I was laid flat with vertigo most of the day on Friday. It started around 4am, when I woke up suddenly feeling like I was spinning around on a centrifuge, burning up and freezing at the same time. If I lay really still, I almost felt normal, but that illusion would disappear as soon as I’d either open my eyes or move my head slightly. Then, I’d see the room start sliding one direction or the other, usually towards the left, and as I closed them again, I’d feel like I was back in the centrifuge.
Oddly enough, I never actually threw up.
The little semicircular canals in the middle ear are the bits that aid with balance (or, as wikipedia calls it, “equilibrioception”); they’re our own personal gyroscopes. Mine are known, in my family, for their hypersensitivity - they’re just the worst. Because of this, I’ve thrown up in multiple states and countries on multiple vacations, making my family miserable because I got car sick at inopportune times (although, really, IS there an opportune time?). But this time I didn’t. And the reason might actually be the fact that I AM so sensitive - because I’ve been through this before. Sometimes, my ears just don’t tell me what’s really going on, a fact of which I’ve become acutely aware. I know and accept that my ears are not infallible, and have often failed me, causing my body to do things it really shouldn’t (like vomiting, which is just about the worst feeling ever). Even as I lay in bed, it occurred to me that, though my eyes told me otherwise, my wife couldn’t possibly be walking around the apartment unless it really wasn’t rotating in three simultaneous directions.
What we think we’re experiencing isn’t always what’s real. When the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, it might be that whatever we’re using to measure that or experience that is actually broken and needs fixing. “We do not lose heart,” Paul writes; “though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Peel back the layers, he says, and there’s always way more going on that you can’t see. Sometimes what’s going on right in front of you isn’t what you think; sometimes, what you think you see or hear isn’t really there (or sometimes something is there you don’t think you see); sometimes, your body or your mind betray you; sometimes, your senses are wrong.
It takes courage to see this.
How many of us, when the world feels like it's warped and twisted into unrecognizably dizzying shapes, have tried to lay still just to make the hurting stop? Change can render the best of us inert, frozen, unable to move in the direction we've been called because it can be so disorienting. Our collective senses are designed for what’s right in front of us, which means we’ve been built to trust God for the rest of the story, for the things that haven’t yet happened.
When I'm a passenger in a car, and I find that we're starting to pull a bunch of hair-pin turns through canyons or mountains, I've discovered that the best place to focus is not on the road in front of me, but on the road far ahead. When I keep my eyes focused on the bigger perspective of my orientation to the end, rather than the spinning and bouncing of the now, I survive the lurching feeling of a car that feels out of control. Dizziness still happens, because the windy road I'm driving must still stay in my peripheral vision, but it's manageable; I can still make it to where I'm going. In our spiritual vertigo, the things of the now can be deceptive if we try to forecast them forward; only God sees the bigger picture, and so we must trust that God is working for the redemption of this world. This is why we’re so often told to focus on the end-game of the Kingdom, and not to focus on the short-term wins and losses. Things of the past can point us towards this reality - the incarnation, the cross and resurrection, and the many times in our personal histories and in our world’s history when God came through for His creation.
But once again, this is why it is called “faith” - we can walk, even run, despite that our eyes sometimes say the ground is missing and our ears tell us that we're falling, spinning out of control. If we're running where God is leading, our feet will always find purchase, though 'purchase' may look very different than we might expect. When the world begins falling apart, we'll survive the hairpin turns when our eyes strain to see what God sees:
redemption, restoration, and a Kingdom that will never end.