A forest of trees

You can’t see the forest for the trees. 

We all know what that means — being so myopic or narrowly focused that we never step back and see the bigger picture, the broader issue, the context. We get tangled in the bramble of life and miss having a larger world, a larger view.

More often, I wonder if the opposite is true when it comes to making a difference, effecting change in our world: We can’t see the trees for the forest. 

In this reverse of principle, we get so overwhelmed with the magnitude of issues and needs around us — leaving us feeling ineffectual and powerless — that we lose sight of how those very same issues appear in front of us in ways that are very much in our province to influence.

I talked with a company CEO this week who hosted his global sales team to the annual awards retreat at a resort in the Dominican Republic.  One of the on-site staff people there was a recent high school graduate who was working there in a pretty tenuous attempt to save money for college while also trying to help her mother support the rest of the family. The reality is that she was very unlikely to ever close the gap, but the CEO rallied his sales team to the cause and raised enough money to pay her tuition and expenses for two years. I would suggest they changed her life.

I wonder sometimes if the reason we like the forest more than the trees is because the issues take on a certain emotional opacity. It’s easy to rail against the wrongs of the world than to look into the eyes of someone who personifies those very same issues.

I love how Christ put it when he said: “Look on the fields; they are ripe for harvest.” The need becomes clearer and our role in them becomes more compelling when we are willing to look more closely.

Want to impact poverty? Help someone learn how to interview or excel in their job, or manage their family finances.

Want to stop the tide of divorce? Invest your time in a couple who is struggling.

Abortion? Adopt a child, or take a unwed mother into your home and show her what family can mean.

Care about the stresses on a single mom? Volunteer to watch her kids for the day.

We can usually easily name the issues we feel are at the heart of society’s ills, but the real calling is to then seek and find those issues in the people who come across our path every day. Or go find them.

Do that, and we can change the world.

At least the one that’s right in front of us.


The cost of following

I have followed Christ for more than 40 years  — sometimes at his side, sometimes in his footsteps, sometimes, frankly, at a safe distance.

We say we’re followers, but on whose terms?

I’ve always loved the conversation that Christ had with Peter when he found him after Peter’s betrayal. We all know the refrain (“Peter, do you love me?”) and Peter squirming with his answer, desperate to move on and get back to his business of jumping out of boats, swinging swords, and pledging himself as the go-to guy for Christ’s mission.

For years I thought those questions were a bit of a challenge or corrective exercise by Christ, forcing Peter to repent of his failure. I am starting to feel it was something very different — actually a very gentle way of Christ wanting Peter to remind himself how much he loved Christ despite this fumble. It seems as if Jesus wasn’t seeking to hear the answer himself so much as he wanted Peter to hear it for himself. 

What happens next is the ball game — and it is a part of the conversation that is so often overlooked. I almost see Jesus putting his hand on Peter’s shoulder as he says, “Peter, the day will come when you will be tied up and carried about where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”

For a guy who prided himself on bringing so much to the deal, even being nicknamed “Rock” by Jesus, being the wingman for Jesus, this had to be unsettling. You mean, even when I’m at my most useless, incapacitated self, you want me to follow? You have some use for me? You mean, I may not have the chance to live out my own dreams?

In our “It’s all about me”-obsessed world, we can get pretty frothed up with notion that life is all about finding your true self and making that the center of your existence. The idea that followership asks from us sacrifice and humility is jarring and inconvenient.

It means we are not just here for ourselves.

Let’s get real — it’s hard to follow. It’s a blow to our ego, our sense of self-determination, our delusion that in following that we are somehow giving up something of our uniqueness.

I’m getting more convinced all the time that the true test of our faith is not getting ourselves filled up with bible knowledge and Christian practices, but in emptying ourselves and following — knowing that on that path we will discover, as Peter did, the true value that God sees in us.