My heart raced as my feet leaped over piles of shoes and my mind leaped over “to-do’s” on my mental list. It was the typical hectic December Saturday – the day of the company Christmas party – and we had three places to be at the same time, on opposite sides of town. We had early morning appointments at our chiropractor’s office twenty-five miles on the other side of town, so I calculated that, if I was quick about it, I could hit two shopping centers on the way home, squeezing boot and jacket shopping in between our appointments, feeding the family lunch, and running an afternoon errand. Besides, I had my husband with me to help bag the quarry. I tried to maximize my shopping time and enlisted my reluctant husband in hunting for brown ankle-high, pointed toe boots –that seemed straight-forward enough, and leather boots afforded the appearance of a more manly pursuit – while I searched the racks of the crowded bargain basement for a jacket to wear with my dress for the Christmas party. The jacket was a necessity because the dress I was going to wear that evening (which my husband picked out) revealed more than I wanted his boss and co-workers to know about me!
First store, no luck on either count: one pair of boots, too small, no jacket. The clock was ticking. Next store, the outlet-outlet-outlet called Last Chance, because they don’t exchange or refund anything, and again we split up. I untied my tennis shoes to save time, just in case my husband found anything. I scan the racks and come up empty, but my husband spots a pair of boots. I whip off my shoes and shove the boots on, lacing them just far enough up to be sure they fit. Got it! We zipped (relatively speaking, given the holiday crowds) through the checkout and on to another store for our remaining target, the elusive jacket. My husband’s grimace cried out that his heart was no longer in the pursuit. I quickly spotted a jacket the right shade of midnight blue, whipped it off the rack, flung it over my sweater to check that it fit, disregarded the fact that it was short-sleeved and I would still be chilly for the sake of being adequately covered, and we both called it a successful hunt.
It wasn’t until several weeks later, after I’d worn the boots repeatedly, that I noticed the left didn’t feel as comfortable as the right one. Something about the cuff bothered my left ankle, but I ignored the discomfort till I got home. As I took off my right shoe, then bent over to untie the left, I made a startling discovery.
They weren’t the same shoe! Oh, the boots were the same size, the color was the same rusty brown, the pointed toes were the same, the heels were the same height, and the round laces were the same, but there the similarity ended – and obviously. The right shoe was top-stitched with a single row of stitching outside the eyelets. The left was top-stitched with a double row inside the eyelets. The right had a cuff, which was what I’d wanted, but the left had a padded top like a hiking boot. Good grief! My husband didn’t notice that when he picked them up, and, even more unbelievably, I hadn’t noticed the differences when I tried them on!
How could I have been so oblivious when I bought them, and how could I have worn them several times without noticing? I felt ridiculous. How many people had noticed me wearing two different shoes? I couldn’t return them, so I was stuck with two boots that now would embarrass me every time I wore them! I wondered (as I do anymore when something really weird happens to me) what lesson I could glean from this incident, and it came to me quite clearly: my perceptions aren’t necessarily the same as reality, or, “. . . no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21). A lie may resemble the truth, it may feel reasonably close or even comfortable, but it’s not the same thing as the truth.
I recognized an application right away because of the turmoil in the lives of three of my friends dealing with depression, and the chaos in my own life because of a struggle with incredible stress that fall. We were all listening to and buying into lies that sounded like truth. I easily saw my friends’ errors. They were saying things like “There’s no reason to go on living. I’ll lose my job. I’ll never work again. My friends will leave me. God listens to other people’s prayers, but not to mine.” My own lies, like deer in a shadow-dappled thicket, were harder to spot against the background of my own stresses and time-pressured circumstances: lies like, “I can’t handle all these responsibilities. If one more person needs me for anything, I’m going to explode. This pressure is going to give me a nervous breakdown.” After a particularly hectic day substitute teaching, I snarled a lie to my husband and children: “I don’t have the energy to be ‘nice’ to one more person today, so back off.”
As I compared the two “shoes” of reality and my friends’ and my perceptions, the truths common to both were that life was difficult and we all did have limitations. The color and the toe of the shoes of reality and our perceptions were the same, so to speak, but there all accurate resemblance between perception and reality ended. What was the reality? What was true? My friends and I all had loved ones, co-workers and friends who cared about us and wouldn’t abandon us just because we were struggling – that was true. My friend who feared she’d lose her job because of her health issues was bright, capable, and highly skilled in her profession, someone any employer would value – true. She would get well and work again – true. And she did! We needed to line our perceptions up with these truths in our lives, too.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity and fawning fear – but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of a calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7, The Amplified New Testament)
I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
Like the discomfort of my mismatched boots, I realize my own level of mental and emotional agitation , and more often the level I can see in my loved ones, are fairly good indicators of a discrepancy between the whole truth of my circumstances and what I’m perceiving/believing about them. I see, too, that fear obscures truth and generates many of the lies I’ve believed. In his book “Ruthless Trust,” author Brennan Manning writes, “As long as we withhold internal consent to these varied faces of fear, they are no cause for alarm, because they are not voluntary . . . we can overpower them with a simple and deliberate act of trust.” I need to trust God’s truth.
Since the brown shoes episode, I’m trying to do better at spotting lies in my thinking – or at least to listen objectively when my husband points out inconsistencies – so I don’t wear lies too long. That proved essential to my mental health when my husband was laid off and out of work for six months. (More about that in a future post.) Since my husband and I are soon facing the anxiety of retirement in an uncertain economy, an empty nest, separation from a beloved part of our family who live on the other side of the globe, and since I recently learned that depression runs in my mother’s family, I’m on a campaign to intentionally, proactively ferret out fear, lies and negativity in my attitudes and mental dialog. My perspective matters tremendously. I don’t need to make the real challenges of the coming months and years more difficult by what seems like, but isn’t, reality-based truth-filled thinking.
I bought new brown boots and made sure the left one matched the right, but in case you’re wondering, I did keep my mismatched pair as a humorous reminder to look for and believe the whole truth. Much to my amazement and relief as I’ve shared my shoe gaff over the years, I hear others say they’ve done the same thing. I suspect that, particularly in stressful or difficult times like these, we all need to take a closer, truthful look at both our shoes and our suppositions!