If you’re around long enough, and are willing to genuinely engage with people and not be a total recluse, you will discover people that don’t like you. Imagine that?
Not only that. These very people may be friends who love you and enjoy going out to dinner with you. They talk behind your back, sometimes quite negatively. Just like, well, most everyone does, including you and I.
Have I just burst your bubble? …
With the advent of social media, people can know increasingly what people think and say about them. No wonder anxiety is growing among people. “Oh my gosh, what are people saying about me?” Or, “Yuck, can you believe I only got 2 likes for that post? I should have gotten more than 50. Come on, people. What’s wrong with you. Like me. Like me. Like me.”
A recent essay by pastor Jonathan Storment reminded me of a scene in one of C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” There the little girl Lucy finds a magic book, filled with a variety of spells used to manipulate reality, and Lucy comes to a spell that lets you know what your friends think about you.
Lucy invokes the spell, and the book comes to life magically showing her a scene of her friends riding on a train, and talking about her. And eww, not in flattering ways! Lucy suddenly begins yelling at the book, but the magic only flows one direction, leaving Lucy with information that she shouldn’t have and no outlet for how to deal with it.
Later on Aslan confronts Lucy about her eavesdropping. Aslan tells her it is just as bad to spy on people by magic as by any other means. Lucy’s friends that betrayed her are weak, Aslan told her, but they truly love Lucy, in spite of what they said. (Emphasis mine.) In that moment, though, Lucy still knows something is lost that can never be fully restored.
In a 2013 New York Times essay called I know what you think of me, writer Tim Kreider says: We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.
If we want to be known — I mean really known, deep-down known — and I think we do, that involves all the parts of us, including the bad parts, the parts we hide, the parts where we deeply fear “If they knew that about me, they never would love me again.”
But if we aren’t ever okay with people knowing the bad parts of us — not that we want people to talk badly about us behind our back — our relationship to our own reputation is probably more akin to idolatry. If we can only be praised and never challenged or disciplined, what kind of life is that? Sounds to me like a lonely, selfish life full of a constant need for positive affirmation in our dance with selfishness called, “It’s all about me.”
Should we be concerned with our reputation? Well, yes, to a degree. Our character does matter. Perseverance in life develops character, and character develops hope (Romans 5). But Pastor Storment in his essay reminds us that there is a world of difference between listening to criticism and actively eavesdropping to make sure that we have enough, or the right kinds, of applause.
I think we mostly ought to go about our day not worrying about what others think about us. That’s hard to do. I will be the first to admit that is a constant struggle for me. And yet, I know that if I could access the magic that Lucy did and hear what my friends said about me behind my back, I would hate it, especially if Aslan said to me me, “But they really love you, too, Don.” I can imagine me rolled up in a ball in the corner, and whimpering and saying, “No they don’t Aslan. That’s not what they said.”
When we discover what people say about us — and we will from time to time — the words of pastor Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago come to mind: “Well friends, work it out.” That is, “What are you going to do now? Are you going to use this knowledge for good or for evil?” How, now, are you going to live?
Friends, here’s to not worrying much about what others think about us. Let’s all take a big breath and go about our day treating others the way we want to be treated, and asking God throughout the day to cause the fruit of the Spirit to continue ripening in our lives, especially love.
Love, thank God, covers a multitude of sins, even those times when people who genuinely love us talk negatively behind our back!