I feel that as Christians we are told to not let other people’s opinions of us, or thoughts of us, matter to us. We are to derive our identity solely from Christ, and be relatively immune to the criticisms or frowns or whispers of others. We are told that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about us, and we just shouldn’t care. But if I am real with myself, it does matter to me. I do care what people think about me. And if you were real with yourself, I think you’d probably say the same thing.
I mean, we all want to belong to something – some sort or group, or family, or collective where everyone is connected with each other over some commonality or shared interest. We don’t live in isolation…we live with others, and go to school with others, and work with others, and we definitely desire the favorable opinion of others. I mean, really, we all want others to like us. Some care a ton about this, some care a little less, but we all care. On some level, we all need to be affirmed and validated by others. And we definitely don’t want to be rejected by them.
Rejection can happen in a variety of ways. We know this. We don’t want to be shunned or dismissed outright, and we also don’t want to be embarrassed, or humiliated, or shamed by others. Not only does it make us feel awful, it tends to confirm in our mind the doubts and fears and insecurities and flaws that we already struggle with (and don’t need to be reminded of). And the questions we wrestle with on a daily basis about what we should say and not say, about what we should do and not do.
I feel like I am a dreamer, and I listen to my heart, and go after the things that I believe He places on my heart. But as I do, I definitely don’t want to be shamed. I don’t want other people to look at me and my life and think, wow, he lived from his heart but it just didn’t work out for him.
What are some specific things that we’ve heard or heard about, that have the power to put us to shame?
Things I’ve personally heard include:
He blew it a long time ago.
He doesn’t realize that life is only going to get harder.
Things don’t just work out like that.
He should have been more private.
He should have been more public and open.
He should have done this when he did that.
I asked a friend what she has heard that has the power to put her to shame, and she shared the following:
Who does she think she is?
She’s just trying to be like <insert person here>.
With the decision she made, she deserves to struggle.
She should have been there more.
Maybe what she thinks was her best, really wasn’t?
She’s not supposed to do this, she’s supposed to do that.
She needs to come back to reality.
She’s just trying to fit in.
She can’t <insert any dream here> because her life is not right.
She has ulterior motives.
She’s a rebel.
It is really hard to hear these things, or know they are being said. Really, really hard.
And this is where I need God to step in. I need something outside of myself and my efforts to take over and have my back when I know that I have been doing my best and trying to listen to my heart and trying to follow His lead and make good choices. I need that. Desperately. I feel like we all do. It can’t just be up to us.
It’s scary stepping out in faith in big ways. That’s why so few truly do it. Those who don’t are held back because of the fear of failure, and because they just don’t want to look bad in the eyes of others. Because others’ perceptions do matter. They just do.
Thinking about physical perceptions, if everyone was blind and no one could see each other and how they look – their face, and body, and attire – would we care so much about looking good? Heck, I would just walk around naked (at least here in Florida), because no one would care and no one would judge me or critique me or size me up in any way. Well, as Donald Miller has suggested, we would probably then start building a social hierarchy based on attractiveness of voice, or eloquence of speech, or something like that. But maybe, with physical perceptions out of the picture, I would just be me, and that would hopefully be enough. And you would just be you, and that would hopefully be enough.
It is encouraging to me to realize that I am not alone in wrestling with these feelings, this tension. David, one of the godliest guys ever, struggled with this. He didn’t want to be shamed. The perceptions of others mattered to him, and you know what, it was okay. God didn’t tell him to be more godly, and get his act together. God didn’t tell him to stop caring about everyone else, and to work harder on getting his identity from Him alone. This helps me incredibly. I am so hard on myself all the time – maybe you are too – and so I just want to know that my loving Father understands, and doesn’t want me to be put to shame either.
When David talks about God not letting him be “put to shame” – I feel like he means shame coming from an outside source (rather than from personal conviction and reproach). Obviously, we can feel shame from an internal source – perhaps our conscience, or spirit – and we can feel shame from external sources. I feel like when it comes to my wrong choices and stupid selfish mistakes, internal shame is much greater than external shame. Other people can forgive me a lot easier than I can forgive myself.
When it comes to dreaming big, though, and going after those dreams, I feel like I can be easier on myself – because I know it takes years of effort and persistence and patience and God’s timing, but other people tend to be quick to comment, or whisper, or criticize, or even pronounce judgment – and make me feel shamed. And I don’t want that. I think about doing the right thing, and not taking shortcuts, and how people have questioned me (and honestly, I have questioned myself sometimes) about the value of it all…but it has always, always been worth it in the end.
David asks God to not let him be shamed:
I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
And God repeatedly says that those who trust in Him will not be shamed:
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.
To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.
I need God to be my defender. I need to believe that the dreams I am striving for and working towards, and the life I am leading in order to improve the likelihood of those dreams becoming reality, matters to Him. And that even though people may whisper, people may talk, people may point and question and be skeptical about it, and even if those things do affect me and make me feel bad, it won’t matter in the end. God will be God, and will come through, and not let me be put to shame.
It seems almost childlike to want to have such a simplistic view of His economy, and how He works. Our natural tendency is to make everything so much more complicated. But I just want to think and believe more simply about this sort of stuff. Because even though it is hard, it feels right. And because I know it pleases Him.
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