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Illusions

“…Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”  – Philippians 2:15-16

A few years ago, my son was invited to a birthday party at a magic shop in downtown McKinney. I would normally drop him off and come back when the party was over, but I couldn’t resist watching the magician perform a few illusions. With great theatrics, he pulled a bunny out of a trunk, and, to great delight, made the birthday boy’s little brother disappear! It was a great show that left all of us asking, “How’d he do that?” These simple illusions, performed with great skill, relied on features of our mind that make us think we see one thing when something else is the reality. A great example from the world of psychology is called the ponzo illusion. This illusion relies an optical illusion that makes it seem that some lines are longer than the others, even though all the lines are actually the same length. You might recognize a similar trick of perception if you’ve ever stared down train tracks that seemly converge into a single point in the distance. It’s a fun visual effect that reveals that we cannot always trust our initial perceptions.

I have been thinking about this as we have continued our conversation about happiness at Table of Grace. Often, our happiness is based on our own perceptions of what we have or do not have in our life based on comparison to other people. Those that study happiness call this our reference point. We are happy when we favorably compare to those around us and less happy if we seem to lack something they have. What makes this even more challenging is that we don’t even have to know the other person for them to become a reference point. Numerous studies have found that those who watch more than three hours of tv per day are less happy. Why? Because people they see on tv can easily become a reference point. We immediately judge our life against whatever is shown on tv. We know its not real but the illusion is still compelling to us.

The only way to overcome this illusion is to change what we see. That’s what gratitude does for us. Gratitude shifts our focus from the illusions around us to the reality of God’s abundant grace in our midst. In fact, a great way to “rewire” what you see is to spend a moment at the end of your day writing down five things you are grateful for that day. In just a few moments, you change what dominates your perception, plus you will probably sleep better too. I believe that if we live as grateful people, that we really will shine like stars and become people who bring the light of Christ everywhere we go. So, what are you grateful for today? What blessings are present in your life? Give thanks to God and change your perspective on what you see around you.

Rev. Chad McSwain