Repost: Perception

(Originally posted October 2016)

“CAUTION: PRIMITIVE TRAIL – DIFFICULT HIKING” The signs placed along the Primitive Loop of the Devil’s Garden Trail at Arches National Park serve as a warning to inexperienced or unprepared tourists. But to my experienced and prepared, ready-for-adventure self, they might as well have said “You MUST go this way!”

After seeing the majority of our arches for the day on the main trail, my friend Sue and I made a right at the sign to go the long way and complete the loop. There was only one arch on this trail, but there would be way less people and way more fun!

As we approached the sign for the Private Arch spur trail, though, the fatigue was beginning to set in. It was hot out there in the desert and we still had a long way to go – was the extra mileage worth it to see another arch? We decided that since we had come this far, we might as well, and set off on the trail.

Just then, another hiker, who was returning from the arch, walked over to us and asked, “Are you going to Private Arch?”

“Yep,” we answered.

“Okay, well you need to be careful,” she said. “You’re definitely going to lose the trail, it’s not marked well at all!”

Sue and I looked at each other like with that “Yikes – maybe we shouldn’t do this!?” kind of look.

“Is it far?” we asked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty far,” she replied.

Knowing it may not have been the best choice – we embarked on the trail anyway, agreeing to be careful and make sure we were staying on the trail.

The trails in Arches, like many hiking trails, are marked with “cairns” – small rock towers that signify each turn or change in the trail. On this “primitive” and less-maintained trail, the cairns were fewer and further between and some of them were just a scattered pile of what-once-was-a-tower. Since the last thing you want to do in the middle of the desert, when there’s very few people around, is get lost, we took it nice and slow.

After just a couple minutes, though, we got to a point where there were no cairns. There was a sandy trail off to the left, but the footprints looked old – or were they just wind-blown? We decided this must have been what our friend was talking about, so we stopped and, for a solid few minutes, looked all around the area, making sure we weren’t missing anything.

Our search came to an end when we heard the voices of another group of hikers who were, of course, coming toward us along that sandy path. Duh. We then followed that path, thinking we still had a long way to go and just a few steps later almost walked into the sign saying we had reached Private Arch. The entire trail was about 1/10 of a mile and took just a few minutes to hike!

We still can’t figure it out – did we look that clueless? Or did she just get really lost and feel the need to warn us?

Regardless, here’s what happened. We let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our attitude – and therefore our action – in it. This was an obvious and short trail, but we almost got lost because we let her perception cause us to question our judgment. We stressed and worried about something that, if we hadn’t run into her, we would have had no reason to stress and worry about!

Perception (what we hear, see, or think we know about a situation) does not always equal reality (the whole truth or most likely outcome of a situation). Many times, our perception of a situation leads us to say, “I can’t because…”

“I can’t have that hard conversation because…”
“I can’t forgive that person because…”
“I can’t ask that person for help because…”
“I can’t talk about my faith around that person because…”
“I can’t reach out to that person because…”
“I can’t spend time alone with God on a regular basis because…”
“I can’t apply for that job because…”
“I can’t get out of this relationship because…”
“I can’t tell anyone what happened to me because…”

We let our perception (the “because”) determine our attitude and action (“I can’t”).

David was the youngest son in his family. During this time of fairly constant battle and war for the Israelites, some of David’s older brothers were sent to fight in the army. David, probably in his late teens at that point, was a part-time musician and part-time shepherd boy – and according to 1 Samuel 17:15, his dad’s part-time errand-boy. Since he wasn’t fighting in the battles himself, his dad sent him to check on his brothers and bring them some food.

When he arrived, though, David found the circumstances to be less than ideal. The opposing army, the Philistines, had issued a challenge: The winner of this battle would be decided by a one-on-one, to-the-death duel! Their chosen fighter was a man named Goliath. This approximately 9-foot-tall giant “had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.” (1 Samuel 17:5-7)

As he was talking with [his brothers], Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. (17:23-24)

To David, what was happening in this last verse scared him more than the giant himself. Goliath was waiting for someone to step forward – but no one was volunteering. And not only were they not stepping up, they were running in the other direction! They were letting their collective perception of the situation determine their attitude and therefore their action in it.

Their perception was:
“If he’s that tall, he must be more powerful than me!”
“If he can carry all that weight (his coat alone weighed 125 pounds), he must be incredibly strong!”
“If they chose him, he must be an exceptionally successful warrior!”

But maybe David saw something else. Maybe instead he thought:
“Just because he’s tall, doesn’t mean he’s powerful. It just means he’s tall.
“He may be able to carry all that weight, but what if that weight will actually slow him down?”
“Just because they chose him to be the ‘big scary guy you guys don’t want to fight’ doesn’t mean he’s actually a skilled warrior.”
Maybe David looked at Goliath and compared Goliath’s size to God’s – instead of his own.
Maybe David realized that Goliath might not be as scary as they thought.

And guess what? He was right. One rock in a slingshot and he took him down. Goliath was expecting a hand-to-hand sword fight and this attack blindsided him. Maybe Goliath just underestimated David’s abilities, but if he really had been such a great and mighty warrior wouldn’t he have seen it coming or found a way to fight against it? Maybe he wasn’t so powerful after all.

Maybe our perception of the giants in our lives – those “I can’t because’s” is not always correct. Maybe they look big and scary. Maybe we’ve heard that they’re big and scary. But there’s a good chance our perception of their power is causing us unnecessary stress and anxiety. Our perception of the situation is determining our attitude and therefore our action in it.

A few days later, as Sue and I were reaching the turn-around point of a hike in Hidden Canyon, we ran into a pair of hikers who, again, offered their advice:

“Are you headed to Observation Point?”

“No, we weren’t planning on it,” we replied.

“Well, you should totally do it, it’s the best view in the whole park and you’re like a third of the way there already!” they said.

“Hmmm,” we thought. “This was supposed to be our easy day, but if we’re already a third of the way there, maybe we should do it. We wouldn’t want to miss out on the best view in the park!”

As we started up the trail, we could see this area that we were sure was the “top” of the trail and we thought, “Yeah, that doesn’t look too bad!”

Well… a solid few hours and almost 2000 feet of elevation gain later, sucking in our last drops of water, having NOT worn our hiking boots that day, we finally reached Observation Point.

Yes, the view was outstanding, but unfortunately, we had again let someone else’s perception of a situation determine our course of action. If we had done what we easily could have done and pulled out our handy-dandy park guide, we would have seen that this was not a good choice! We would have seen that the “⅓” we had already hiked was, in reality, more like “⅛”! We would have read that this was a “strenuous” 8-mile round-trip which we were not prepared for. We could have made the choice to pause and see the reality of the situation, but we didn’t.

The reason David was able to see the truth about Goliath was because of His close relationship with God and therefore His ability to see things from God’s perspective. David knew that – worst case scenario – even if Goliath was the “champion” they claimed him to be – that God was still greater. He knew that even if he died in this battle, it was still better than doing what the rest of the army was doing – living in defeat without even taking one step towards trying.

With every “giant” situation you have in front of you today – there’s going to be a worst-case scenario (or multiple almost-worst-case scenarios) that come to mind. You can let those perceptions determine your attitude and your course of action (“I can’t because…”) – or you can pause right now and ask God for His perspective.

Maybe He’ll show you that those giants aren’t so scary after all!

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