I have a confession to make.
It might not seem like a big deal to you. But it is a big one to me.
For a long time, I have dealt with a lot of self-doubt. A lot of insecurity. A lot of anxiety and even occasional depression. I thought that all of these things might have many different causes.
It has taken me nearly all of my thirty years to realize that virtually all of the sufferings in my mind all come from one source.
The source of all my frustrations and anxieties is this: I care…
I care about what people think of me. I care about it a lot.
I care about it at work. I care about it in church. I care about what you think of me. It really is true. I am not speaking in hyperbole. I have tried to hide or deny that fact. I have tried to act like I don’t care. But trying to cover it up has caused me so much suffering. I care profoundly about what people think of me. Maybe that makes me a narcissist. Now I’m afraid people might think I’m a narcissist.
Perhaps in our age of social media, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in what others think of us. There are so many more people whose opinions we can care about.
This is what I’m trying to do to recover from my obsession with what people think of me.
Who Do You Say That I Am?
There comes a point in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke when Jesus could not be more popular. He is feeding thousands, healing, teaching. Everyone wants a piece of Jesus.
At some point, Jesus asks his disciples something curious. He asks, “Who do people say I am?” In other words, when Jesus isn’t around, what do people say about him?
For a guy with a penchant for making a public spectacle, it’s a rare moment of reflection. Jesus is actually wondering what the public opinion is about him. And the news isn’t great. Everyone has wildly different expectations for Jesus. Some people think he’s John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet. That’s got to be discouraging.
Do They Have a Right to Their Opinion?
Jesus does something interesting in light of this bad news.
After digesting the fact that some people think he’s Jeremiah reincarnated, he reframes the question. He throws out the polling data and just asks the guys directly what they think about him.
It is taken as a fundamental fact in our culture that everyone has a right to their opinion.
Maybe it’s true. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s opinion matters.
Plenty of our opinions are based on emotions, on gossip, on misinformation, rather than facts or personal knowledge. I am no different. I am quick to form opinions based on a news blurb or a snippet from Twitter. No one is going to stop us from having those opinions. But that doesn’t mean they are good opinions or they matter.
When we are feeling ignored, misunderstood or judged, we have to ask ourselves if the people who are judging or ignoring or misunderstanding us even matter that much to us. How many peoples’ opinions have a real, appreciable effect on our lives? How many peoples’ expectations really have a tangible bearing on us? Does it matter if we disappoint or anger the hundreds of people out there who don’t really know us?
What Is Wrong with Being Misunderstood?
Jesus responds in another interesting way to all of this misinformation surrounding him.
He tells his disciples not to tell people who he is.
He doesn’t want his disciples to try to sway public opinion. He actually wants to be misunderstood. He wants to defy people’s expectations. He wants people to not “get” him.
Which begs the question in my mind: “Is being misunderstood really all that bad?” Is it really all that bad if people never “get” us? Is it so bad if people have lousy expectations of us, or they put false labels on us or put us into little categories we don’t belong in?
Isn’t it fun to surprise people sometimes? To defy their expectations? To show them you are so much more than they assumed? If people understand everything about you the first time you meet them, how can you ever surprise them?
I’m slowly recovering from my obsession with public opinion. But it’s an everyday struggle, I admit. I’m trying to embrace the element of surprise. I’m trying to free myself to just be myself.
What about you? Are you burdened by too many opinions or expectations? Have you felt misunderstood or judged unfairly? How did you deal with it?