A while ago, a friend and I were watching my son race around the playground. "You have your hands full with that one," she said with a wink.
What does she mean? I wondered. Is this just a nice way to say Thomas is out of control and I'm a terrible mother and she'll never let her son play with mine because hers would never throw sand down the slide or use the swings as a slingshot?
Ridiculous, I know. But it's a weakness I live with daily. I'm incredibly, absurdly obsessed with what others think. I wonder how those around me are assessing my abilities, my style, me, me, me. I constantly replay conversations in my mind, examining what I said, how I said it, and how what I said was received.
If someone disagrees with me, I burn millions of brain cells trying to convince her or myself she's wrong and I'm right. But because I'm not fond of confrontation, most of the arguments remain inside my head. I have amazing debates in there. I'm witty, brilliant, persuasive. When I'm done, everyone agrees with my position and we all go out and celebrate with Venti Caramel Macchiatos. Hooray!
My husband watches these imaginary conversations and urges, "Go talk to her!" But I get stuck, fretting: What if she thinks there's something wrong with me? Or worse, what if she hasn't given our disagreement a second thought?
Soon after yet another self-obsessing circumstance, I noticed a repeating theme in the books and Bible studies I read: the supremacy of Christ. "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).
I was obsessing over the wrong person. The opinion that really matters is his (Colossians 3:17). The energy I expended on analyzing my friends' comments or e-mails or looks needed to be redirected to what God says, desires, and thinks.
God gave me an opportunity to apply this lesson. Only a year into a missions assignment, my husband and I felt God leading us elsewhere. We grieved the end of this ministry—and we also feared our friends would think we were hypocrites for leaving so soon.
One day my friend Melissa called. Fearing what she thought of our ministry decision, I quickly started explaining, detailing, convincing. And then our call was dropped.
Before I could dial my friend back, I felt God graciously telling me I was an idiot. So when Melissa answered my call, I told her the truth: I didn't completely understand why God was ending this ministry. We were just doing the best we could with the information and leading we had.
Melissa listened to me, cried with me, challenged me, and prayed with me. Our friendship grew more in that talk than in any of our others. I was honest with her, and she still loved me. Doubts and all. God used that conversation to help me see that true friends remain through difficult times.
When the imaginary conversations began, I focused on God instead. I begged him for a heart that longs for his good opinion above all else. As my focus changed, so did my attitude—because when I'm obsessed with Jesus, I'm free! I can love others, even when we disagree. I can focus on helping others rather than trying to make them approve of me.
I wish I could say I've got it all together now, but I can't. Sometimes I mimic Peter's mistake when he was walking on the waves toward Jesus (Matthew 14:28-30): I take my eyes off him, and I start to sink. Thankfully, Jesus is as patient and gracious with me as he was with Peter. He lifts me and reminds me how much I need him.
And that, I think, is the point: He uses my weakness to remind me how much I need his strength. So when I'm able to let go of others' opinions, agree to disagree, and trade my imaginary conversations with others for real, life-giving conversations with God, I know it's him working in me.
Krista McGee, a newspaper columnist and photographer, lives in Texas.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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