the appointment, I checked in at the front desk, and then a technician led me to an alcove where there was an OCT Imaging System. The machine captures images of the eye, allowing Dr. Ennen to see certain diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration years in advance. Next, the doctor performed a refraction test. If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’re familiar with the refraction test. You place your face up to the machine, and then the doctor flips down the first lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the eye chart more clearly. Is it lens one or two, lens three or four? Which one is better? 

After the refraction test, the doctor dilated my eyes. Pupil dilation increases the pupils’ size during an eye exam so that the doctor can thoroughly examine the health of the optic nerve and retina. The exam is critical to preventing and treating eye conditions that could potentially lead to vision loss. Next, I picked out frames and paid my bill. My glasses would be ready in about a week.

As I reflected on the vision test, it made me wonder if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Was it possible to flip down a different lens and see a better story? 

The Apostle Paul seems to have had problems with his eyesight. Many biblical scholars point to Galatians 6:11 (NLT) as evidence. Here Paul wrote, “Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting.” Even if Paul had poor eyesight, his spiritual sight remained exceptionally clear. During his time preaching the gospel, he was flogged, whipped, and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, outcast, and ridiculed. Several times, he was imprisoned, and some of his life was spent under house arrest in Rome, all for preaching the gospel. And yet he was still able to write, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)

While he was in prison, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV)

Which lens helped Paul see more clearly? Was it lens one or two? Paul didn’t see himself as stuck in prison because of Jesus; he saw himself as stationed in jail for Jesus. He didn’t see himself as chained to a Roman guard; he saw the Roman guard as chained to him. The guards had to listen to Paul talk about Jesus day in and day out. Paul had time to write letters to the churches.

Who put Paul in prison? From the outside looking in, it appeared the Roman rulers put him there. But from the inside looking out, Paul knew God had positioned him there. He didn’t see himself as imprisoned; he considered himself stationed. And because he was looking through the right lens, he had joy even in a difficult situation.

Gentle Reader, I wish that I could see as clearly as Paul did, but I can’t. When things go wrong, I pout, I get angry, and I become discouraged. But I try to remember to flip the lens and look at my circumstances through the eyes of God instead of the lens of my selfishness. And that gives me a better outcome. Not because the storyline changes, but because my perspective does. When I allow God to help me see through the correct lens, I can sing: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.”

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