Friday, February 27, 2009

Perceptions and Interpretations

Lately, my attention has been drawn to noticing something in particular.  Our perceptions play a major role in how we interpret many aspects of our daily lives and our relationships.  But what we perceive is not always what really is.  Something interesting happened to me in the last few weeks which caused my attention to be drawn to this phenomenon.  More than once someone suggested to me, and to others around me, that I had said something in particular.  The strange thing was that the things which they suggested I had said I had not truly spoken at all.  However, these persons made their suggestions in total sincerity. 

The first time this happened recently, I was completely confused and caught by surprise.  I wondered to myself, “Did I really say that?”  I even asked the person if they were sure I had spoken the very exact words they claimed to have heard from my lips, and they assured me that I had.  But I could not find any recollection in my mind of speaking the words which I had supposedly spoken just a few minutes before.  Fortunately, for sanity of my mind, there were others in the room witnessing this dialogue and I had to ask them, “Did I say those exact words earlier?”  They did not concur that I had.  I had been talking about some emotions which I had experienced in a particular situation, but this person had actually interpreted me to have said things which I had not said.  Why? 

Subsequently, that person proceeded to express some of their personal emotions regarding a situation taking place in their own life.  And lo and behold, guess what they said about their own self?  They spoke the very words about their self and their emotions that they had suggested *I* had spoken earlier!  Click, the lights immediately turned on in my understanding.  You see, that person had interpreted what I had talked about earlier to mean the same thing they felt and thought about a situation in their own life.  So they had taken what I said and, in trying to understand it, had actually interpreted their personal thoughts and feelings into it.  However, their thoughts and emotions were not exactly the same as the reality of my own.  They were different, and I had felt and spoken different things.  But that experience began to shed light on this subject I now write about, and it also prepared me for another experience to come just a week later.

Days later, my husband, Michael, and I were with a group of people having some discussions.  And as one person attempted to express their feelings about a particular matter, this person also suggested that the feeling they were expressing was exactly what Michael and I had also mentioned to them in the past.  What?  At first, I was caught off-guard and stunted, unsure of what to reply.  In a split second, a million thoughts raced through my mind wondering if I had really expressed such a feeling to this person in previous conversations.  But, as before, I could not find any recollection of doing so or of even feeling what they were suggesting we felt about the matter in discussion.  So instead of addressing the emotion assigned to us, I proceeded to explain to the group what Michael and I really felt about the matter.  Later on, when I had the time to reflect on this situation, I knew that the person had actually stated their own feelings about the matter being discussed and, for whatever reasons, had perceived their personal feelings to be ours also because of past discussions we had together about the matter. 

Through these two surprising circumstances, the Lord began to reveal something to me about human nature.  In our desire to connect with others, there are times when we place our own ideas, thoughts, and emotions upon others.   We make assumptions about them that we should not make and interpret things incorrectly.  We sometimes fail to hear and see things for what they really are or are not.  Unfortunately, there are also many instances in which our past experiences and how we feel or think about any number of things mars our eyesight from the clear truth before us.

One of my first posts on this blog, “About That Brain of Ours...”, has to do with our mind seeing things based on its past experiences and understandings.  It is a post speaking of “optical illusions” and the tricks played on the mind.  It speaks about our mind telling our eyes that they see things which are not really true and of it making interpretations and assumptions based on what input it has previously received or what experiences it has already known.  That concept is very similar to the one I write about in this post. 

What we might perceive or interpret may or may not be the actual truth of a matter.  Even our emotions can often—too often—lie to us in terrible ways.  They try to convince us of things which are far from the truth.  For example, when my heart has been badly wounded, I am almost convinced by the pain that there is no way I will survive the wounding.  My emotions tell me to quit and give up.  But that is all a lie.  What we may perceive is happening in a group setting, in a relationship, or in any circumstance of our life could or could not be the actual thing taking place.  Is our eyesight tainted by previous experiences, things we have heard, or things we have been taught?  Are we wearing a particular set of eyeglasses, focused on a particular way of looking at things?  Or is something we are concerned about also giving us a skewed perception of how things really are?

Michael and I also noticed this type of thing happening as some friends were sharing how they viewed some dynamics taking place in our group.  They perceived something, but Michael and I had not seen or felt the same thing in that situation.  And yet, there have been other times in our lives, when Michael or I have expressed having seen or sensed something and upon mentioning our perception to someone else, they have stated that they did not see or feel the same thing we did.  Go figure!

I find it totally fascinating how two people can observe and/or hear the same exact thing and come away with two totally different sets of thoughts, views, and ideas of what has taken place.  This is where I believe we must extend great and abounding grace to each other.  We all come from different backgrounds and different experiences, and we are all very unique individuals.  Each of us is at a different place in the journey.   In addition, parts of our characters and actions are by-products of our past experiences and our understandings based on what we have already gone through in the past or are going through in the present. 

Here is the STUPENDOUS news:

Jesus Christ meets with us exactly where we are!  He works with us, in us, and through us right where we are.  God was sovereign over our past life, our past experiences, and the things we have been taught and have learned previously.  Equally so, God is sovereign in our present.  Christ meets us where we are because we are there in accordance with God’s unique plan for each of us and His moving in our lives.  I am where I am spiritually because this is where God has brought me.  The same is true for every other individual whom He has created.

“A man cannot get anything if it should not be given him out of heaven.” (John 3:27)

Even if a brother or a sister in Christ sees things differently than I do, it is only because that is exactly where God has them.  Just like this is exactly where He has me.  He is ever working with us where we are and with how and who we are right now.  Taking us forward, step by step.  Transformation takes place moment by moment.  For our finite minds, the amazing results are usually not seen except by viewing things with hindsight. 

Some Scriptures come to mind, and I will end this post with them because I feel I’m somewhat rambling at this point…

“For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all.  O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways!  For, who knew the mind of the Lord? Or, who became His adviser? Or, who gives to Him first, and it will be repaid him?  Seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!  I am entreating you, then brethren, by the pities of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well pleasing to God, your logical divine service, and not to be configured to this eon, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for you to be testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and perfect.”  (Romans 11:32-36, Romans 12:1-2)

“…He Who undertakes a good work among you, will be performing it until the day of Jesus Christ…”  (Philippians 1:6)

“The God Who makes the world and all that is in  it, He, the Lord inherent of heaven and earth, is not dwelling in temples made by hands, neither is He attended by human hands, as if requiring anything, since He himself gives to all life and breath and all.  Besides, He makes out of one every nation of mankind, to be dwelling on all the surface of the earth, specifying the setting of the seasons and the bounds of their dwelling, for them to be seeking God, if consequently, they may surely grope for Him and may be finding Him, though to be sure, not far from each one of us is He inherent, for in Him we are living and moving…”  (Acts 17:24-28)

Resting in HIS sovereignty over all things and all people…

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