Stop, Look, Listen: The Trap of Tunnel Vision

Stop, Look, Listen: The Trap of Tunnel Vision
Written by: Pete McClanathan

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)

These words appear in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, right on the heels of his warnings against judging. Understanding and heeding this passage is the linchpin to softening and healing interpersonal or group conflict, perhaps avoiding it altogether. 

There are many other helpful tools, as we’ll learn, but this one is basic. Why? Consider these common reactions to difficult people or situations:
A frustrated wife: “He just doesn’t get it. I think he doesn’t want to. He sure isn’t the husband I thought he’d be.”

Her spouse: “I don’t know what to do. I take good care of her and our home and I just can’t please her. She withdraws into herself and keeps an emotional distance. If she’s not angry, she’s indifferent and uninvolved.”

A parent: “He simply doesn’t want to work up to his potential. He’s so much better than what he’s doing. At this rate he won’t get into the college we’re planning. And he doesn’t seem to care."

The son: “They won’t get off my back. Nothing I do is good enough. Just let me hang with my friends and enjoy life.”

A young employee: “My boss is a jerk. Always criticizing and wanting more from us.”

The employer: “Kids these days don’t know the meaning of work. When I was their age I was working and going to school, and giving money to help support the family.”

A serious conflict develops in a church over the direction and style of the pastor's leadership. From a longtime member: “We used to be such a caring and pleasant church. Nothing’s been the same since we started playing with this vision and direction stuff, and making changes. Why can’t we just do things the way we used to? Everybody was happy then.” 

From a young adult member: “I wish these old people would just step back and get out of the way. They had their time. Now it’s a different time and we need to do things to reach a changing culture.” 

From a founding member: “I put a lot of money and time into building this church and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let it slip away."

From the pastor: “I didn’t come here to fight. It would be nice if the elder board and the rest of leadership gave me more support.”

Such are the dynamics of conflict. People and groups become skilled at arguing their points of view. And arguing back. 

As people become threatened, they often justify their actions as defending what is “right,” or “biblical.” Scriptures often are waved in support, on both sides. (Wife says, “you’re supposed to love me as yourself.” Husband replies, “I could if you weren’t so selfish and willful. Is submission a dirty word to you?”).  

And so it goes. Disappointment and discouragement move in and numb emotions, draining desire to work further and freezing relationships in their painful places. One thing is certain: continuing to declare and defend one’s case through argument or withdrawal will offer nothing helpful. It will only further entrench and isolate the parties. 

We’re opening the door to understanding just how easily (and willingly) we fill our lives with idols around us. Usually disguised as things we believe we need or deserve, idols capture our hearts and direct our thinking, our decisions, our behavior. John Calvin described human hearts as “idol factories.”

We’ve defined an idol as anything we come to treasure for our security, peace of mind, and joy, apart from or in addition to God. Things we will strive to obtain, maintain, and protect.

As always, scripture provides remarkable insight into this matter. Ponder Jesus’ words in Mt. 6:21:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Typically this verse is viewed as part of Jesus’ warnings regarding money in verses 19-24, and it does speak well to that point. But contained within is some powerful insight regarding the human heart and why we do the things we do.

The word treasure is used here in its ordinary sense, being things we value and seek after. Heart  appears in its regular biblical sense: the complex blend of mind, emotion, and will. What we are being told is complex yet simple. We direct our motives and actions so as to obtain and protect our treasures, and to avoid pain. 

Our actions will always reflect our treasures. And as would be expected, our relationship focus becomes how well the other party or parties are validating and enhancing our treasures. It becomes the basis for the relationship.

Hence our default strategy for disappointment or conflict is to measure the others involved. Where are they failing my self-defined role for them? And in what ways? 

Our energy is directed toward fixing the other party. The tools are common but primitive: criticism, anger, withdrawal, gossip. All are driven by our unchallenged views of the relationship and ourselves. We develop our desires into needs, our needs into entitlement, our entitlement into demands, our demands into judgments, our judgements into punishment. Lost in all of this struggle are God’s purposes for us: humility, trust in Him, to be His instruments for love and kindness and compassion toward others, commitment to their interests, and forgiveness of wrongs.  

Our idols carry us into a form of tunnel vision, where we can see only our own disappointments and frustrations arising out of our unmet desires, our pain and fear. Matthew 7:3-5, above, refers to these as the “logs in our own eyes” which prevent us from seeing the reality of our own faults and self-driven expectations. This is a reference, I believe, to the “stumbling block of his iniquity” which the Lord uses to describe the people’s idols in Ezekiel 14:4 (see the previous article for further discussion of Ezekiel 14).

So what have we learned so far? Our relational struggles and our inability to see beyond them may in truth have much more to do with ourselves than we ever believed.  And if we’re going to pursue healing and develop the character and behavior that God desires, the absolute first step is to deal with ourselves.  

No one claims it is easy. We’re only beginning to explore, but we ought to know by now that the alternative (to complain, criticize, attack, and withdraw) is not a solution.

Such is the process of biblical change. Change that will require honesty in several things: my own submission to God and love for Him, my commitment to learning His ways, my desire to please and honor God, my willingness to admit and forsake my idols.

It is a lifelong journey over uneven terrain and often with clumsy steps. It requires the active work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, and as such it will call us to expand our knowledge and trust in Him.   

“. . . for apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

But it does require a commitment to begin, and to follow.

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