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Struggling to see success

| Friday, September 26, 2014

I love those pictures that double as visual illusions. Google “visual illusions” and you’ll see examples of what I am talking about. There is, for example, the intricate picture of a woman whose face and outline doubles as a pastoral landscape. Her “hair” doubles as a horse, her “eyes” as hooves, her “face” as mountains, her “nose” as a bird. Or there’s the much simpler and perhaps most common example of these illusions: the “vase” which, at second glance, becomes two faces which gaze at each other in empty space.

When I was in junior high, I combined my love of these illusions with science as I devised what was, in my mind, the perfect experiment for my eighth grade science fair. I spent hours upon hours frustrating telemarketers and family alike as I searched for more of these illusions on the only portal my family had to the world wide web: dial-up internet.

Just as the ticking time bomb of my parents’ patience was getting ready to explode, I completed a “test” comprised of 20 of these visual illusions. Although I don’t remember the contents of the test (or how “scientific” it actually was), I remember the question I sought to answer: “Who recognizes visual illusions better, girls or boys?”

Growing up with my brothers had taught me up to that point that every competition had to have a winner. So, for me, this experiment was nothing more than an opportunity to have another competition.  I couldn’t wait to see who had “won!”

I can remember the shock I felt when I discovered there was no winner. After the results were tallied, I discovered no significant difference in each group’s ability to recognize the visual illusions I had compiled.

To make a long story short, I felt like the experiment was a failure. The dichotomy between what I had expected and what I actually saw made these ending results even more of a disappointment. What was even more confusing was the trophy that sat next to me as I rode home with my parents. I had been declared the winner of the science fair!

The hearty words of “congratulations” were drowned out by the inner emotions that clamored in my head. Did I deserve to win? I didn’t think so. Although others were telling me I had done a good job, I could not see it. I could not recognize it for myself.

What I failed to realize was a deeper truth. Any visual illusion is an exercise in recognition. But the struggle to recognize our goodness or success is not just relegated to the realm of science. Sometimes we struggle to see it in our lives too. Sometimes we think we have “failed” when really, we’ve just received an opportunity to see things in a different way, or perhaps, how things really are.

That choice, however, is always up to us.

Over the course of the past year, I have been given another opportunity to see. It was, however, another situation in which I struggled to make a choice to see the deeper reality.

This time, the challenge to see presented itself in the form of an office at the high school where I work. Rapidly accumulating dust and allergens, a lack of air and circulation and no exposure to natural light made this place a challenge for me. I could not shake the belief that I needed a bigger and more welcoming space for those students I wished to serve. A big desk took up most of its walk-space and made it difficult to maneuver inside, much less invite people in for a conversation. No one wanted to come in.

All of a sudden, though, it hit me. I realized that the desk was simply at an odd angle. If I could move it to be flush against the wall, I would have much more room … just enough room, it seemed, for a couch on the other wall. And, with a little bit of work, I could clean those areas that had accumulated the most dust. It could be a hospitable place after all!

A little couch shopping and a few rounds of cleaning later, I have an office that I am proud of. Yes, many of same challenges exist, but it doesn’t eliminate the reality that I DO have a space that can be welcoming, if I can see and commit to a vision to make it that way.

In the book of Genesis, God tells us that his creation is good. Why do we so often tell ourselves and work as if the reality exists otherwise? Let’s commit together to see creation more in line with God’s goodness. God’s reality of love can be our reality too, if we take the time to make it that way.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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