Authored by Mara Hodler
Have you ever gone rock climbing? Okay, before you picture me as some cool, savvy rock climber, let me define a little more clearly what I mean. You know those rock-climbing walls that have little nooks and grasps? Sometimes they’re high enough that you need a harness and belay device to help you get up and down safely, but others are short and safe enough to be playground structures. And, those are the ones I’m talking about. Not half as cool, I know! But still a challenge.
I’ve had times when I got stuck halfway up a wall. When I couldn’t find where to put my weight or how to get stable enough to get up any higher. When that happens, I usually need to adjust my stance. Maybe put my left foot in a different foothold or shift my weight from one side to the other. Something as simple as a little shift in my weight can make the difference in being able to scale higher or not.
I was listening to the radio a few days ago. The speaker was Tim Timmons, a man who has become pretty well known in the Christian music circle.1 About 10 years ago, he found out that he has an incurable form of cancer. During his interview, he said something that impressed me: “The gift through an incurable cancer, or any other sorrow we face, is perspective. And perspective is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Why would cancer give the gift of perspective? It probably really clarifies what matters and what doesn’t. You’re aware that the clock of your life is ticking faster than most other people’s. Questions like, “Will this matter if I only have one more year to live?” are probably always at the forefront of your mind.
If you listen to country music, you might have heard the song, “Live Like You Were Dying.”2 It’s also about a guy who has just found out that he has a terminal illness. His friend asks him, “What do you do when you get that kind of news?” and his reply is the chorus of the song:
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying
And he said
Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying
The pressing awareness of the imminence of death clarifies what really matters and what does not. Things that seem important, like how much money you make or how beautiful you are, quickly lose their worth, while who you are with and what you are doing matter much, much more.
Even as I try to imagine it, I know I am not able to get that full clarity in perspective that a life-altering illness would bring. But I can do my best to live as if I were dying and embrace life and loved ones as fully as I can.
But I’m also speaking of less dramatic changes of perspective. For example, if I feel something is unfair, maybe I need to look at a situation from another point of view. If I find some book, movie, or story terribly boring, maybe I need to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. If I constantly find a friend’s actions or mannerisms annoying, maybe I need to examine their intent.
My point is not only that there is always a “positive” in every situation. While that might be true, without a change of perspective it’s really hard to appreciate that “positive.” To find the “up” side, or to be able to accept an event or situation that you are struggling with, the first thing you need to do is change your perspective.
Sometimes the passage of time is enough to change your perspective. Much like the way your view will change if you just keep walking on your winding mountain trail. But sometimes you have to actively seek out that change in perspective, that different viewpoint. You know it’s out there.
When I need to look for a different perspective, I like to quote King David’s prayer when he was struggling: “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”3
From the top of the rock, you get a very different point of view or perspective than you do from below. Maybe you see that dark and dreary portion of the path will be over in just a few steps. Maybe you see how the path you’re on steered you away from something hazardous or horrible. Maybe you catch a glimpse of your destination and are inspired to press on again.
A new perspective is something you can ask the Lord for, just like King David did. You can also ask someone you trust how they perceive the situation you feel stuck in. You’d be amazed at how other people see things. Something you perceive as awful may seem like a dream to someone else.
And if nothing else, remind yourself that you see through a glass darkly,4 and that there are a lot of things that we don’t fully grasp or comprehend yet. Maybe we won’t until we get to heaven and have the “dark glass” removed. Then we will fully understand and be able to appreciate the perspective God has had all along. That’s when it will all make perfect sense.
1 ”Cast My Cares,” Tim Timmons [YouTube clip]
2 From studio album Live Like You Were Dying, by Tim McGraw (released August 24, 2004)
3 Psalm 61:2 KJV
4 1 Corinthians 13:12
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International