Last night, a group of folks from my church went to dinner at Buffalo's at Rosebud Road. It was a diverse group — some of us married with kids, some not married, some married with grandkids — and the conversation was good.
At least, I think it was; I sat at the end of the table and played with the kids (probably where I belong). But at some point the conversation turned to rejection, or more specifically to the dread of being rejected, and someone turned to me and said, "Anytime you write about it, it's like living it all over again."
I had to think for a minute: do I really write about rejection all that much? But then I quickly realized that, yeah, I kind of do, especially if I'm writing something for my high school students.
Someone else interjected, "You know, you're never too old to be scarred by rejection."
That's so true. I have a friend, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, in California, and recently we swapped DVDs of ourselves doing some public speaking. I sent him video footage from my last sermon, along with a one-page letter full of hefty disclaimers as to why he shouldn't get his hopes up. He sent me several Tweets that essentially served the same purpose: let me explain why that video is gonna suck...
And just for emphasis, may I restate that he's a Marine Lieutenant Colonel? Who flies helicopters? And has seen more tours of duty than a 15 year-old with an Xbox and Call of Duty?
I mean, me being intimidated by his judgment and evaluation makes perfect sense. Him being intimidated by mine? None.
At least to me.
But that's the way it works isn't it? Any person who struggles with issues of rejection or self-worth always thinks of others as better than themselves. And while, sure, that's in the Bible, I don't think it means we should see ourselves as incompetent morons. Yet, some of us see ourselves exactly that way.
Back to last night's dinner conversation. "You know," I said, "I tell my high-schoolers that life is exactly like high school sometimes, except you have to pay for stuff yourself."
That got a good laugh out of everyone, but it also got a couple of heads nodding too.
"Why is that?" someone asked. "Why do we seem incapable of getting away from that judgmental junk?"
The easy answer is that it's human nature. We're always looking for some way to calculate our worth, to measure ourselves against some standard that can define us and prove that we deserve to be alive. And the standards can vary — magazine covers; TV; the opinion of church friends; the approval of co-workers; the eternal quest to please a parent; heck, even being "liked" by our kids — but the need to measure up to them never changes.
Two weeks ago, I bought a new car. It's a nice car, a 2012. But I'd be lying if I said that I bought it independent of the opinions of others. While I didn't necessarily seek out the approval of others (in fact, Rachel and I didn't consult anyone about the purchase; we did our homework and then made the decision we thought was best), the spectre of how people would perceive our purchase loomed.
Would people think it frivilous to buy a new car?
Would they look at the one we bought and say to themselves, "Well, look who thinks they're special?"
Would people get offended that a youth pastor is sporting new wheels while they're still driving an older model?
Would it seem like I'm a materialist jerk for getting something new?
Now, perhaps I'm more susceptible to this line of thinking because I'm in the ministry, and any time a minister sports something nice and new the public cry seems to be "Charlatan! Thief! TBN!!!" It's an unfortunate side effect of the profession I'm in, and one that I have to navigate if I want to stay true to who and what I'm called to be. But it's not something particular to ministers only, which brings me back to the conversation from last night.
Even the best of us, the most well-rounded, self-assured individuals, fall victim to the uncertainty of how others view us and/or how others treat us. The trick is not being paralyzed by it, not being beaten into submission. The trick, to be honest, is to move forward by embracing that uncertainty as part of life, and doing the best you can regardless of how people perceive your actions. And if people talk about you, or wage war on your life for what you've done, then so be it.
Because a life of any sort requires the strength to do what you believe is right, even if some folks think it's wrong.