Think of your favorite book for a moment — do you realize that NO ONE will ever read that book the same way as you? Even the incredibly detailed and intricate works like “The Lord of the Rings” are never read quite the same way. The other day while hunting around for a clever quote about perspectives, I stumbled across the following from Edmund Wilson which intrigued me:
“No two persons ever read the same book.”
At first glance, the quote makes very little sense since most books are indeed read by more than one person (save for diaries, journals, or really bad writers!). What Wilson meant is that “No two people interpret or ‘digest’ a book in the same way”… it’s all about one’s perspective. The same can said of music, movies, and other forms of entertainment, but not quite in the same way as with a book because readers have to mentally reconstruct everything they read, such as the characters, their appearances, expressions, feelings, and all the smells, sounds, and mood of the settings, regardless of how much detail is provided by the author.
Every person has their own unique perspective when it comes to interpreting books and works of art simply because every person is unique, has different opinions, and has a different history. There are as many different perspectives as there are people! And to further complicate matters, the same person may have very different perspectives on the same work over the course of their lives as they experience new things (good and bad) and interact with others in ever-changing ways. The same book I read a year or two could have a very different meaning to me if I read it again today. Apart from God, the only real constant in this life — and this universe — is that its constantly changing; something is always growing or dying, starting or stopping, taking its first breath or breathing its last.
Something I’ve been observing over the past year is a steady shifting in my personal perspectives on a variety of topics, ranging from marriage to church to politics to relationships — and then some. Though I expected some changes to occur after going through the divorce, I thought they would be confined mostly to marriage and family, since those were the main things that really changed over the past couple years. Perhaps what’s happening is that some of the ragged edges of my mind and heart are being patched, sanded, and buffed by the ending of the divorce process. No matter how civil a divorce may be, it still involves the tearing apart of two lives that were once joined and intertwined, like two pieces of wood that were glued together and then ripped in two. In every tearing, there are bound to be some jagged edges when the breaking is finally complete. And though I’ve felt quite healthy and stable for the last year and a half, looking at my life from the outside seems anything but stable! And that’s where perspectives come into play.
The second entry of Google’s definition of perspective is: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Perspective is an odd thing, particularly when it comes to relationships and especially with marriage. When I was married, I used to feel surrounded by single people all the time. But now that I’m unmarried, I seem to see couples everywhere I go — and sometimes painfully so when I’m feeling lonely or isolated. With this shifting of perspectives in my personal life, I’m much more aware of relationships and such now than I was when I was married and more sensitive to the “little things” than I used to be before. Relationships are precious, and the more intimate they are, the more they need to be protected, cultivated, and nurtured.
Though I have not been divorced very long, I’m starting to finally understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35, in that from the perspective of the Gospel, it’s better to remain unmarried than be married. I may not necessarily agree with that all the time (or even want to!), but I do understand the passage now at a much deeper level. There is a certain liberty that has been granted to me now that I’m no longer married, not a liberty to do whatever I want, with whoever I want, or whenever I want, but a certain liberty nevertheless. Heck, now I can go to the beach for the weekend on a moment’s notice, even if it means flying halfway across the country!
Much of the energy, emotions, and time I used to direct towards my wife I now direct elsewhere out of necessity, such as on my children, friendships, and other relationships — including my relationship with God. I used to worry about many things when I was married, particularly money and finances and the distant future, such as how I could ever possibly support us after a lifetime of a single-income household. I was frequently anxious about how what the future would look like, our standard of living, and what we would do after the kids left home. But now that I’m divorced, those pressures no longer weigh on me much at all — well, except for financing the kids’ college educations. For the most part, my perspectives on the future are just as they should have been all along: unknowable and quietly trusting in God for His providence. Of course, there are still daily pressures and everything, but given all the upheavals in the past two years, the future just doesn’t seem all that much worth worrying about. Literally anything can happen at any time, so why waste precious time and energy today worrying about tomorrow? If God has proven Himself to be faithful in the past, then why should I worry about Him not being faithful in the future?
The greatest impact on a person’s life and their perspectives is other people, and the more intimate the relationship is, the greater impact they will have. People change people, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. We’re always either growing towards someone or receding from them, but rarely just staying the same spot. One of the reasons why the Gospel and Christianity are on a completely different level from every other belief-system is because it is centered around a Person: Jesus Christ, Who’s committed to conforming us to Himself. And He’s not just “a person”, but “THE PERSON” Who made it all and holds everything together! All other religions focus on capricious, unknowable deities, objects, nature, or even Nothing, and any change that occurs is mostly caused by yourself or those around you. Not so with Jesus — it’s not by our efforts and deeds that really transform us, but His (Galatians). The relationship with whatever we revere changes us and makes us more like them, for good or bad, for better or worse. Consider those you are closest to for a moment and the impact they have on your life — I do rather frequently. Are you becoming a better person (i.e., kinder, more loving, more complete, godlier) with your spouse or significant-other, your friends and family? Are you growing closer towards them or more distant, building more bridges or more walls? Are you becoming more kind, loving, empathetic, compassionate, and godly the closer you get to them?
As for my personal walk of faith with regards to perspectives, in many ways, I find myself walking very much the way I did when I was still married, despite all the changes in my personal life. I was sort of surprised about this at first until I realized that my faithfulness is not determined by anyone other than myself. Faithfulness is to be practiced regardless of relationship status, feelings, and personal circumstances. It matters what we set our hearts and desires on, because sooner or later we’ll become like the “gods” we worship. Though single, I still go out of my way to avoid certain women in the office and at the gym. I still guard my eyes and avoid second-looks, and the same holds true with guarding my heart. I still try my best to focus on God and what He would have me do with each day and in the different situations and relationships in my life. In the end, isn’t that all that will really remain anyway?
For the sake of the kids, transitions, and financial concerns, our divorce process from start to finish (the initial decision all the way to completely new lives) took more than a year longer than it probably should have — but it’s finally complete. After nearly twenty years, I’m now fully single again. So now as I’m settling into this new life of working, raising the kids, and living this life I’ve been given, what does God really expect of me?
God expects me to be faithful and live just as if I was still married and devoted to one special person, even though I’m single. Loneliness, regrets, and even depression will come and go in this life, but my relationship with Him will last forever.
God expects me to continue running this race of faith regardless of how I might feel, what my living situation may be like, how big the bills may be, and how frightening or even hopeless the future may seem at times.
God expects me to rely upon Him for carrying me through whatever storms and upheavals may come upon me, such as job-loss, health situations, and teenager issues, and a thousand other of life’s upsets that cannot be predicted or prepared for.
God expects me to keep eternal perspectives at the forefront, to keep my eyes focused on Him and fully, unconditionally love those He has placed into my life, and point them towards Him in whatever I find myself doing.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24-27