When we plunge into a dense fog, only what is immediately around us remains visible. Objects at some distance, depending on the density of the fog, disappear. In the same way, personal events tend to distract us from noticing what is going on beyond our own person or family. It is a very unusual person who remains concerned about refugees in Lebanon when they’ve just lost their job or received a diagnosis of cancer.
Since my knee surgery a month ago, I’ve been dealing with discomfort, sleepless nights and exercise that leaves me sore. This experience almost completely obscured my perspective on world events and the needs of others. The disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane hardly left a blip on my consciousness. The greater the intensity of one’s own immediate experience, the less aware we become of events in the world at large—even the concerns of friends.
My surgery is classed as routine. It is not to be compared with other, more serious procedures. Nor would I in any way compare my discomfort with those who suffer unremitting pain or the long-term and terrible effects of cancer. In no way can my experience be compared with those recovering from any natural disaster. Many, many people are worse off than me. But that is hard to remember when I’m trying to make my knee bend or sleep through the night. One’s own experience tends to throw a dense fog over what is external to one’s life, blotting out perspectives on others and their suffering.
This all sounds selfish and callous and yet it is natural to be fogged in when personal stress is highest. Our awareness and concern for others tends to shrink as we become absorbed in our own pain regimen.
What is true of the effect of pain and suffering is especially true of selfishness. We are all concerned about our own welfare, our needs, our goals, our hopes. And the more self-absorbed we are the less we perceive the concerns of other. Selfishness envelops us in a fog of our own making. Selfishness is terribly blinding and short-sighted.
Somehow we need to find a way to dissipate the fog that hides from our eyes the needs of others. We need to develop some way of maintaining an unselfish perspective that helps us rise above our immediate circumstances.
As Christians, we realize that only Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, can overcome our natural self-absorption. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”(Phil 2:4). We need to ask God to help us lift up eyes of compassion to see those who suffer beyond us, even in Syria, in Iran, or in North Korea. Empathy does not come naturally. We must learn it. Our default position should be concern for others driven by empathy and compassion.
While being fogged in by our own concerns or trials may be natural, it should not be the reaction of a follower of Christ. What is your fog index? What is mine?