You Don’t See What You’re Not Looking For
There can come a moment of truth in our lives, when we see something we weren’t looking for. An example of this happened in Grand Rapids seven years ago when two college students were in a horrible van accident in Indiana on I-69. A truck driver fell asleep and crossed the median, hitting their van head on. Among the survivors was Laura Van Ryn, who sustained severe brain trauma and multiple injuries.
After five weeks, the Van Ryn family began to realize the woman they thought was their daughter Laura, was instead another student named Whitney Cerak. The Cerak family thought they had buried Whitney two months before, but it was really Laura who lay in the cemetery. When this mistake was discovered it made national news. How could a family give care to another woman and not see or realize it wasn’t their daughter? Laura’s sister, Lisa, explained in an interview on the Today show in 2010 that you don’t see what you’re not looking for.
When I saw this interview on the Today show I was stunned by the testimony of faith in these families in the midst of a tragedy they didn’t cause. But I also saw a correlation between their inability to perceive the truth, and the way most of us approach our faith-walk. It’s so easy to go through life looking at what’s in front of us and missing the truth that we aren’t looking for.
Nehemiah also didn’t see the truth in front of him. He was a Jew in exile from Jerusalem with an elegant job as cup bearer to the King of Persia. Jerusalem was burned and ransacked 90 years earlier, and Nehemiah was aware of the sad circumstances causing his exile. But not until his brother comes from Jerusalem with news that the walls are rubble, the gates burned, and the remnant Jews are in trouble does he see what he wasn’t looking for – that the reproach on his people is also a direct reproach on the God of Israel.
Suddenly he sees the defamation of God’s character as a result of the sin of his people. God’s reputation was on the line, just like it had been during the time of David, when Goliath taunted the armies of the Living God. When Nehemiah sees what he wasn’t looking for, it pulls him to his knees in repentance. It moves him to action to rebuild the walls, revive the faith of God’s people, and to let God use him to glorify the name of the One True God!
What then aren’t we seeing in our own lives that we aren’t looking for? How many times have I been moseying along in the comfort of God’s Grace, missing the truth of a mess right in front of me that I’m not looking for? A few years back God showed me some behaviors in my life that needed changing. These behaviors had negatively affected my relationship with my sister. I thought it was her problem. When I prayed about our relationship, God showed me something I wasn’t looking for – that my own behavior was a problem and needed changing. Maybe you can’t see the negativity you bring to your marriage, or the destructiveness of a habit you have, or even the way you spiritualize your own selfishness. What is God seeing that offends him—which you aren’t even looking for?
As Jeff Manion pointed out this weekend, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When the moment of truth came, the Van Ryn and Cerak families humbly accepted a tragedy they didn’t cause, and God used it to bring many people to himself. Nehemiah confessed his sin, and humbly accepted the work God called him to. Whether you’re in a mess or not, with humility and grace ask God to show you what might be right in front of you—but you don’t see—because you aren’t looking for it. When he shows you, pray repentantly and patiently as Nehemiah did, then trust God to bring you though by following his plan.
For more on the Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak story, see Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope by Don and Susie Van Ryn, Newell and Pat Cerak, with Mark Tabb
Iva Gier | women’s small groups
Iva Gier is the Director of Women’s Small Groups at the Cascade Campus of Ada Bible Church. Women in the Word started in her living room 20 years ago. Iva is the wife of Steve, and the mother of Emily. They love God, friends, books, movies, and dogs.