Perception, Reality, and Control


Photo credit: Matthias Zomer

As I progress through my treatment and work to manage my anxiety, anger, and depression, I am learning how to implement new coping skills and mindfulness activities into my daily routine. It is tough, because I have be disciplined about it. I have to make a conscious effort to go into my room, close my door, and unwind.

As I was reading through Job tonight, I noticed a phrase sandwiched in this discourse that blew me away. In Job, chapter 31, Job says, “if my heart has been led by my eyes…” Job is seemingly suggesting that he might be guilty and deserves at least part of all that has befallen him – but maybe he did not disobey God intentionally?

I just love the imagery of the heart being led by the eyes. This statement comes after Job spends the better part of chapters 29 and 30 lamenting that he used to be somebody, and now he is a nobody. He used to get respect, and now he gets none at all. But I can’t help but wonder if Job was merely perceiving all this mistreatment and disrespect. Were the people that once adored Job really mocking him? Or did they ever really adore Job as much as he thought they did?

What leads me to ask this is the thinking errors known as projection and expectation. We often project an idea of what we think others think of us onto them. We assume we know what they are thinking about us, and it is usually negative. But Job may have thought everyone adored him at one point in his life, so he acted accordingly. And he have simply thought everyone hated him at another point in his life, so he acted accordingly. He was projecting what he thought others thought of him onto those other people. Job was also setting expectations for others, and when the others did not deliver on those expectations, he got upset. Job expected people to react a certain way to him and his misfortunes, but likely never made his expectations clear. So, it is unfair of Job to get upset when people do not respond to him in a manner that he deems worthy. Job seems to be suggesting that others should be responding to him in a certain way, but they are not.

Job is shoulding all over himself.

It is easy when things are going well. Job admits this in chapter 29. He says, “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked though darkness!” (New International Version). Not only does Job miss his fellowship with God, he misses how easy his life was, by comparison.

Job cannot control what happens to him, he can only control how he reacts. And so it is with us. We can control some things in our lives, but these are not the things we typically stress over. For some reason, we stress over the things that we cannot control. I will paraphrase the very wise Dennis Prager by asking: If we cannot control a certain thing, why would we stress about it? And if we can control it, why would we stress about it? Either way, there is no reason to stress or worry. Maybe we fear not having control, and maybe we too often make our perceptions a reality. But after reading through some more of Job, tonight, it is comforting to know that we are not alone in making these mistakes.