by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

Mistaken impressions, rash judgments, believing the worst — we’ve all been there. Maybe we’ve had an impression of someone or something based on a stereotype, prejudice or presumption.

The old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” is good advice. This means before we can judge, we need to take a deeper, closer look. This means that value and potential are not always obvious from what we see on the surface.

I learned such a lesson in the course of remodeling our house. We replaced several pieces of furniture that were pretty much worn out. I had planned for our dining table to be one of these items. But my husband wanted to refinish the table surface and have the chairs reupholstered. As I said, this was not my plan, but I compromised.

He worked hard and diligently on the table, and when he had completed his work, my first impression was not good. In fact, my initial reaction was honest, “I hate it.” But I resolved that I was stuck with it — at least for a while.

Then something unexpected and interesting happened. Various friends and family members saw our refinished dining table, and they all loved it. I couldn’t believe it! Not one saw my point of view. Eventually, I began to wonder if I had unfairly judged. As I began to give the table another look, my opinion shifted from dislike to love. Yes, I reached a point where I truly loved the refinished results.

How could this have happened? Had the table’s appearance changed? Hardly! So, what was different?

I can now see how my disappointment in not purchasing a new dining table created the unconscious presumption that I would NOT like the refinished table. I didn’t want to like it. My mind had been made up before the refinishing even began. I had been fooled by the view.

Our impressions influence our judgments. What if our impression of the human scene is a difficult and frightening picture of a loved one in a hospital bed? We can become convinced that the evidence before our eyes tells the true, whole story and believe the worst.

I’m remembering several years ago when my step-dad was in the hospital. He was in a medically induced coma for several weeks. It was alarming and disheartening to see him this way. At times we thought he was dead and was just being kept alive by the various machines he was hooked up to. And indeed, his physicians were concerned and uncertain of his recovery.

One of our prayers became not to be fooled by the view. Before entering his room, we would fill our thoughts with what God, who is Spirit, sees — his beloved son, spiritual, perfect, whole, full of vitality and strength.

Weeks later, after much progress, the induced coma was discontinued and he awoke with a smile and as his good-humored, natural self. More progress would be needed, but he did achieve an ultimate recovery. And the one-time view of near death was indeed proven false.

I’ve thought about this experience many times when faced with illness myself. I protest the view of me that includes a picture of disease and its symptoms, pain and so forth. I turn my thought to what I’m certain God’s view is of me as His child, created in His image and likeness. I’ve found reassurance, expectation and healing from this approach.

I’ve learned that anything that would rob me of my hope must be warded off. I must not allow any view to tempt me into believing that the human picture of problems and struggles is the end of the story.

And I’ve learned that a good beginning is to not be fooled by the view.