What Someone Thinks of You Isn’t Everything

Curtis Farr | OnFaith Voices By on

Just because you’re admired doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. You can’t control people’s perceptions.

Hopefully you have found something meaningful in your life, some outlet for your energy or creativity. Maybe it’s your day job, or maybe it’s your hobby. It could be some role you have as a parent, friend, or mentor. While it is nice to be appreciated for whatever it is that you do, you probably don’t do it in order to be admired.

If you do, you might want to explore that a little bit more.

While we all love a little appreciation and admiration, if we’re serious about the work we do or the lives we live, admiration can actually be somewhat discouraging. Admiration can put us at a distance from our admirers and neutralize the true purpose of our work.

I find this to be especially true in ordained priestly ministry.

There are two reactions I get from strangers while wearing my clericals (priestly garb). Either they furrow their brows and scowl, or they smile and treat me as if I’ve reached Jesus-level holiness. Only those with whom I have closer relationships realize just how flawed I truly am and how what I represent — and what I preach — is relevant and applicable to everyday, flawed life. And while I enjoy the admiration that I get after preaching a particularly good sermon, I’m much more interested in inspiring transformative action. What good is a terrific sermon if it never leaves the building?

“You can’t control people’s perceptions, and just because you’re admired doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.”

I offered this advice recently to a friend who, after writing a blog post about a particularly controversial topic regarding faith, encountered someone who admired her but couldn’t engage the topic on that level — as if it took a certain amount of spiritual capital to participate in the ongoing conversation.

“You can’t control people’s perceptions, and just because you’re admired doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.”

I gave her this advice, this bizarre sentence, and joined her in affirming that yes, “it sucks.” If these matters in the dimension of faith and life concern us, we want to be able to relate to others on the same level. We hope for the fruits of our labor to multiply, but often we’re left staring at a few bruised pears.

So what gives? Should not speaking and acting faithfully on principles of justice, love, and mercy spread like wildfire? Should not our mosques, synagogues, churches, and other stations of assembled worship be launching pads for radical change in our communities and the world beyond? If they are, why the hell do our efforts seem so ineffective sometimes?

The answer, I believe, is that our efforts are not ineffective. In fact it may be that our inability to control others’ perceptions is the very quality that allows our ideas to take on lives of their own. If we really examine “our” ideas carefully, we’ll find that they are not “ours” at all, and that very illusion of ownership may be what is causing us to feel deflated when people seem to not hear us or not engage us as an equal on the same spiritual plane.

Jesus, at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, commissions his disciples to go and make more disciples — ones of all kinds, from all different places. He doesn’t say make believers. He doesn’t say make carbon copies of yourselves. He says, “make disciples.” Make learners. Inspire the inquisitive mind and curious heart. Do not, therefore, be discouraged when you are met with reactions that do not seem ideal — whether you are reviled or admired.

You cannot control other people’s perceptions, and just because you’re admired (or despised) doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.
  • bakabomb

    “So fret not, saying ‘what shall I eat?’ or ‘what shall I drink?’ or ‘wherewithal shall I be validated (or not)?’ For after all these things do the ‘heathen’ seek”. But seek ye first the demesne of the Most High. And that which you truly need shall be added unto you.

  • John

    let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…