Some of my worst moments have come as the result of the words and actions of others. No, I’m not claiming to be a victim here, though at times, a strong argument could be made for that. (As well as the many times I have been unkind, sometimes even cruel, towards others.) My point rather is that some of my lowest emotional, psychological and spiritual experiences have been in response to what others have said, thought or done regarding me. This also includes what I perceived others have thought about me. The key here is that the focus is on self in relation to others. Both involve human perception with no regard for God’s viewpoint.
I have spent most of my life occupied with those human viewpoints and, among the many dysfunctional effects, the distraction from God’s view is the most glaring. As much as I would love to think that I am not seriously affected by the opinion of others and that I am a free thinking individual, the monumental emotional impact of the slightest perception of insult, disapproval or rejection argues otherwise. Henri Nouwen tells us; “A little criticism makes me angry and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me or thrust me down. Often I am like a little boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.”
I have long been preoccupied with what others may think of me to the point of exclusion of my Creator’s opinion of me. My social “worthiness” has preempted my spiritual wellbeing for most of my life.
The notion that other creations have more influence on me than the opinion of the Creator of all is, on its face, embarrassingly absurd. Yet it brings to mind the shame Adam and Eve experienced when, as the first consequence of their sin, they hid their nakedness from God and each other. It is our sinfulness that we hide, for before sin; “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:25)
Regarding insults, their impact is not possible without sin. Through the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, sin is removed and there is no shame. Turing away from our sinful nature and towards God, my attention remains on what He thinks of me.
While in worship the other day, I heard of the WWJD bracelet worn by many of our Christian youth. It represents the ever present question; “What would Jesus do?” That is a perspective I am committed to as a Christian. Look for a moment at what Jesus actually did do in response to some of the worst insults and injury ever recorded. (I recommend Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” for a vivid and scripturally accurate depiction.) He kept his focus on His purpose and His Father. Fully knowing every detail of what was to occur to Him and while sweating blood, He said; “"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42) and, as Thomas Merton points out, “Theological abstractions do not sweat blood in the night.” On the Cross He said; “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) and “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 36:46)
Only our sin can insult us. Only His blood can save us. Sticks and stones can break our bones and names can break our spirits and our hearts. Only His love can restore them, now and forever. However, as Brother Lawrence said; “If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord, who reposes in it and He will quickly calm the sea”