Obsession with the opinion of others
Faith & Inspiration | ‘Don’t worry about what people think of you. They don’t even think of you’
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2016, at 3:07 pm
News at last week’s Tuesday church staff meeting: The ladies’ and men’s rooms on the main floor ran out of toilet paper during our town’s Fourth of July parade. A dropped text on my part requesting I come in on Independence Day morning was the proximate cause. I had brought dishonor on myself. There is nothing for me but the fate of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:1-23) and the hara-kiri of Japanese Gen. Nogi Maresuke.
On the other hand, it is possible that this tragedy was not foremost on the docket of Tuesday’s business and that better things were discussed, “things that belong to salvation,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it. It may be I will survive with job and name intact. My late first husband told me when I was all in my feelings about the opinion of others: “Don’t worry about what people think of you. They don’t even think of you.”
Ah, there is nothing like the truth to set one free!
“… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Consider: President Barack Obama may be the person most talked about on any given day. Yet even he lives rent-free in your head only a minute or two a week, I am sure. If one lives for fame, one may have it, but as Andy Warhol too generously estimated, only “15 minutes.” Speaking of which, how often in the past year have you thought about Andy Warhol? Yet he was a leading pop artist in his time, a household name, as they say.
It is possible to live your entire life under the impression that people are thinking about you. In The World’s Last Night, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“I can imagine no man who will look with more horror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has … been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hope to confer on future generations: generations who, as one terrible moment now reveals to him, were never going to exist.”
He may be right. But the runner-up will be the person who, without even passion or zeal or dramatic exploits to recommend him, made his every earthly decision—what to wear, whom to date, what college to attend—based on the all-seeing eye that does not even exist. There is one Eye that sees all, One we should seek to please.
Remember the Pharisees? Where are they now? They got their 15 minutes, but that whole generation of peasants who may or may not have chatted about them in their huts has bitten the dust. Jesus means to warn us:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
So then, there is a reward on reserve in heaven for God-pleasers, but not man-pleasers. Who says there are no specific rewards in heaven? Not Jesus. Here he reveals the principle of “you get it now or you get it later”—that’s your choice. The Pharisees picked now, the miserable applause of inconsequential men. “They have received their reward,” says Jesus (Matthew 6:2). Another version adds “in full.” Another reads, “all the reward they will ever get.” Yet another says, “they already have their reward.”
Obsession with the opinion of others leads to ridiculous and hurtful conditions. Unforgiveness, for example. It is well said that unforgiveness is a poison you make for another and drink yourself. The offender has long forgotten the offense—and likely you! I know a woman whose entire life until she was in her 50s was controlled by a remark aimed at her at age 9 by a 13-year-old boy.
What happened in her 50s? She realized we have the Spirit of God in us and do not need to roll over to every voice in our head that speaks lies that keep us in bondage. We may take these captive (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). We may walk in truth (3 John 1:4).
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.