Perception vs Reality

If I told you it takes two to equal one, you’d likely tell me it’s not a mathematical equation that makes much sense! But let me explain.

My mother was an artist. When I was a child, she would point out objects and ask me what I saw. I recall vividly an impatient conversation I had with her regarding a tree. She asked, “What color are the tree trunks in our yard?” With all of the confidence of a mature 10-year-old, I answered, “Brown, of course.”  She lovingly directed me to look again.  I replied impatiently, “Brown! Can’t you see they are brown?” She gently pointed out that if you looked closely, they were not brown but a rich, deep gray. My mother taught me to see the natural beauty of this world with my eyes, not with what I perceived in my mind.  

There are a lot of lessons in that encounter with a tree trunk, but perhaps the most important one is to look at life more closely. See things as they are, not as how we assume they are. We must overcome our perception in order to see reality.

I believe there is timing involved in the revealing of reality. People say that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but I don’t think that is accurate. Rather, life doesn’t give us more than God can handle. Sometimes it is His gentle peeling back of our perceptions that reveals God’s truth. One way He does this is through nature.

God’s creation speaks to His people. Nature witnesses to the character and intent of our Creator. Unfortunately, many worship the creation, missing God Himself – the passion and depth of genius that He holds. But it’s always God communicating with us through His creation. No one knows us as intimately as Him.  

Some years back I experienced a devasting loss. I spiraled, becoming numb and unresponsive. I didn’t know how to begin life again. I had no emotional strength nor direction, unable to give or receive. I was lost to myself and to those who loved me. 

One morning, as I left the emptiness of my once full home to return to work, something colorful caught my eye. A few blue flowers sat tucked away in some dense green leaves. It was soothing to see new life. The flowers were a bright spot in a dark, unwanted season of my life. Those little pops of color felt somehow encouraging. Curious to know what they were and how they got here, I inquired with my neighbor. He said the flowers were just weeds, and he had weed killer if I wanted some.  But I had had enough of death.

Weeds have a negative reputation as unwanted pests. But those flowers on my walkway were a gift I wasn’t going to refuse. I felt I had something to look forward to again – at least for that short walk to my car. Soon the blue flowers grew into a blanket, covering the once drab dirt and stones along my walkway.  As silly as it sounds, the weeds brought a smile back to my face. These things of beauty didn’t ask anything of me; they were simply present for me every morning. I loved seeing their blue hue amongst the most beautiful deep green leaves. They flourished under the warmth of the sun, and their simple beauty helped me feel the warmth of the Son once again. How funny that my connection with God was rekindled by a simple flowering weed! I began to take solace gazing at them while sipping my morning coffee each day.

But as time passed, the mornings began to feel colder. Winter was approaching, and soon the flowers would disappear. One day after a few weeks, I had to hunt just to find a few bright pops of color. My familiar morning greeting card was slowly disappearing, and I felt that familiar sting of loss settling over me once again. I was angry at myself. It all seemed so silly, and I felt stupid.  They were just useless weeds that grew wild in my yard, but I was heartbroken. I yelled out loud in frustration, grieving yet another loss in my life. 

But, in that moment of anger and frustration with myself, tears started to fill my eyes as I stared at the weeds. My perception had been that the beauty, the gift, was in those little blue flowers that winter came to steal. But how could I have missed what was in front of me all this time? The leaves! They were shaped like hearts! The blue flowers were nestled amongst deep green hearts. The leaves were the support, the richness, that made the flowers pop and capture my attention. Without those heart-shaped leaves, the flowers would have no support or protection while waiting for the warmth of the morning sun.

It is the heart of Jesus that has felt every imaginable pain that tries to overtake our lives. It is His heart that always brings us back to His path that life tries to knock us from. God knows how to guide us to His plans for us. There is always a path to restoration, and His heart desires to draw us in.

I failed to see the heart-shaped leaves each day not because of poor vision, but due to the depth of personal pain and loss. The brightness of the flowers caught my attention, but the eventual revelation of the shape of the leaves was my graduation day. In those early days, I could not find direction, so I clung to what caught my attention. But what I really needed was to cling to God’s heart.

Even when we feel we have no vision for the next moment, or when we are lost and cannot see a path back, God provides for us. The Bible reminds us to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, and to lean not on our own understanding. God’s love is a place of rest and renewal. 

I relied so deeply on the brightness of the flowers, their cheeriness and beauty – but when those flowers disappeared, they revealed what had supported them (and me) all along: the heart-shaped leaves. In the same way, the heart of our Creator was holding me. No matter how lost, numb, or hopeless we may feel, no matter how empty or dark it seems, God will get our attention. He’ll draw us back to His path for our lives. The next spring, I finally saw how those heart-shaped leaves unfold. They unfurl as two halves that mature and join to form one heart – thus proving it takes two to equal one.

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