If you live for the approval of others, you’ll die by their rejection. – Rick Warren
Today, thanks to the encouragement my sister in Christ, Brittany, I spent some time contemplating the why’s and how’s of public opinion, particularly why so many of us are bound by the approval and disapproval of others.
At the very beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post about “people pleasing” and how the Holy Spirit desires to take that habit away from me in 2013 (you can read it here https://naijabeauty.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/confessions-of-an-ex-people-pleaser/). Beyond abstaining from making decisions that pleased others but dishonored God, I needed to be free from the bondage of public opinion.
When I was growing up, I depended heavily on others to tell me who I was. From my parents to my friends, people in the community, other Nigerians, teachers, church members and pastors, I clung to outside opinions about my character, abilities, failings and potential like a lone life preserver in the midst of a tumultuous sea. Whatever anyone said about me was my truth. I did my best to be beautiful, kind, nice, funny, respectful, smart, intelligent, entertaining and a host of other things, all at the same time. I had to be these things or I wouldn’t be acceptable, and if I wasn’t acceptable, I would never be happy. Such were my thoughts from the age of 3 (my earliest memory) to the age of 26.
The older I got, the worse my situation became. As a young adult who had experienced disappointment and heartbreak and loss, it was no longer easy for me to put forth an easy-going facade. Being hurt by others brought out the worst part of my character as I grew older and those “ugly” parts of me (the insecure, jealous, angry and embittered side) began to rear their heads more often. It became harder to be the beautiful, kind, nice, funny, respectful, smart, intelligent, entertaining and thus lovable version of myself that people wanted to see. The more hurt and disenchanted I became, the harder it was to stay the “acceptable” version of me.
The worst part of it all was that I was fully aware of my flaws, so it wasn’t like people’s dislike of my ugly side was unwarranted. As far as I was concerned if people hated me it was because I wasn’t worthy of their love.
I started jumping through a lot hoops to earn the love that I wanted. Having others love me was proof positive that I was lovable and if I had to “perform” in order to be lovable, so be it. With my parents, it meant lying about my true colors. I would be the perfect daughter who got straight A’s, set ambitious goals for the future and had no bad habits. If it meant that I couldn’t speak with them about my struggles with purity or the overwhelming temptation I was facing in college then so be it. In relationships, it meant trying to convince men that I was “marriage worthy” and if that meant performing wifely duties without the commitment then so be it. With the viewing public, it meant putting forth the appearance of perfection. No one from the outside looking in would be allowed to see my flaws, my scars and my ungodly proclivities.
This mindset itself was a form of bondage. The relationships, friendships and reputation I built could only be maintained if I continued to perform – tap-dancing for each audience (parents, friends, church folks) according to the version of “me” they preferred.
It did not occur to me that the woman I was created to be was not meant to be acceptable to everyone. There will always be people who are turned off by who I am. Redeemed in Christ or not, some people will not like me. I can spend the rest of my life tap-dancing to please them or I can choose to have peace with God and move on. The Bible says that as much as it depends on us, we should live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). God knew what He was doing when He put that qualifying language in that commandment. Some of our “peace with all men” will not depend on us. They have to want peace as well. Despite our best efforts, some people are wholly committed to finding fault and belittling the person that God has created us to be. It is not our job to change their minds. A person whose heart is for you will see your flaws and your failings and will still persist in saying “I’m not going anywhere.” We DO NOT have to be perfect for others.
I didn’t even have to be perfect for God, and He has the highest standards in the entire universe. If God saw me in the filthiest of my habits and saw the deepest, darkest and most disturbing of my thoughts and STILL only has good things to say about me, why am I killing myself trying to be good enough for another human being? A created being just like myself who has neither the power to redeem me nor the authority to condemn me.
When I gave my life to Christ, He became my all. The deep sense of inadequacy I had lived with for decades melted away as I began to see myself as God saw me. I use to see myself as this dirty, disease ridden woman wearing filthy rags, wholly unfitting to approach the unapproachable holiness and purity and majesty that is found in God’s presence. I don’t see that anymore. I see now what God sees, a beautiful, blood-washed, bejeweled, redeemed Bride who is specially reserved for her Bridegroom. I don’t have to strive to be beautiful or virtuous or worthy because I AM all of those things and more in Christ. Christ paid the price for me to be these things, there is no striving involved. All I have to do is continue in my relationship with Christ, growing and blossoming and going from one level of glory, holiness and purity to another ( 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; also consider the imagery in Psalm 45:13-15).
There is a deep level of bondage that comes with attributing your innate worth to people’s ability to see you as worthy. You are not precious because other people recognize it. You are precious because God created you to be so. You are no less a diamond because someone mistook you for a rock. I pray that the knowledge of your intrinsic value in Christ (which by the way is priceless) frees you from continuously attempting to find your worth in other people’s measure of you. Whatever price you can put on the blood of Jesus, that is the price at which you are valued; and there are simply not enough zeroes on our numeric scale to quantify that.