I was changing the bag on the vacuum cleaner the other day, and a funny thing happened. Even with a sparkling clean new bag, the thing just did not have suction. After poking and prodding and a little grumbling, my smart and more practically minded husband detected the problem. The filter needed to be cleaned. And how. Ewwwww. I will never cease to be amazed at how filthy five people can be. Now this may be a little bit of a mental leap, but take a mind base jump with me. It got me thinking about the filters through which we view life. What they are...and how they can make us effective...or render us pretty useless like my poor vacuum.
You see, I take each new experience, new person I meet, new opportunity, and run it through this kind of filtration system that's accumulated over my thirty something years. What I choose to do with it or what I take away is based on past experiences, the people I already know, and the identity I've accepted about myself. My biggest filters right now, in no particular order, are:
1. My parents, siblings and my childhood
2. My husband
3. The Bible, Christianity, my church
4. My educational and work background
5. The small town Midwest culture in which I grew up
6. Myself as a mom
7. Myself as a friend
8. Myself as a musician and worship leader
9. Myself as a person with a chronic disease
I'm sure I could find more and dig into the nitty gritty, but these are the main things that make up who I am and how I view my world. Some of my filters have been around my whole life. (Hi, Mom!!) And some of them are fairly new. Two years ago, I never filtered things through a disease...weighing whether the activity was worth precious energy, the risk of pain, or the risk of getting sick, since my treatment makes my immune system about as strong as a newborn's or the elderly...but it's a filter I'm slowly adjusting to.
When we meet someone who shares a lot of the same filters, I think there's cool instant connection. (Oh! You pegged your pants in the fourth grade and can sing all the lyrics to 80's and 90's Amy Grant songs! Rad!) But to me it's equally cool when I meet someone whose filters are pretty different from my own. I can learn a whole lot from that person and maybe if we dig a little deeper, we WILL find a few filters in common. Or not! But it's a fun journey all the same. I'm pretty sure I don't want my whole world to be full of Beth Clones. Yikes! Imagine a world that's unable to have clean carpets because it's full of people who can't figure out clogged vacuum filters...
So it occurs to me that good communication comes from an understanding that the person I am interacting with comes to the table with a different set of filters than I do. Thus two people sharing the same conversation remember it very differently sometimes.
He: "I told you about that a week ago."
Me: "Oh, I don't remember talking about that at all."
He: "But you nodded and smiled and said yes."
Me: "Was it after 10 pm?"
Or through my filters, I thought I explained something perfectly clear! Why doesn't that person get it?!? How can they not believe passionately in the same things that I do?!? Yeah...I catch myself being self-centric a whole lot. And while most of my filters come from good, healthy things, the filters can easily start clogging with things like negativity, cynicism, worry, fear, envy...if I don't give them a good regular cleaning. I quickly become ineffective in relationships and ministry, if not destructive.
So what's the cure-all for clogged filters? Simply this: Love. The perfect and pure love of God. Did I just compare God's love to a vacuum filter cleaner? Why yes, yes I did... God in the majestic. And God in the mundane. But God really does reach down and scoop out all the disgusting junk I let accumulate in my life. Because I ask Him, and He loves me.
I can't help but view life through the filters I have. It's what makes me uniquely me. But when those filters are full of love instead of sin, I am much better at reaching out to those around me. I ditch the self-serving attitudes and the judgement. I communicate more effectively. I see people and situations much more clearly. Now...I know there's a fantastic "sucking" joke in here somwhere to end this. But I've been told that word is not very ladylike. How I do love a good metaphor...
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (I Peter 4:8-10)
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