Haters Gonna Hate
I got my first anonymous hate letter from a church member when I was working as a youth director for a large urban church while attending seminary.
The letter was filled with vitriolic criticism of a sermon I'd recently preached--a personal attack, accusing me of all kinds of things that had no basis in reality. As I read it, my face grew hot, and my heart pounded.
The senior pastor of the church asked for the letter, took it from me, and calmly crumpled it up and threw it away. He told me that anyone that was cowardly enough to not sign their name to a critical letter didn't deserve any kind of response.
But the memory of the words in that letter remained with me for far too long.
One of the many important life lessons that I'm learning in the second half of my life (one that I wish I'd learned so very long ago) has been in recent years distilled down to this powerfully succinct bit of wisdom:
"Haters gonna hate."
Let me parse that a bit further... Some people (or groups of people, for that matter) expend a lot of energy living as Shame-Mongers, and it doesn't take much to energize them to do their dirty work, believe you me.
I've run afoul of Shame-Mongers more than a few times in my life. They usually show up when I've had the temerity to step out and say something that offends their sensibilities, or threatens their status quo.
They also tend to emerge when I'm feeling vulnerable and struggling with confidence. It's like the dark energy that motivates them is attracted to brokenness and frailty.
We've all experienced the Shame-Mongers.
We have done or said something that indicts them, and calls their carefully constructed world into question, and they show up. They show up to rub our faces in our past mistakes, to call us out on any inconsistencies or to simply discourage us from the new thing we've come to believe.
And then they will walk away, and leave you questioning yourself, wondering if maybe they were right---not matter what your gut is telling you to the contrary.
I read this amazing poem by Wendell Berry entitled "Do Not Be Ashamed" that encapsulates this perfectly:
Though you have done nothing shameful,
They will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
And say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are shamed,
Reading the page they hold out to you,
Then such light as you have made
In your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you,
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness
They will not forgive you.
Maybe you have had the Shame-Mongers do their destructive and terrible work on you, and their voices, their words have remained with you. Maybe there was a light in you, and the shame they handed to you made it flicker and go out.
I want you to hear this clearly and plainly. Whatever they said to you is a lie because their intent was not to encourage, exhort, guide or help you in any way. They only want to tear you down.
Don't give them the head space. Don't give them the soul space. Crumple up the page they hold out to you, and toss it into the dustbin of history where it belongs. Don't go chasing after them begging forgiveness, they won't really give it.
Instead, let them go in peace. Give them over to God, and entrust that God knows their story better, and that God will work on them as God is working on you.
You have better things to do... bigger things... and the first bigger and better thing you should do is to begin thinking differently. Follow the advice of the Apostle Paul who wrote these words:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
May it be so for you today and every day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.