The Only Opinion That Really Matters
One of my favorite things to do each day is to check the "Memories" link on my Facebook page. Each day I will get a glimpse of what I was doing on the same day in years past.
These daily excursions down memory lane are often bittersweet, funny, downright sad, and occasionally instructive.
The other day I saw a post that a former church member posted many years ago. She was thanking me for a sermon I preached. She went on to publicly extol my virtues, telling me what a great pastor I was, and how much she appreciated my leadership.
That particular memory made me chuckle a bit because not even a year after she posted that panegyric message, the woman and her husband angrily left the church.
When I reached out to them to find out what was wrong, I received a blistering reply about how I was a "false prophet," who was leading people astray. It was pretty gutting at the time because of everything they'd said about me in the past.
As I reflected on all of this, I was reminded of something I'd read in Anthony de Mello's excellent little book entitled The Way To Love. Fr. Anthony writes about this very thing and encourages his readers to take all of it--praise and criticism alike---with a grain of salt.
He asserts that even when someone is praising us, we should realize that what we are enjoying at the moment is the image they have of us, and that image could and probably will change at some point.
It's easy in those moments to assume all kinds of things about ourselves that may or may to be true. We love the highs that come from hearing praise but when we chase those highs over and again, we cede all of the power to fully realize our own unique worth.
Conversely, we often get spun out of control by criticism we receive--sometimes from the same people.
When we put too much stock in the opinion of others, we risk losing the freedom to be ourselves because we are now afraid to speak the truth or do something that might damage (or further damage) the image they have of us, which is inevitable, quite honestly.
The way forward for us is fairly simple, but also incredibly challenging. Our identities are not revealed in the praise or criticism from others. We can receive both with equal aplomb because what they say to us or about us says more about them than it does about us.
What matters most is our identity in Christ.
If you can internalize the simple fact that you are broken, prone to wandering, messed up, without a clue, stumbling along... but also loved, cherished, restored, forgiven, rescued, and redeemed... it won't matter at all what anyone else says.
If you get this, you can receive the praise of others with the same amount of curiosity, detachment, and peace as you would if they were criticizing you. You can be instructed and guided by both without spinning into self-doubt or over-inflating your ego.
And then you will be free. Free to make a fool of yourself... to laugh... to speak truth to power... to curse occasionally, to make mistakes, to triumph occasionally, to fall flat on your face, to love with all of your heart...
May it be so for you. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.