Things Aren’t Always What They Seem
Autumn in Florida: things aren't always what they seem.

Autumn is here. Splashes of red, orange, and gold punctuating a green canopy. Falling leaves blanketing lawns. A nip in the air and hot apple cider on the stove (or in the microwave!). Sweaters and scarves become go-to accessories.

Or not.

Here in south Florida, the only red and orange we see is found in flaming sunsets across blue skies. There might be the occasional falling leaf, but for the most part, the only thing blanketing our lawns are grass clippings from the last mowing. And we’re not quite ready for hot apple cider. Cold water and iced lattes are still the beverages of choice. Sweaters and scarves? Not for another few months, when a “cold front” slips through and the temperature dips into the 50s and 60s.

Things aren’t always what they seem, are they? Autumn in south Florida is less like a different season and more like a cooler version of summer. Yet, if you’ve lived here long enough, you can sense the subtle change in the air. A bit of a breeze. A lessening of the humidity. Of course, there are man-made indications, as well. Children back in school. Halloween displays in the stores and Christmas decorations lurking in the aisles that used to contain patio chairs and barbecue supplies.

People are not always what they seem, either. We make judgments based on assumptions and past experience, often arriving at the wrong conclusion.

The bully in school may be compensating for an alcoholic father. The neighbor who keeps to herself may be afraid for anyone to see her bruises. The coworker who eats lunch alone because he doesn’t want anyone to know that he can’t afford to join his colleagues at the local restaurant.

But God sees what we can’t see, and knows what we don’t know. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

The problem isn’t just that we make wrong judgments. It’s also that wrong judgments are made of us. I’ve been misheard, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misjudged countless times. Still, I have a choice. I can lash out in my hurt, dishing out payback, which I’m sorry to say I’ve done more often than I’d care to admit. Or I can remember I don’t have all the facts and ask God for the ability to view that other person with His perspective.

Autumn in south Florida:

  • Sunscreen at the beach
  • An iced latte at the Starbuck’s drive-through
  • Flip-flops or bare feet.

Yup. Things aren’t always what they seem.


The Plague of Perfectionism

A few years ago, a popular television program called Monk featured a lead character consumed with perfectionism. He couldn’t prevent the murder of his wife, so he spent the rest of his life trying to control everything else.

For a while, my nickname became “Mrs. Monk.” I admit it: I like control. I’m happiest when things are done my way, on my time-table, and to my standards. (Cue lots of sympathy for my long-suffering husband!)

Thankfully, the older I get, the more I’m learning to relax. I’m finally getting over my perfectionism, both physically and spiritually. This is a good thing, since on the spiritual front, perfectionism can lead to performance-based Christianity.

That was the Pharisees’ problem in Jesus’ day. They were consumed with doing everything perfectly right. To ensure their absolute compliance with the Law, they created even more laws. But they focused on externals. Their spiritual life was all about impressing people with their performance. Problem is, they also thought they were impressing God.

I can be like that, focused on playing the role of the perfect Christian. I forget that God is more concerned with the state of my heart than He is with the stage of my life. As He told the prophet Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). I may be able to fool people, but I will never be able to fool God.

Our relationship with God is based on His grace, not our performance. Our salvation is not payment for good behavior, it’s a gift given to us because of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. The good that we do is not to earn God’s favor, it’s to thank Him for what He has already done for us.

And that beats a performance-based life every time.