Recently I was officiating at a funeral. During the homily, I shared a concept that I have held to for many years: People too often allow concerns over what other people think about them to interfere with their lives.
It is true that the environment you grow up in and the conditions affecting that environment may well contribute in shaping who you ultimately become. It is not uncommon to hear the excuse, particularly for bad behavior or hard luck, attributed to a poor or disadvantaged background. For the life of me, I can’t recall once reading about someone who has succeeded in life attributing their success to having come from a crummy background.
Routinely the media will write about some professional athlete who, through his skills in sport, has heroically escaped the dreaded ghetto life. It’s today’s twist on the Horatio Alger story. A modern day “rags to riches” success. But the moment that superstar athlete misbehaves, becoming a negative news item, the excuses are quickly thrown out for our consumption that the individual came from a terrible background.
The trouble is we can all make excuses for why we are the way we are. One of the hidden dangers in allowing ourselves to make excuses for ourselves, or for others to make excuses for us, is that it does not address the real issue. The issue is: Why am I the way I am? Once this question is raised, the next question should be: Is there any real possibility of significant, lasting change? Or am I destined to be the way I am?
So back to my comments in the homily. I told the folks assembled in the church that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you. There may not be anyone who likes you or that even wants to be associated with you. That’s extreme, I admit. But there are folks who feel that way even when it isn’t true. I acknowledged that we all want to be liked and accepted, but even if we aren’t, it’s okay. Why did I say that? Because it’s true! It is okay if others don’t particularly like you. You may never be recognized for accomplishing anything in life other than occupying space and consuming oxygen. There may not be any awards, or certificates of merit, or trophies, or academic diplomas prominently displayed in your study.
And not only does it not matter what others think about you, in the final analysis, it doesn’t even matter what you think of you! Did you get that? You may be your own worst critic – this is often the case with many of us. For instance, I can chastise myself harshly over the smallest things, yet not even give it a thought when seen in somebody else’s character.
Here’s the good news: The only one who matters when it comes to evaluating you is God. He made you. The Bible says he knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. Further, it says God knew all about you before he laid the foundations of the world. Try that on for size!
Now, not only does God know you that well (“warts and all” as President Lincoln said when the artist painting his official portrait hesitated when confronted with the numerous facial flaws of our 16th president), but God loves you. He loves you because he made you. He loves you because you are formed in his image and likeness. He loves you because he has invested himself into who you are. This makes you unique, special, “one-of-a-kind,” priceless. There is no one like you. That’s how God planned it.
Here’s the best part: God doesn’t leave us in the condition we’re in. You may be all messed up inside with lots of questions about life, and how unfair it all is, and so forth. Welcome to the club! God has a remedy for that as well. From his great heart of love he provided you and me with someone who can completely change you from the inside out. His name is Jesus. The changes he makes in you are permanent!
The simple story of the Gospel is this: The way out of the conditions of our sinful, fallen world are turning to Jesus and allowing him to change you. He loves you and will never throw you to the curb. Jesus calls you his friend, his brother, his child.
Have you turned to the one whose opinion of you is the only one that matters?