When Perception isn’t Reality

WEDNESDAY’S WORD

“Perception is everything,” a former boss used to say frequently and quite fervently. I knew something was on his mind, but I didn’t ask. Then I noticed it playing out in my life.

The meaning of this quote, for those of you who are a little behind here, is that what people perceive to be their reality is, in fact, their own reality.

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What people perceive is actually their own reality. The issue is, they play out their “reality “on me, which has resulted in hurts and drama. Then, I had to adjust my own perception — the people whom I thought were mature and objective were not. They were acting out their presuppositions on me.

What they thought was me, wasn’t me. But they thought it was. And what could have been a rational conversation to sort out an issue became… Well, you can let your imagination run riot here…

Time and time again, it happened.

It became clear that no matter what others thought, I had to practice being precise about what I was thinking and believing, and to articulate it to them.

This is what Jesus wants. He wants us to clarify wrong perceptions. When we find out someone is offended over a perceived slight, we could take a moment to talk it out with them; conversely, when we are aggravated by what we think is a slight from another, we can initiate the conversation with a view to reconciliation.

These conversations can hopefully, result in an alignment of perception and we can move forward.

And what if these conversations don’t resolve anything?

Well, what I’ve found is that God isn’t in unreality.

Living in unreality results in a lot of hurt and drama.

I prefer to be where God is.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Phil 4:8

Addendum: A reader asked me, “What if there isn’t trust?” My answer is, ask God to prepare all parties’ hearts and minds, to arrange a time and a place for the mutual conversation to take place. And then, let it go, forget it, stop chewing on it. It has become His responsibility; let Him handle the details.

Go on with the rest of your life.

When the time is right, you will meet and the conviction of the Spirit will be there.

Jesus the Master Reconciler

It is difficult to be reconciled when betrayal occurs. If the betrayer still remains in the community, both parties would distance themselves. The usual reaction of the betrayer is to pretend it “never happened”, minimize it and brush it under the carpet, or just “disappear” without explanation. Or all three.

But that didn’t happen with Simon Peter. We know he had great difficulty forgiving himself when he realized he had betrayed the One he loved. Scripture records he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). In a time of pressure, he folded. We can imagine the anguish in his heart, the self-accusations and self-condemnations as well as quite likely the attacks of the demonic on his mind. 

But Jesus, the Master Reconciler, knew Peter had a good heart. He invited Peter back to Him and to his destiny in a series of steps. 

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We know that after His resurrection, Jesus appeared by the Sea of Tiberias while Peter and two other┬ádisciples were fishing. When John recognized Jesus standing on the shore and exclaimed, “It is the Lord!”, Peter jumped into the water to meet Him,┬áleaving the other two in the boat. One can imagine the joy he felt, and also the shame, the deep sense of unworthiness, and also the deep desire to make things right.

At His request for fish, Peter immediately went to the boat and pulled the net of 153 fish ashore — all by himself. All his actions showed “I am sorry Jesus, I love You, please forgive me, let me make it up to You.” 

But Jesus didn’t address the matter till after He had prepared breakfast and fed His men. The meal was important. We eat only with friends, and He showed Peter that he was included in His community. 

Then came the three famous questions, “Do you love Me?” Each time Peter said, “Yes, I love you,” it nullified each of his previous denials of Jesus. With each “I love You,” Jesus gave Peter a command. First, feed his lambs. Then, take care of His sheep. With each declaration of love, came an increase in responsibility. It showed Peter that Jesus hadn’t lost trust in him.

When Jesus questioned Peter’s love for Him the third time, he was hurt, and he again affirmed his love for His Lord. With that third affirmation came the command to feed His sheep, as well as the prophecy that Peter would die by crucifixion. With the three declarations of love, Jesus re-established Peter’s office as an apostle, re-established his birthright to be one of the writers of scripture and his destiny to be a martyr for Him.

Jesus is the Master Reconciler.

Four Factors in a Friendship

COMMUNITY MONDAY

You’d think that being a new Christian and joining a church would be the beginning of a wonderful time with like-minded people. It wasn’t so for me –took me 10 years to find my sweet, wacky, out-of-the-box kind of believers — just like me!

Our church had a congregation of thousands and being a newcomer was hard going. On a whim, I joined a retreat with a friend, thinking that it would be a good way to get to know people and promising each other we’ll skip out on the teaching sessions once they get boring.

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We were divided into small groups for discussion. The leader, Stanley, asked me to start the session with prayer. I was taken aback. I had never prayed aloud before, and I told him so. He prayed instead.

Next session, Stanley again asked me to open the meeting with prayer! Well, I thought, this guy is persistent. Anyway, to get rid of him, I opened my mouth and uttered my first public prayer. This was the first step of many leading me to head the prayer ministry in the same church. (Stanley subsequently went into the pastoral ministry, eventually became senior pastor of the church and then President of the Methodist Church in Singapore).

But even though I eventually joined Stanley’s fellowship group of about 50 people which had Common Interests, I couldn’t find close friends there. The Chemistry was missing.

It’s difficult to define chemistry but we all know it when we feel it. It’s that spark that tells us we are kindred spirits. Their company makes us sparkle and shine. It’s invigorating to be with them — they seek us out, and we them. Life’s possibilities get bigger, we’re challenged to try new things and travel to new places. And this is the defining factor — we laugh longer and louder with them.

But even when we find someone with common interests and chemistry, the friendship breaks if there aren’t Common Values.

For me, bearing grudges is a deal-breaker. Either we talk it out and make up, or we move on. For some weird reason, some people believe they still can stay in the midst of community while harboring angry thoughts about another. It doesn’t work. Sooner or later, the volcano will erupt.

And lastly, there’s Trust. Trust involves risk. We can slowly risk telling more about ourselves to the other, and see if they can keep that confidential. We also need to see if they have integrity. Do they do what they say they will do? Or are words just sweet nothings?

Four factors in a friendship: Common interests, chemistry, common values and trust. A client asked me if she should stay in a relationship. I described all four factors and let her decide.

A Month of Goodbyes

My brilliant cousin, renowned in the UK medical world as an accomplished spinal surgeon, passed away from Covid-19 recently. We probably met once when we were children, but we never met again.

I was made aware of his achievements by his mother. After graduating from Nottingham University in the UK, he made spinal surgery his specialty and became an expert in his field. Some years ago, my aunt proudly announced to all the relatives that he was the first UK recipient of the Medaille D’Or from Madam Chirac, chairman of EEDCM, an organization that honors people with an exemplary professional life.

He made her proud, and we the relatives, basked in some of his reflected glory. When Covid made its way across the world he became an avid anti-vaxxer. In October, he caught Covid, was fine for a week, then became breathless. He was admitted to the ICU, sedated, intubated and ventilated. In November, the family was told to prepare for the worst. Then on Dec 13, the relatives were informed that he had passed away.

In the Oct 2 edition of The Straits Times, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung reported that unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to need ICU care or die, with seniors at the highest risk. Cousin Khai was only 55, not quite a “senior”.

Could he have lived, if he had taken the jab? We don’t know. And it’s useless to speculate — there are just too many variables.

Goodbye, Cousin Khai. Deaths of friends and family members below 70 years are always jarring. After all, we’re supposed to live from 70 to perhaps 80 or more (Psalm 90:10). Perhaps it was your time to go.

May you rest in peace.

Navigating around Noxious Leaders

What happens when the leader appointed over you is insecure and somewhat unpleasant to deal with? What happens if you are the noxious leader? Let’s deal with the first category, before we go to the second.

If you’re in the first category, there are three clear options:

First, ask for a transfer. I was known as a capable writer and I got transferred to another department to get it started. But I didn’t like the new boss, so I tweaked a connection and got myself out. This is one of the advantages of working in a big organisation and of being junior in ranking. There are more options.

Second, grit your teeth and bulldoze your way through. This was viable as the boss liked me, although I disliked his style. The positive factor was that I had established trust with him over time by constantly being able to meet expectations as well as taking over a project that another colleague had overtly rejected, to his great discomfiture. I was also very honest with him.

By God’s grace, I could handle the pressure for some time. When I was near the end of my tether, another more mature boss took over. Thank God.

Third, resign. This is a viable option when you find that what your boss wants doesn’t coincide with your design. As the saying goes, It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s doing violence to who you are, and what God has designed you to be. It’s not a good situation to be in and it’s better to resign and look for another position — and so preserve your mental health — than stay and be miserable.

If you cannot change your situation, then it’s time to evaluate if God is trying to develop certain attributes in you that you don’t have yet. And the likely reason you don’t have it is that you never learned it from your family — the first place where you’re exposed to leadership, good and bad.

For instance, if one of your parents was controlling or inflexible, then it’s quite likely you’re going to repeat that behaviour in the workplace — it’s the only kind of “leadership” style that you know. And God allows you to lead a team and in a confrontation, a member calls you controlling and inflexible. Oops.

Or to remedy that awful controlling behaviour you so despise, you become so un-controlling and so flexible that your leader tells you that your team is out of control. Oops… again.

Then, what to do? Learn to balance both structure and freedom. Those are key values for me. In a previous article on forming a prayer team, I integrated both values in the way the team functioned https://wordpress.com/post/tree-of-healing.com/104

Agreement was also important — I spell out my working style and ensure the other person understands and agrees before moving ahead. Then, there’s unity. And with unity, there’s power to do God’s work (Psalm 133).

In God’s moulding process, I found out some of my key values: structure and freedom, agreement and unity. What are you finding out about yourself?

Goodbye, My Friend

She wasn’t judgmental, she had a strong sense of justice, quick to leap to help, either lending a listening ear or praying for the best outcomes. She was willing to share knowledge in her area of specialty. She also set boundaries, saying right from the start to not cling on to her.

Being smart, popular, kind and caring it would be almost inevitable for most people to hang on to her. It was clear she needed space, and so I gave it to her.

When we were introduced in 2016, she was studying for her Bachelor’s; and after accomplishing that, she embarked on her Master’s. In the midst of all the academia, she moved house, and that house had issues for some time. Then, she learned her mother had cancer and she made sure she took care of her until she passed away. And then, she moved again.

In the last couple of weeks of my friend’s life, she was awaiting the results of two papers she had submitted, she was interning at a company that was keen to hire her… and then she had an aneurysm and a stroke and passed away.

Family and friends were shocked.

How to grieve, when she was half a world away? How does one have closure? And then a mutual friend said she baked a cake and ate it as a form of celebration of Kristan’s life. That was new to me, but it was biblical.

Deuteronomy 14 speaks of preparing and eating a special meal as a worship and thanksgiving before the Lord. So I did that, thanking God for the gift of Kristan, being grateful for the time we had together and the friendship that was formed in the midst of prayer battles. And while honoring the Lord for enabling me to know her for a season, eating a small meal while the sun was setting, I saw some of the clouds turn pink. And they were in the shape of a hand, as if waving goodbye.

Goodbye, my friend. Till we meet again at the meal that surpasses all other meals.

The Lump in the Carpet

Many hate confrontation. They prefer to ignore the issue and let the anger pile up until one day, they can’t stand it anymore and there’s one BIG explosion and… well, I think you know how it goes.

Many opt for avoidance, or “peace at any price”; others engage in endless bitter wars over the same old thing. The issue never gets resolved as both parties haven’t learned the skills of reconciliation. Both “resolve” it by sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring it until the lump under the carpet becomes a festering and foul smelling hill, making them sick.

But there’s a third way, a skill that few have learned and that’s to confront with love. I encountered it a few times, and only with the best people — those who rose up through the ranks because of outstanding competence and character.

The first time was when I was working as a rookie reporter and made a mistake that was published in the newspaper and the editor, a rising star, asked to see me. I expected to be flamed, and I went into his office with some trepidation. To my surprise, he gently pointed out my transgression, forgave me on the spot and sent me back to my desk. There was judgement, but also grace at the same time.

Then I made a career transition. I had learned how to work as a journalist — getting the editor’s brief, interviewing the people and then submitting the report. In journalism, you work to communicate ideas in the best way possible and within the set deadline. You learn to work fast and work well.

In church, I was expected to work with people — a very different scenario. And of course, I made mistakes. But I was again, blessed with pastors who were aware that I was learning a new profession — they confronted me with the issue, then either advised me or stepped in to remedy the situation. I received both truth and grace.

It gets a lot messier when the issues are not work issues, but people issues. I knew I had to learn how to confront in love, and enlisted the help of my colleague, a trained counsellor, who coached me.

First, I have to discern if it’s my issue or their issue. If it’s my issue — i.e. an old wound that suddenly got triggered — it’s quite straightforward. I bring it to the Lord for healing, and He does heal. If healing doesn’t happen immediately, I will enlist the help of a friend to discern what is hindering the process. I know it’s healed when I meet the person and there’s no distance between us.

If it’s their issue and it’s hindering our friendship, I will ask the Lord to prepare the time, the place and our hearts. If the wound is still festering and anger is going to spew out, then I need to work on forgiveness before arranging the meeting, else I would be inflicting more wounds on the relationship instead of healing it.

I would bring up my complaint and tell my friend what happened and what I felt about it; then I listen; then I give my feedback about what I heard from her; she clarifies; and then we go back and forth until we have a good mutual understanding and come up with some solutions for next time. I think I have learned that skill fairly well.

But having learned it, God has now given me a new challenge: learning to address repeated rude behavior. If it happens once, I take it as an aberration. If it’s more than once, I know it’s a habit and has to be addressed. Usually, calling it out there and then is very effective; if we leave it too late, the party is likely to have forgotten the whole thing. So, we need to be fast in processing the incident — which usually catches us by surprise — our thoughts and feelings, and calling out the behavior.

What usually inhibits us from doing so is fear of losing the friendship. But I have realised that if we don’t call this out, we’re going to lose the friendship anyway. As we start sweeping it under the carpet, we’re going to trip over the lump, or it will smell in time and make us sick. Ultimately, if we wish to stay well, we have no choice but to follow Jesus’ instruction that if someone offends us, we need to point it out just between the two of us. That’s the only way to go.

What This Blog Is About

I have three topics close to my heart:

Reconciliation with God: I wasn’t from a Christian home. I first became aware of Jesus when I was a child and came across the New Testament. He revealed Himself through the pages of the Gospel, a gentle wooing of my heart that continued through the years. I could sense the Lord, I could feel His feelings even though I didn’t know it was Him then. At 31, I finally broke through into His Kingdom. I aim to write about my journey with Him, and hope my insights will inspire you.

Reconciliation with People: Life is all about relationships isn’t it? When I first started out, I had very little idea how to have healthy relationships and was ill-equipped to handle the working world. God decided to lend me a hand by taking me out of the corporate world and putting me in the church world, where I had no choice but learn how to create and lead a healthy community. I hope to share my journey with you.

Reconciliation with Creation: I have a love for God’s Creation, and I daresay, many times that love has been returned. Creation speaks, not only through the animals but also through the winds, the waters and the earth. Unfortunately, there are also some hidden realities, ugly realities embedded in Creation which I had to learn to tackle. But God made Creation beautiful from the beginning, and this is what I want to focus on.

Kathlyn Tsang