Last November, my husband Toby and I decided to check off a bucket list item and take Amtrak cross-country from Chicago to San Diego. As expected, it was a dream trip, complete with adventure, breathtaking views, and quiet time to read and relax.

That said, by day three, our roomette began to feel cramped, and I started to feel (and look) a bit worn down. As Toby went to get coffee on that third day, I decided to surprise him by fixing up a little and adding a touch of makeup.

When he returned, he stopped short in the doorway of the roomette, looked at me with alarm, and said, “What-is-wrong? You look so angry!”

In that moment, I realized an important life lesson: Never attempt to draw your eyebrows on a moving train. Ever.

It’s a great make-up lesson, but more importantly, it’s a great life lesson:

Things ain’t always what they seem.

This is true on many levels, but especially on the personal one. Everyone is dealing with something, although we may not see it immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely — God forbid we show vulnerability, or admit we need help —

but notwithstanding the faces people show, everyone is fighting some type of battle.

One way to break through that screen is to follow three simple steps: stop, say a quick prayer for understanding, then listen for the truth.

For example, maybe your boss is short with you. Rather than fire back a terse response, stop, and say a quick prayer, such as “Lord, bring us peace.” Then, in that moment of patience brought on by the prayer, listen. Maybe you’ll find out that she was short not because she’s mean or wanted to make your life miserable, but because her kids were up sick all night and she got no sleep.

Here’s another example. Maybe you know someone who talks too much about him or herself. (Personally, I have a list of names.) When you are in the midst of someone’s tirades, stop, say a prayer, and listen. You may find that perhaps that person talks all the time because no one has ever listened to or valued what he or she has to say.

It’s like the old saying, “Never judge anyone before you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Of course, I like the alternate version: “Never judge anyone before you’ve walked a mile in their shoes because then you are a mile away, and you have their shoes.”

The idea that things aren’t always what they seem is true on a global level, too. There is a lot of talk today about “fake news.” And because of that alarm, it’s hard to know what is true and what is not. Try applying the same lesson here. When someone says something is “fake news,” stop, say a prayer, then listen for the truth.

One of my seminary professors used to say that “to question, and to wonder is to love God with one’s mind.” Amen to that. We have the ability to think and to make up our own minds. As 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Our duty as human beings who yearn for the truth is to ask questions, consider different perspectives, and look at all the sides. Prayer is a tool that opens our minds and allows us to do it.

Since that Amtrak trip, I have been extra careful about how I use my eyebrow pencil. I’ve also been extra careful about how I judge. I don’t want to judge others, who, because of shame or other reasons, are hiding problems that I don’t see. And I certainly don’t want to be swayed by information that has been deemed “fake news” because someone behind the scenes is trying to manipulate my opinion.

The best we can do is to love God with all aspects of our being: body, soul and mind. In the end, it’s the only way we will ever find truth. Because things ain’t always what they seem.

— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at revssparks@gmail.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com