Ever since I was a little girl, I have worn glasses or contact lenses. My nearsightedness was diagnosed when I started school, as is the case for many children. Back then, very few kids wore glasses, so the ones who did were often ridiculed. “Four-eyes” was a common nickname, though this never made sense to me. Who even came up with that? I remember that my teacher, probably trying to make me feel more normal, wrote on my report card that she liked my “pretty blue glasses.” You would have to ask my parents if I resisted having to wear glasses because I don’t recall. What I do remember is feeling different. Nowadays I don’t think kids feel that way about glasses. It seems that more children today are myopic, so glasses are very common. In fact, glasses have become so stylish that some people who don’t even need them for vision correction wear them as a fashion accessory.
It’s not my imagination that there are more myopic children now than there were when I was a child. A recent study published in Science News magazine* states that myopia has increased worldwide, primarily in urban areas, with nearly a third of adults in the US now nearsighted. The statistics are even more stunning in Asia, where in Shanghai 95% of college students are myopic. How can this be? Visual acuity is a combination of the physical structure of the eye, signals from the eye to the brain, and exposure to the eye of various stimuli, basically learning. The study finds a connection between physical eye development and the amount of time a child spends outdoors (after a certain age, the connection seems to disappear). Scientists don’t know exactly how being outdoors affects eyesight: possible factors are regular exposure to sunlight, which is 30 to 130 times stronger than indoor lighting; vitamin D (from sunlight); physical activity (although indoor sports don’t offer the same benefits to the eye); different stimuli in the peripheral field; and a broader field of vision. When we live our lives primarily at arms’ length, our eyes don’t have a chance to relax. Workers who spend eight hours or more per day on the computer or doing close work are encouraged to look into the distance at regular intervals to avoid eye strain. You’ve probably experienced this when you’ve been on the computer too long or gotten involved in a really good book, and you’ve forgotten to look up. Once you do, things at a distance might be blurry for a moment.
When I read the study, I thought about how our spiritual eyesight can become myopic, too. When our focus is on ourselves, our loved ones, and our local church and community and we forget to look up and around, the more distant world can grow blurry. The longer we live in the space within arms’ reach, the more difficult it becomes to notice the needs of the greater world. Maybe we stop paying attention to international news because we are so frustrated or even disgusted with the local and national news, and we don’t even want to know what’s going on outside our circle of influence. Feeling helpless is not comfortable and can even be painful. What can I do about the various crises in Africa, India, the Middle East? Why should I care? Isn’t there enough for me to deal with in my own hometown?
Jesus lived all his earthly life in a very small geographical area, but his message was for the entire world. He taught that we are to feed the hungry, minister to the poor and imprisoned, heal the sick, and share the good news of salvation wherever we go. So it isn’t wrong of us to do good in our own geographical area. But although we live in a community, that community is part of a larger world, and we know that everything is connected in ways that we might not be able to see. God, though, as the author of this great Story of life, knows how all the plot lines and conflicts fit together, from the smallest personal problem to the greatest global catastrophe. And because the whole world is important to God, shouldn’t it matter to us? Even if we have little power and influence on people and places far away, don’t we need to be mindful of them?
Last week my husband and I said farewell to our college student daughter as she departed Iowa for a semester in China. Nothing broadens your perspective more than sending your offspring to the other side of the world (except maybe going there yourself). She has traveled some over the past few years and enjoys it very much, developing quite the sense of adventure. As we gave her a hug and then watched her go up the escalator to the airport security checkpoint, I thought about how much larger and smaller her world is becoming, larger because she is traveling to far-flung places and smaller because she has learned that people, despite differences in culture, language, and geography, are pretty much the same wherever you go. We are all characters both in our own stories and in God’s grand Story, the Story that He long ago completed even as we continue to compose our own life’s work. The Story about God and His pure, persistent, boundless, incomprehensible love for the whole world.
When I say my prayers, I pray for my daughter, for her safety and health and for a great experience. I also pray for the people that she will meet, those who will offer her friendship or inconvenience or downright trouble. Until she went to China, I prayed for people there only in times of tragedy, when the media graphically displayed their suffering. Now I envision professors and shopkeepers, bus drivers and factory workers, going about their normal days, and I pray for them. I pray that God will place people in my daughter’s path who will help her, not harm her, and who will show her that He is very busy in their homeland. I pray that He will shine through her, making her a beacon of His love and light in a country that, despite the growth of the Christian church under persecution, is still very much in spiritual darkness.
And most of all, I pray that He will give me eyes to see clearly what He sees when He looks over the whole of this beautiful broken world: the full height and depth and breadth of His love poured out on all of His children, wherever they might live or roam.