This being Labor Day weekend, allow me to suggest a few helpful ways to lower your blood pressure and cease from perhaps the hardest type of work there is.
That is, I want to talk about how to quit laboring under others’ opinions of you. Few things are more exhausting than trying to live your life in somebody else’s head.
So many people torture themselves by asking themselves endlessly: Does so-and-so like me? What if my clothes aren’t as nice as what everyone else is wearing? Did I flub that presentation? Did I just say something stupid? Does everyone think I’m ugly?
Before I continue, let me assure you — and my wife and son, who know me best, will vouch for me — that I am as big a train wreck as any one of you.
What I’m about to say, I say from not an iota of arrogance. You and I could spend all day discussing how messed up I am.
But one burden I usually don’t toil under is worrying about what others think of me. I preach sermons every week. I write opinion columns every week. Pretty much every week I’ve got one, or several, or many people rushing to tell me I’m a fool.
They might be right. Still, I don’t lose sleep over it. I don’t let it paralyze me.
It has taken years of practice, thinking and self-evaluation to get to this point. And the ways I’ve learned to cope with others’ negative opinions might not apply to you, particularly if you don’t believe in a personal God who knows and cares about us as individuals.
However, if you do believe in that God, you might find solace here. I offer these observations:
God’s grace transcends our shortcomings. I believe this New Testament principle above all others. Even on the days I don’t believe in God, I believe in grace.
Grace says that if we’ve admitted to the Lord and ourselves how screwy we are — if we’re self-aware, in other words — and if we’re trying to do right, then God forgives us endlessly. Period. Not only that, but he declares us blameless in his sight. He finds us faultless, even though he and everyone else can plainly see we’re not. It’s a paradox.
It’s not fair — it’s a gift. Take it. Run with it.
Grace isn’t an excuse to become smug or deny our sins or continue acting in harmful ways. It’s a grateful recognition that the Lord loves us despite our shortcomings.
And his is the only opinion that matters. To paraphrase St. Paul, if God is for us, why would it matter what anyone else thinks? In our never-ending internal public-opinion poll, God is a one-man majority.
Humans are fickle and half-baked. They’ll love you today and despise you tomorrow, then love you again the day after that. Don’t get too torqued up about what they think, good or bad. It’ll probably shift with the next breeze.
Even the cool kids ain’t that cool.
True story. When I was a young man, I envied this guy who was blessed with all the things I wanted. He was movie-star handsome. He drove the sharpest car ever. He had the hottest girlfriend. He appeared to have stacks of money. Plus, he was a nice fellow who everybody liked.
I’d ask myself, “How come he gets to be him — and I have to be me?”
One day he put a gun to his beautiful head and killed himself. I realized with a shock that he’d had as many problems as I did, and evidently more.
I’m not saying we should mock the cool crowd while feeling superior about our own nerdiness. We should all show mercy toward all people, no matter their station, because everybody is struggling with their burdens, just as we’re struggling with ours.
God made you to be exactly who you are. The Lord must enjoy variety. He made giraffes, which are nothing like platypuses.
He made you not to be exactly like everyone else, but to be different. And he called that difference good. You’re not a clone.
So, if the Lord called you to be who you are, be honestly who you are, not a facsimile of someone else. If others don’t like you, politely suggest they take it up with your creator.
Whatever your daily work is, do it as unto the Lord, not to please other people. Do your best. Be conscientious. Be truthful. Be dependable. Be kind.
Constantly lean into God. Talk to him as you go about all your tasks. Leave the results to him. Quit worrying about your annual performance evaluation; God is way bigger than your department manager. In fact, God is the true boss — of everything.
When you make a mistake, and you will, own that mistake. Admit it to everyone involved. If possible, correct it or make restitution. Then leave it behind.
If busybodies want to remind you of it, just nod and say, for the 50th time, “Yep, I messed up, didn’t I? But I’ve moved on, and you might want to do the same.”
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.