I have to be the worst fisherman in the world. I began fishing when I was a small kid, so you would think I would be a pro by now, but I’m not. I’m horrible. I couldn’t catch fish with dynamite. This being the case, I got excited when we moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Philadelphia to start a new church. I thought that regardless of how the church turned out, I could at least restart my fishing career where no one knows me. You can imagine, then, my disappointment when I realized the new location only brought new problems. People on the East Coast don’t fish for catfish and largemouth bass with bobbers and the tools God intended—they fish for trout with fly rods and fancy equipment they sell at preppy, outdoorsy stores. I was in trouble.
You should have seen my first day out on a trout stream. I had all the equipment the slick salesman at the store told me I needed: the special trout net, the tan vest with all the pockets that held my gadgets, the nine-foot fly rod with the weird-green floating fishing line, the waterproof waders that went all the way up to my chest, and a carton of hand-tied artificial trout flies that resembled fuzz pulled off old shirts. I looked like Barney Fife with waders.
I remember the day vividly, not so much because I looked so ridiculous but because of the perfect stranger on the bank of the stream making fun of me. Each time I cast my line into a tree or snagged my vest, he howled with laughter. He even started pointing out my blunders to his friends. The more I cast my line, the more he laughed and the more furious I became. Eventually, I got so angry that I just about waded over to him and snapped his fishing pole in half.
I resisted this urge for two good reasons. First, we were surrounded by a large group of people. Second, he was only six years old.
Just as vivid in my memory, however, is the day, months later, when I actually caught my first trout. I was with a friend who seemed to pull something out of the water with every cast, so I asked him why he thought he was catching fish and I wasn’t. After all, I was wearing my special vest and expensive waders and still wasn’t catching fish; something had to be wrong. He pulled his sunglasses off, handed them to me, and said, “Put these on and look into the water.” I walked to the edge of the stream, put his glasses on, and immediately realized why he was catching fish. He could actually see them! With these glasses, I could see all the way to the bottom of the stream, whereas, without them, I could only see the top of the water.
“What are these things?” I asked, dumbfounded. He explained that they were polarized sunglasses designed to shield his eyes from the glare that came off the water. Without the glare, he was able to place the bait right in front of the trout and have a greater chance of catching them. So I wore his sunglasses for a while, and believe it or not, they worked. I caught my first trout, all eight inches of it. I raised my arms in the air and shouted, “I am the man!” as if I had just caught a great white shark.
I think the trials we experience in life are a lot like those sunglasses: they allow us to see things we would never see without them. Novelist Madeleine L’Engle described one of her characters this way: “She had a touch of second sight, that gift which allows us to peek for a moment at the world beyond ordinary space and time.” That kind of perspective is a great gift to have, but it doesn’t happen on its own. You aren’t born with it. It doesn’t come as a result of hard work or education. The only situation that comes bearing the gift of second sight is the one we try to avoid at all costs: trials—painful, prolonged, heartbreaking trials. Yet, I believe that if the situation that gives this gift is so painful, then God must know that the reward we receive will be equally incredible. What does God see that we don’t? What could be so important, so special, and so life-changing that God is allowing you to experience heartbreak just to catch a glimpse of it?
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