A great danger for us is to spend time wondering what people think of us. Let me declare how people think of us: INACCURATELY. No matter whether they think more of us than they should or less of us than they should, they never hit the bulls-eye. A very common affliction for many is the preoccupation with how other people perceive them. Are they talking about me? Do they like me? Am I attractive? Am I impressive? Why can’t I ever please her? Maybe if I change this about myself he will like me. This type of self-conversation can be endless – and it usually is because people who are focused on how others perceive them always have something more to discuss with themselves. When it all gets boiled down to the basics we do well to conclude that some people like us and others do not. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it will continue to be. Today let’s focus on what to do with those who will likely never put themselves in your corner to support you. You aren’t imagining things: they really don’t care much for you:
“Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.” – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
Until Monday night I had forgotten that these two verses were in my Bible. God’s word here commands me not to be overly concerned with how others perceive me. In particular, when people speak ill of you, God’s counsel is for you to refuse to take it to heart. If we listen long enough we will eventually be made aware of something said of us that strikes at the heart of who we know ourselves to be. In those moments we can be offended, hurt, angered, indignant, defensive or shamed. If we are unwise, we can allow the misguided analysis of others come to define what we believe about ourselves. This is an awful place to arrive if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. So much of God’s word seeks to empower us to draw our identity from what God says concerning us. We are taught to view ourselves through the lens of grace and the completed work of Jesus Christ- not the hollow, inaccurate opinions of others (or even our own selves!). Though we recognize that we are a work in progress, we are empowered to live purposefully and fruitfully as we trust that all that lacks in us is already known by God and, therefore, we don’t have to toil, despair or hide when we address what is lacking in us. Yet, when we listen to others and begin to place a premium on what they say of us and expect of us, we can lose sight on who we are in Christ and also the person whom God is making us to be. So God tells us to perfect the fine art of tuning some people completely out. I confess that this makes me a little happy.
Did you also notice that verse 22 above indicates that we are not only victims of wrong thoughts and words but also the occasional source of these same things? How many times have we spoken a thoughtless, hurtful word about somebody else? I know that I have said things in anger, defensiveness and frustration about another that I really didn’t believe myself. We make quick generalizations of people, sizing them up in an instant, communicating our dissatisfaction with them and then allowing them to sort it all out once it has escaped our lips. We have wounded others and gone merrily about our way while they may struggle with what we’ve said for months afterward. We didn’t mean it in a unilateral sense when we said it…but that’s the way they received it. So then, when people are clearly not supportive of you and misunderstand you, how much power will you allow them to shape your identity? Maybe they didn’t really mean it to the extent you received it. Are they wiser than God? Is their discernment sharper than the Holy Spirit? Does their view of you supplant God’s decrees about you? You see, Scripture not only declares that you don’t have to believe what they say, it actually forbids you from doing so. You are commanded to tune others out on occasion and those who have cultivated the art of doing this are some of the most content people you will ever meet. It isn’t that they don’t care what others think of them, it’s that they are not obligated to agree with them.
Love people. Feel free to consider what they see and say about you. Feel even more free to not give it a second thought. They may have learned from your past response that they can control you by offering you approval or criticism. These are not the people to whom you should listen. Listen to the voice of your gracious God and Savior. Listen to that one, supreme voice that knows both how to convict you of your need and also to affirm you in your journey. The voice of God is never impatient and insulting. Truly, He speaks with authority and decisiveness but His aim is always to help you, not harm you. Accusation is the work of your enemy and he is an expert at speaking nonsense to you through the words of others. Ask God to empower you with a discerning heart to know the difference between His truth and others’ fruitless input. More depends on it than you might think.