Is your perception of me merely a reflection of you?

“They think you are stuck up.”  
The words of a friend cut through me like a searing knife. 

“They said you snubbed them when you walked by.” 

She was talking about a group of girls from the opposing team we were playing at a high school basketball game in 1976. I walked by the group while on my way to the concession stand. The thing was—I didn’t snub them. I was actually completely intimidated by them, so I kept my eyes on the path directly in front of me, trying my best not to trip over my fear.

Our perceptions of others, we learn, are not always reality. Perceptions can be biased, often skewed by factors such as our background, culture, past experiences, misinformation, attitudes and even emotions, and are often the very reflection of our own messed-up selves.

"We see the world, not as it is, but as we are." -- Talmud

That group of girls at the basketball game had no idea that I was insecure and simply too timid to approach or even look at them for fear of being rejected. All they chose to see was what appeared to be a snotty, snubbing, stuck up cheerleader. But it did show me that the wall I was building around myself from my insecurity was not so much protecting me as it was in fact keeping others out. To be honest, I still have to be mindful of this even today.

But like my provocative peers of 1976, I know there have been times when I too have drawn wrong conclusions based on appearances only, rather than truth. I have hastily passed judgment on the way someone or something appeared, only to learn the truth later.
"Things and persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds. How unconsciously we judge others by the light that is within ourselves, condemning or approving them by our own conception of right and wrong, honor and dishonor! We show by our judgement just what the light within us is." — Laura Ingalls Wilder
So many are suffering through the pain, anxieties and insecurities of dealing with very difficult situations--troubled marriages, addictions, rebellious children, financial problems, or just dealing with the guilt and shame of burdensome personal sin. Feeling vulnerable in their situation, they too build walls of protection around themselves, causing others to perceive them as everything but what they truly are--broken.

So why do we rush to throw stones--to draw conclusions on something for which we are absolutely clueless?  Do we even care enough to try and get past their emotional barricades, much like the ones we've created for ourselves? Or could it be that we are trying to console our own personal struggles by projecting the harsh lights of condemnation away from ourselves and onto someone else?

One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. Known as the “woman caught in adultery” story, we discover that the Pharisee's perception of the woman is a reflection of a deeper deception in their hearts, moved by desire to entrap Jesus.  
 “Early in the morning [Jesus] came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court…" John 8:2-3 (emphasis mine).

“They said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" John 8:4-5  (emphasis and insertions mine) 
I love this artist's rendition. Awesome!
As the story continues, we learn that instead of answering right away, He leans down and begins to write in the sand. Then, discerning their true motives, turns the impromptu court session on its heels, turning the conviction from the prisoner upon her prosecutors. 

We don’t know that much about her, but I have a feeling Jesus did. The Pharisees saw what they wanted to see—an adulterous woman, too despicable for their haughty eyes—and they intended to stone "such women" publicly. "Such women"--as in the one seen--caught in the very act? This loathsome, disgusting, depraved immoral woman?

What about the woman you don't see, the lonely woman desperate for love, perhaps emotionally abandoned, verbally abused, confused as to her true purpose in life.

Jesus saw this woman for who He intended for her to be. After all, He knit her together in her mother’s womb. But something or someone along the way had wounded her, and now, wrong as she knew it was, she did what she felt she needed to do to survive, to feel wanted, needed, and loved.

 God sees us, not as we are, but as we were intended to be.

You know the rest of the story, and the words spoken by Jesus that suddenly added unbearable weight to the jagged stones of condemnation in each man’s hand, as they dropped them one by one and walked away. 
“He who is without sin among you,
let him be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:7

QUESTIONS TO PONDER:  Are we too quick to throw stones, cast judgment, heap condemnation when we know nothing about the paths walked out by others?  Do we refuse to see or feel their pain, their suffering, or their sorrows?  Do we even care about their insecurities or feelings of rejection that likely attributed to the very lifestyle we now are so quick to condemn?

Are we too much like the Pharisees? Do we find that we adhere too strictly to the Law written in cold, hard stone rather than the warmth of grace and truth realized through Jesus Christ? John 1:17

Jesus turned to the crowd once more and said,

“I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12 

When we follow Christ, we have the Light of life dwelling within us. When we follow Him, we will not walk in darkness. Walking in darkness prevents us from seeing or acknowledging the truth, not only about ourselves but about others as well. The Light of life enables us to see others as He sees them, to love others as He loves them, offering them the same grace afforded us in our sin, so they too, like the woman once caught in the very act of adultery, now caught in the very act of grace, may walk away free, forgiven, and with a divine purpose.

Almighty God, thank you for Jesus, the Word come down from heaven. Forgive me when I have jumped to conclusions regarding what others may be going through. Holy Spirit, adjust my perception of others according to Your grace and truth. Open my eyes and heart to see others the way You see them, with a heart of compassion that moves as Yours does. And when the sins of another are brought up in conversation, remind me quickly of my own weakness, and that if not for Your grace, I too might or might still be in their shoes. Help me, Holy Spirit, to comfort others with Your comfort, and in Your love, in Jesus’ name, amen. 

God uses our past to minister to the others in our future. Has your past enabled you to extend compassion and grace to those who now struggle as you once did?

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