Are you listening, Lord?
Are you watching?
Are you there, right there, as I sit in front of my computer with my fingers on the keys? Because I’m feeling vulnerable and exposed and I’m needing you to be here please.
It’s something about who I am and why I am that I want to get off my chest today; I’ve said it before and there are some days when I think that you’re at work in this troublesome area of my life and then I have weeks like this and I realise that I’m right back where I started.
So here I am. Are you?
You’ve said you are, and so you must be.
Waiting. Watching. Listening. Waiting with a smile, encouraging. Expectant, because you know what I’m going to say before I do.
‘Before a word is on my tongue, you, O Lord, you know it completely.’
I spend my life trying to please people.
There we go. Said it.
I’m not sure why, but I worry so much about what people think. Always have. I find myself frustratingly preoccupied by people’s opinion of me far too much of the time.
I’m the sort of person who stops in the supermarket to exchange a spontaneous few words with an acquaintance and then plays the conversation back in my mind over and over wishing that I’d said something else, or not said anything; considering and fretting over what the other person thought, what impression they must have of me. After such an inconsequential exchange I am quite sure that the other person is thinking of nothing but the frozen food or special offers but I go over it and over it in my head.
You’ll know that it’s not unusual for me to make a phone call and then put down the phone afterwards and stand where I am chewing a finger, deep in thought, and I’m rehashing it in my mind. Usually there’s something I’d have done differently.
Sometimes, like this last week, I make a complete mess of something out there in public and then on those occasions I have so much material to work with when I rehash and revisit and agonise that I am just knocked over by it all. And this is why I’m here, now.
You know what a minefield of potential gaffes the average day is for me even without the occasional total wipe-out. And it’s not only what I say – it’s how I look (what do people think?) and decisions I make (do people approve?) and how I act (how do people see me?).
I know what it is that I want people to see when they look at me; I know what I would have people think, most of the time; it’s just that I always fall short of my own idea of what I should be, and so I’m convinced that I fall short in other people’s assessment of me as well. I’m constantly assessing and regretting and wincing at my perceived mistakes. Sometimes I’m crippled by it.
I assume that the thing people notice is the bit I’d hide if I could. I assume that other people are always assessing too and yet I know this isn’t true. Most people are much more peaceful and accepting than I give them credit for. But then again…maybe they’re not…
You see how I tie myself up in knots?
A friend reminded me of something yesterday.
It doesn’t matter what other people think. The only opinion that matters is yours, Lord God.
I have to take a deep breath and say that again, Lord.
It doesn’t matter what other people think.
Of course, I have many years’ programming that needs to be undone; I seem to have become wired to assess and worry and this has given rise to self consciousness and diffidence and indecision. I rarely have confidence in my own decision making; if I decide something and immediately someone questions me I am invariably shaken. I wonder if I was right after all, should I perhaps have thought differently… and the process cycles once again.
Why am I like this? I don’t know. That’s a whole other Thing. Maybe one day I’ll luxuriate in someone’s deconstruction and come out understanding myself in a whole new way; or maybe one day I’ll just learn to let go of it and be transformed into a complete new person. Maybe I can climb the mountain to a higher level where the air is different and I can be freer. Who knows, but you?
An audience of one.
Recently I’ve had to make several decisions involving different people with different expectations of me. Each time I’ve been in the position where I couldn’t please everyone. Each time I’ve agonised about it and worried about it and the truth is that there is only one opinion that matters. I still have some tricky decisions coming up and I need to be sure that I am doing what pleases YOU. Not pleasing other people so that they’ll like me. Not pleasing other people so that I can gain a sense of self-worth because they depend on me.
Not doing something so that I look good/busy/godly/committed/needed/competent/efficient/any other adjective I can insert to prop up my frail ego.
What other people think is of dramatically lower importance than what you think.
‘Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of God.’
An audience of one.
Oh, God, that’s easier said than done. I often feel obliged to do things – I find saying no very hard. I worry that people will be disappointed or disapproving. But I find that when I take on something for the wrong reasons it becomes stressful and oppressive and overwhelming; indeed I’ve just extricated myself very painfully from one commitment that has been nothing but anxiety from day one and I am still not sure why I said I’d do it in the first place, other than that people expected me to. Not good enough.
It all comes down to being close to you. Walking close enough to hear your voice. Holding on tight enough so that I feel your presence. Stopping long enough to look and see the real picture. If I don’t do that then I dash past knocking things flying and getting it wrong and having to go back and pick up the broken pieces.
So many claims on my time. There are worthy things out there; enjoyable things and less so, things that are productive and undoubtedly need doing – but I need to stop, wait and discern which of those things are for me because you want me to do them, and you have equipped me for them, and which I would do only because someone else wants me to do them.
What do people think of me?
What do you think of me?
An audience of one.
I want you to approve of me.
I want you to be pleased with me. I want to be less concerned with the opinion of others. I don’t mean that I want to be careless of it – but not desperate for it.
I just want to learn how to walk with confidence in the steps you have carved for me, secure in the knowledge that I am doing all I can to be your servant, and my significance comes from that. Not from the ideas that another person has of me. Of course I want to be thought of highly, and I should, because I carry your family name and I should look after it. I mustn’t pursue others’ approval at all costs.
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for his people. Remember that the Lord will give you as a reward what he has kept for his people. For Christ is the real Master you serve.’
Amen. Help me to remember that, Lord. I keep forgetting.
My need to get things right has sort of gone askew and I need to ask myself who is marking the scoresheet? Who says if it’s right or not? Every person in my life thinks that I’m someone different; only you know me, all the sides of me. You know me inside out. Every strength, weakness, hope, dream, fear, insecurity and foible. Many people would not love me so much if they knew what you know. People would reassess their opinion of me dramatically if they knew all that.
But you love me anyway. More than that – you delight in me. Already. Just as I am, regardless of what I do.
You already approve of me.
You accept me because you made me and the angels celebrate when I get something right that pleases you. With everyone around me I have to play a part – even with people that I love who love me. Only with you can I lay my whole being down and be assured of perfect love however badly I get it wrong. However many times I have to ask your forgiveness.
Why would I close my eyes and walk past that wonder in pursuit of another human being’s flawed opinion that isn’t based on all the facts?
You are my Father and I am your child and I want to light up your face with pleasure because your opinion of me is the one that matters. I want to remember at those moments when I could go one way or another that you are my real Master. I serve the God of the Universe. Please give me wisdom and discernment and integrity. And courage.
And when the curtain comes down there’s only you, waiting backstage.
There is only you.
There has only ever been you.
Lord God, help me to remember that I play for an audience of one.
(Images theatre2.JPG and theatre_c.JPG by hotblack courtesy of Morguefile.com. Used with permission)