Trading Perception for Truth

Light is a metaphor easily recognized. We sense it on sunny mornings after stormy nights, wandering painting-lined gallery halls, skimming paragraphs of literature. It’s purity, it’s enlightenment, it’s a neuropsychological signal to breathe easier.

But light has a darker side, one we rarely find in cognitive association.

In its ability to illuminate, light bares all. Every cobweb-dusted corner, it reveals the bad with the good, sins brushed long ago underneath the rug, truths we never asked to hear. What we never open our eyes to, never takes place — at least in our heads. And suddenly, truth becomes something more frightening and complex than the kind exalted in the Arthurian code of chivalry.

If you had the choice, would you trade your perception of the world for the actual truth?

Back when I could still count my age on two hands, my perception of the world hinged upon every book I could get my fingers on. My rural childhood landscape was a backdrop for spies, villains, and occasionally a hound of the Baskervilles.

The rain hit the panes like birdshot on the afternoon I started rifling through my mother’s desk —

pulling a 1987 planner from the chaos of baby photographs and finger paintings. I flipped towards the back. I’d noticed the empty space in my mother’s bed where most of my friends had fathers, but it didn’t worry me much. I’d sneak into that empty space late at night when nightmares loomed too near, and a father seemed less real than monsters’ breath on my neck.

Until the afternoon I found my mother’s planner.

Scrawled across the space dedicated to December 9, she had written how my father visited me — us — in the hospital. She had written I was the most beautiful baby she’d ever laid eyes on. And she had written how my father left, after saying I looked like every other baby in the ward.

Every other one.

The truth felt too heavy to swallow. Too much for a little girl.

So I buried it deep in my chest and let it make me sick for years. What I wouldn’t give – even now – to have held onto that skewed adolescent perception just a moment longer.

As inhabitants of a post-modern society, our generation is wary of the word “truth,” and from an earthly perspective, we have every right to be. Vision is a distorted lens of past experience, personality, and assumption. What I call truth will always be slightly different from your definition.

So is there a single underlying truth out there? 1 Corinthians 13:12 affirms there is: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” We’ll only ever see the world through the darkest of stained glass, and we’ll never have access to that objective reality on this side of mortality.

Life is a kaleidoscope of fragmented personal perspectives.

I can remember those salty warm nights on the boardwalk.

Right after the spinning room and just before the maze of strobe lights, we’d walk the gamut of mirrors, our images shifting with steps. Too young to cringe at the distortions, we’d grin and pull our mouths out of shape and stick out our tongues – blue from cotton candy – as far as they’d go.

Frame after frame: short, tall, narrow, wide, flattering, unflattering. At the end of the row, I couldn’t remember exactly where I fell on the sliding scale of beauty. Were my tangled curls and light eyes enough to call me beautiful like my uncle said?

Or did I look like every other child?

Fifteen years later, not much has changed. I’ve only replaced the warped mirrors with faces, seeking my reflection in the eyes of family, friends, and strangers. To the dismissive bartender, I’m just another beer. To the guy who catches my eye on the bar stool, I’m worth nothing more than a one-night stand. And to my parents, I’m a disappointment.

But it’s in these moments we need to be the most conscious of perception —

a concept that’s very nature is destined to be subjective and flawed. I can’t trust my perception of the world, and I can’t believe in the world’s perception of me. Because we can only peer blindly through glass fogged with our own breath.

C.S. Lewis is famous for once saying, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end.” I know what he means, but I find it hard to believe when in my mother’s bedroom, at the end of the hall, I found a truth that left me uncomfortable for years. And if I’m honest, I have to say that truth still leaves me sometimes soundless and shy of eye contact.

Our world is full of inconvenient truths.

Sweatshop textiles made by little hands, corrupt politicians [from both sides of the bi-partisan system] with smiles that reach their eyes, progressive technology connecting us while leaving us feeling more and more alone. Truth never savors of sugar, but it heals just the same, regardless if you feel it within seconds or decades.

It’s taken me years to see how the truth within that one afternoon — written out across lined paper — has shaped me into a different sort of woman than the one that could have been. She would have stayed pretty normal. Her forehead would have remained unlined.  And she would have played it safe.

But the question was never about safety. Truth cuts deeper than any lie. Of course it isn’t safe. But it’s good. And whether we believe it or not, we have to trust the truth is always good.

If you had the choice, would you trade your limited perception for the whole truth?

[Photo:  Zach Dischner, Creative Commons]

  • Jeremy Statton

    My wife and I struggle through this difficult concept of “truth” when it comes to our adopted kids, especially our 4 year old. We wonder about what happened to her the first 4 years of her life. There is no journal to accidentally find that can tell us. But we do wonder why she covers her ears when she thinks someone will get in trouble? Why does she struggle so much with direct eye contact? Why does purposefully do things wrong?

    Sometimes we wish for the truth about her. We want details about her being abandoned as a baby, about the neglect she likely received in the orphanage, perhaps even abuse. But we can’t get it. And we don’t necessarily need it to try to understand her better. We certainly don’t need it to choose to love her.

    • Elizabeth Hudson

      No, you don’t, Jeremy. I can understand the tension there – it’s heartbreaking. What a beautiful little girl she is, too!

  • Douglas H.

    I think we often choose limited perception over the whole truth for the very reason you said: because truth is hard, so we’ll take any option over it. Ironically enough, that C.S. Lewis quote has a second half: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth.” (C.S. Lewis, always a good choice)

    And even more ironically, you actually quoted him again when you said “Of course it isn’t safe, but it’s good.” It’s not safe but it brings safety and goodness and comfort because truth is the stuff of God. It’s hard but it doesn’t shackle us like lies do; it breaks the shackles, it makes us free. The light is bright only because we have been in the darkness so long. One day our eyes will adjust and we will glory in all the beauty that we can now see.
    Great post. Thank you.

    • cjdeboer

      Beautifully said Douglas. Truth is hard but it IS the stuff of God. And He can only reach us once we are standing in truth.

    • Elizabeth Hudson

      Douglas, I love that you picked up on the second Lewis quote! You’re right, truth doesn’t shackle us like lies do, but it still doesn’t go down like sugar. I’m learning that the most important things in life are the most difficult to deal with.

  • pastordt

    This is heartbreakingly beautiful to read, Elizabeth. But I must say this to you: you uncovered a fact in your mother’s calendar that day – you did not uncover truth. Your father did not know the truth, could not see the truth. AND your mother wrote down her own perception of his response. It is very, very difficult (if not impossible) to ever completely suss out ‘truth’ in the big, global, biblical sense from our oh-so-limited perceptive abilities. Always, there is interpretation, there is nuance, there is maturity – all kinds of things that influence what we take in. So, yes, we hang onto Truth – we believe in the God who is Truth. But we are always limited on this side of the veil, limited in our ability to see and understand what is truly true. This is why we need to breathe deeply, to look carefully, to pray thoroughly. Your writing is just plain lovely – thank you for it.

    • Ally Vesterfelt

      “You uncovered a fact in your mother’s calendar that day – you did not uncover truth. Your father did not know the truth, could not see the truth.”

      Amen. Thank you Diana. Exactly what I wanted to say.

    • Elizabeth Hudson

      You are so right! It’s been a long journey of realizing that “truth” is really just layers of perception. How comforting it is to know that God is really the only truth. Thank you :)

  • Carol Vinson

    How many of us are willing to let our perception remain our truth? Oh to have the courage to really live in truth.



    • Elizabeth Hudson

      Thank you, Carol! Exactly. It takes a whole lot of courage.

  • Katherine Harms

    The world would be a different place if people dealt in truth rather than perception. You ask us to look inward and ask what our foundations are. That is fine, but we must be alert when looking outward as well. Think of all the arguments you would never have endured if truth rather than perception had been addressed at the beginning. It is hard to be a truthteller, and even harder to be silent about truth when you know how hard it would be to accept. You have opened up a great topic. I hope this conversation develops in a lot of directions.

    • Elizabeth Hudson

      There are so many layers, aren’t there? This concept would be better suited in book form.

  • kelli woodford

    “Because we can only peer blindly through glass fogged with our own breath.”

    these words have been haunting me for days. thank you for sharing such an intimate story. and for the timeless wisdom of the quote above. bless you.

    • Elizabeth Hudson

      Thank you, Kelli!