In reading the first part of Isaiah, a few years ago, a reoccurring theme came up–trying, fruitlessly, to change the opinions of others.
I had long struggled with this. I turned myself inside out at times, to make those around me think highly of me.
For years, I was so busy trying to please, placate, or impress others, that I often forgot about serving God.
When I first came to Kentucky, in October of 2007, it was the result of a call I’d known about for about 7 months. I knew from the beginning that I would be going with no home or job waiting—a first for me. I dragged my feet, not wanting to do something so ‘crazy.’ Finally, God turned up the heat and I arrived, homeless and jobless in Wilmore.
In faith, I expected everyone around me to joyfully accept that my call was genuine, and celebrate that God still did such things.
Instead, I got a very mixed reaction. One person, a minister attached to the local seminary, went out of her way the first few weeks that I was in town to make things difficult for me. Because she was a representative of that seminary, and one that I (at the time) had a good impression, I was devastated by her response.
Within a few days, I had a job, and a temporary place to stay, along with a permanent home lined up. To me, this seemed like confirmation. The seminary representative seemed disappointed that I planned to stay in the community and had not done as she told me, leave town and go to a homeless shelter.
She refused to listen to my testimony, or my reasons for arriving without provision. Instead, she treated me as if I were irresponsible and mentally ill.
After this reception, I felt the need to justify myself, to prove that I was truly called to the community. No matter how badly I was treated in the weeks, months and several years that followed, I kept trying to show anyone who thought otherwise that I was an honest, moral and above all, Godly person.
During that time, I made some unhealthy choices, specifically with relationships I got involved in. These choices distracted me from serving God, and if anything, proved my naysayers ‘right’ about my instability and unsuitability to be a student at seminary or even an accepted member of the community.
Yet, God persevered with me, and slowly, my circumstances changed. Unhealthy alliances were shed. With the help of therapy and a 12 step group, I began making steady progress in every part of my life. I began to understand and even start to forgive those who treated me in a shallow or judgmental fashion when I first came to Wilmore.
Last year, after several positive encounters with the female seminary employee who had given me such grief on arrival, I decided to talk to her about again applying as a student. I went in, prayed up and full of confidence.
She had, in the positive encounters, somehow forgotten that first meeting, and had to be reminded who I was. Once reminded, the friendly, supportive woman vanished. The woman I remembered from the first meeting was totally evident.
She spent the entire meeting shredding my dreams, questioning my sanity, and encouraging me to leave town. I sensed that she was trying to bait me to get an angry or defensive response to prove her ideas about me. God kept me calm, and I left, puzzled, and somewhat hurt.
And, as it would turn out, it didn’t matter how much I had grown, what respected people said about me, or how much God had done with me. The few who had the power to approve my application at the school refused to see the work, and chose to see me only with the eyes of the past.
Had I immediately prospered once I arrived, maybe those feelings would have changed. However, because it took a good three years of huge struggles, some of which required outside intervention from others, I was seen only as a problem that needed to be solved, not a person who was, before their very eyes, being transformed by God’s healing and his grace.
As I worked through my feelings about this, one thing occurred to me. I was, once again, trusting more in people than I was in God. Letting the opinion of people who barely knew me mean more than that of the creator who had fashioned me, sustained me, and stood by me. I was letting human blindness mean more than what God said was true.
I learned something critical. If there is a choice between doing what you believe God has called you to do, and listening to mankind’s advice, don’t even pause in your step. Go with God.
These days, sometimes I still hurt that a small group of individuals still refuse to understand or celebrate the calling that led me to Kentucky. That they refuse to celebrate the work of healing and growth God has done, while proclaiming that theirs is a community that is made for such things to occur.
Sometimes, I have to give it to the Lord over and over. On those days he reminds me that he too was judged, maligned, and misunderstood by the church authorities of his time.
For years, I spent far too much time trying to prove myself. At times, I spoke out of both sides of my mouth trying to impress people, trying to ‘make’ them see the change God had done (rather than letting it be obvious by living it).
People know when you’re trying to impress them, and I’ve learned that that is often the quickest way to lose respect. It’s only by being yourself, right or wrong, that you gain the respect of the people who deserve to know you. It’s only giving up the merry-go-round of trying to please others, that you become who God intended you to be.
Finally, I understood that if I spent my life trying to prove myself to human beings, I would spend my life living the same kind of frustration I had lived since I moved to Kentucky. Ultimately, it did not matter what human beings thought. They were temporary. Only God and his opinion of me was eternal.
I knew what God’s opinion was of me. He loves me. He is with me. He will give me a hope and a future. I’ve learned that seeking him with my whole heart and soul would never put me wrong. But, seeking the approval of man with heart and soul would put me wrong every time.
This was a hard lesson to learn. In some ways, I am still learning it. Each time a new opportunity arrives where I have to ask myself if a negative (or positive) opinion really matters that much, the lesson presents itself again.
In all things, I have to ask myself, before all else: whose opinion stands forever? Do I dance for the approval of man, who is here today and gone tomorrow, or do I dance within the grace of the Lord?
I hope the answer consistently is, that the opinion of the Lord matters more, infinitely more, than the fickle ideals of mankind.