Anxiety’s False Interpretations (Part 7): Nearsightedness

Myopia is a fairly common vision problem where objects that are far away tend to be blurry. The light penetrating the eye cannot focus on the retina properly, and as a result objects that are close are clearly visible and can be seen rightly but those that are far away cannot be discerned. This ocular malfunction is a great metaphor for the type of psychological nearsightedness that focuses only on the data that is consistent with a perceived threat, and which filters out contrary evidence. To treat this sort of mental myopia we need a new set of a glasses.

Like the interpretive move of “jumping to conclusions,” Nearsightedness focuses only specific data regarding an anxiety inducing situation. The major difference here is the internal “filtering out” of relevant data. When we jump to conclusions we believe we have all the relevant data, but we have made a decisions without taking all the information into account. When nearsightedness is at play, we recognize that there is other data out there but we choose to ignore it, in favor of focusing on what is right in front of us. This is something of an intentional decision. We prefer to focus on what confirms our anxiety. We don’t, of course, choose to be anxious – that feeling arises for a variety of reasons (perhaps even as a result of other choices we make, like what we dwell on). Yet, when we feel anxious we want validation, our mind is scanning for the cause and wants to root it in some thing. When we use this false filter of nearsightedness we are able to validate our anxiety.

Eric, for example, was fearful of vomiting. He was regularly afraid that he could, at any moment, become sick. It was so affecting his life that he could hardly leave the house, sure that he would have an incident. This fear seemed very reasonable to him because that is precisely what happened when he went to the supermarket a month ago. Standing amongst the cereal he was overcome with nausea and suddenly, without warning, he vomited all over the floor, the cereal on the shelf, and himself. It was not only distressing and painful, but humiliating! He became hyper-sensitive to the possibility of repeating this event. Of course, he couldn’t stay home 24/7 and he had in fact let the house many times since that incident without any issue. He picked the kids up from school, went to church, and even ran into the office for a meeting (he usually worked from home). But, he filtered out this relevant data in favor of focusing on the one incident.

In truth, the issue for Eric is bigger than just accepting the positive data. I could argue with Eric about the data, in fact that’s what I did initially. I tried to get him to accept the contrary evidence, but the evidence was, in his mind, insufficient to alter the conclusion. It could be dismissed as not really relevant. The larger issue, however, was that his nearsightedness was keeping his focus on the problem and he could not see God any longer. He needed the glasses of faith to see that God was still involved in his world and that God was bigger than his fears.

Hebrews chapter 12 serves as one pair of glasses we need. The text gives us a good reminder to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the perfecter of our faith. We read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

How do we throw off that which would “hinder” us? How do we “not grow weary and lose heart”? We can do this by “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The author focuses particularly on the crucifixion of Jesus and his suffering there for sinners. Jesus endured suffering with joy, scorned the shame and humiliation of such suffering, and sits now at the right hand of God. He did all of this on our behalf. He suffered in our place, particularly suffering the separation from God that we deserved (Matt. 27:46), in order that we would never have to experience that ourselves. He suffered and was victorious for us. As we suffer, then, we do so knowing that God is with us in the suffering(Heb. 13:5)! We suffer knowing that in Christ we too can have victory (John 16:33; Rom. 8:37)!

What are the eyes of your mind drawn to? What do you focus on? Is it possible that in your anxiety you have allowed nearsightedness to dominate your vision? Turn your eyes upon Jesus! Allow faith to cast your vision beyond what is directly in front of you and clarify those images further out. God is still in control , still loves you, and through Him you can face whatever lies ahead. He is victorious and through Him you are too. Anxiety will tell you that no positive data can outweigh the fear right in front of you. Faith says, God is bigger than this problem. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and, as the song says, the things of this earth will grow strangely dim.

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