Most of my life I’ve had nearly perfect eyesight. I’ve also largely taken it for granted.

A while back, I started getting bad headaches at the end of most days. At night, especially while driving, I had a harder time with depth perception and I noticed that light seemed streaky in my peripheral vision.

I went for an eye exam since it’d been a few years. (Okay, it had been six years when I looked at my medical file. Kids are why we can’t have nice things, like brain cells, anymore.)

I went to one of those retail centers where you can get your eyes examined and your frames and eyeglass prescription filled at the same time. A technician used a series of machines to test my eyes. (Raise your hand if you want to vote the “puff test machine” off the island.)

After the technician used the thingamajigs, the doctor brought me into a room with the lab results, put a series of lenses in front of my eyes, and asked me, “Which is clearer? This? Or that?” Somehow, based on my answers, the doctor wrote me a prescription.

All I’d ever needed before were weak reading glasses. The prescription this doctor wrote was wildly different than anything I’d ever been prescribed. She wanted to correct for both near- and farsightedness as well as astigmatism, a diagnosis no other eye doctor had ever given me. Also, I’d have to wear these glasses all the time. Like a grown-up!

I wanted another opinion. In the course of a month, I went for two more eye exams. Each doctor’s prescription was different.

One told me I needed only reading glasses to correct my farsightedness (even though he said I’m both near- and farsighted) because he felt reading and using the computer were causing my eyes the most strain. The other wanted to correct both my near and farsightedness with bifocals. Neither doctor said anything about astigmatism.

I was starting to feel as if they were just guessing.

It was time to enlist a friend who had been an optician. I brought my exam charts to her one afternoon and supervised our kids in the backyard while she looked over everything.

I asked her to use small words to explain to me what was going on. She said different types of eye doctors use different ways of notating prescriptions, like different languages. But even once she’d translated and compared them, there was still a significant difference in the prescriptions each doctor wrote. What were consistent were my lab results. All three labs measured my near- and farsightedness as nearly identical. All three labs showed me as having astigmatism.

“So why the different prescriptions?” I said.

“Well,” she said, “Measuring people’s eyes and diagnosing vision deficiencies has gotten very precise with modern diagnostic tools and technology, but prescribing isn’t an exact science. It relies on the doctor’s clinical experience, instincts, and the way you respond to his ‘this or that’ questions when he tries out lenses on you.”

This wasn’t building my confidence in the process. “So three different doctors had basically the same information about my eyes, but they all took a different approach to correcting my vision?”

“That’s the ‘practicing’ part of the term ‘practicing medicine,’” she quipped.

“Which prescription should I go with?” I asked.

“Just pick the doctor you felt best about, fill the prescription, and see how you like your glasses after a few weeks. With a good prescription, you’ll see well enough that you won’t think about your vision anymore.”

“So, I’m not going to achieve perfection here?”

“Nope. We can’t perfectly correct vision with artificial lenses, but we can get close enough that the distortion doesn’t distract you anymore… at least not while you’re wearing your glasses.”

Imperfect lenses

As parents, we are the first lenses through which our kids see God.

The way we parent our kids can have a profound impact on how they view God. As my friend said, prescribing isn’t an exact science and different parents will have different approaches, but the ideal is that we don’t create a distracting amount of distortion in how our kids see God, and the best way we know how to do that is by parenting our kids the way God parents us.

Parenting (and disciplining) our kids the way God does requires that we see our Father for who He really is. It’s hard to copy a picture you can’t see.

Unfortunately, the way many parents were parented themselves gave them a distorted view of God. None of us has perfect parents, though in my opinion mine are the best, and many of you might say the same of yours. But if your parents were misguided in their approach, or worse, absent, abusive, or neglectful in their treatment of you, it’s tainted the bonds between you that are supposed to be a representation of God’s love.

That’s why it’s good news that no matter what kind of lenses your earthly parents are (even if they’re amazing), and no matter how distorted our kids’ lenses are (that’s us), God is still the same. How crisply we see Him or how distorted our view of Him is as a result of our lenses—those things haven’t changed His character; they’ve only affected how we see.

God loved you before the world was formed, and the fact that He still loves you after all you’ve done might seem unbelievable based on the impression you got from your own parents. That you are offered the full measure of God’s favor and His grace regardless of what you do or don’t do might seem all but insane based on distorted lenses and what we know of our human capacity for love and forgiveness.

We are image-bearers of God, which is why we have any capacity for love and forgiveness, but we eventually come up against our own limitations. Yet God’s love, favor, kindness, forgiveness, holiness, knowledge, and grace have no limits.

The best news as children of earthly parents, and now as parents as ourselves, is that God’s love covers a multitude of mistakes (1 Peter 4:8), whether those mistakes are our parents’, our kids’, or our own.

If we will accept it, God’s grace serves as the self-healing mechanism for our inadequate lenses when we fail at love, forgiveness, and grace itself. His grace can make us into good-enough lenses:

  • When we remind ourselves that our kids are uniquely created by God, that even though they’re (sometimes adorable) little sinners, they’re also unconditionally loved and favored by God…
  • When we realize that God is not a cosmic scorekeeper but that Jesus settled the score on the cross…
  • When we comprehend that sin has already been punished and paid for on the cross and God isn’t trying to get even with us when we sin but offers grace-based discipline that is for our good…
  • When we remember God loves us and our kids exactly as we are, but He also loves us too much to let us stay that way…
  • When we understand that we were, and still are, children just like our kids and even the best earthly parents pale in comparison to our heavenly Father…

…then we’ll have a clearer picture of who God has always been. That helps us become the best possible lens through which our kids see God. It helps our kids focus more on their hope and forget about their artificial, imperfect, but hopefully good-enough lenses.

In case you’re wondering, I went with the first doctor’s prescription. I have bifocals that correct for astigmatism. I even have a pair of sunglasses too. I have to act like a big girl and wear them all the time.

I’m back to taking my good vision for granted.

Excerpted from Grace Based Discipline, copyright © 2017 by Karis Kimmel Murray. Used with permission of Family Matters Press.

Listen to Karis talk more about grace on a FamilyLife Today® interview. And check out her book, Grace Based Discipline.