The fear of man brings a snare: but whoever
puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.
– Proverbs 29:25
In moments of weirdness, I get a little jealous of sociopaths.
What must it like, I wonder, to be so free of caring what someone thinks? To be so indifferent to the opinions and feelings of others, so unencumbered by the relational obligations most of us feel and are guided by?
That’s extreme, yeah. But when you’re sick of trying to make people happy, it’s easy to careen to the other extreme of indifference. That’s just one consequence of what Proverbs calls “The Fear of Man.”
The Quicker Ripper-Offer
I wonder how many things you and I might have done, said, or at least tried, if we hadn’t been so worried about what other people would think.
Looking over the years, I see way too many things I’ve gone along with that I didn’t really believe in; too many times I should have spoken up but didn’t want to rock the boat; too many challenges I didn’t take on because I wondered if people would laugh at me for trying.
The fear of man is, for sure, the quicker ripper-offer, robbing us so often of so much.
It’s also stupid. After all, when we break down our fear of disapproval it doesn’t make too much sense.
If I feel I should do something, but others disagree, what real damage is going to be done to me just because they’re not on the same page as me? In most cases, the people whose disapproval we fear have no real hold over us, other than the power we’re giving them.
You Were Wrong, Miss Hansen!
I gave someone way too much of that power 45 years ago. It was 1975, I was 20, and I’d been commissioned by the ministry I worked with at the time to write a book.
Never tried that before. But hey, in those days, wasn’t that true of everything I was doing? All my life I’d wanted to write, so this was, I felt, answered prayer and blessed confirmation.
I tackled the project, finished the manuscript, and to get some professional feedback, I showed it to Miss Hanson, someone I casually knew who was in the publishing field.
Now if you want to feel naked and anything but unashamed, try writing, then letting a pro read your work. Naked me did just that, handing my draft to Miss Hanson, flashing my most professional smile, while silently begging, Like it. Oh, please, don’t reject my baby. Like me, like it.
Well, at least she said she liked me. Then she proceeded to tear me, and my book, to shreds.
“Amateurish, dull, not at all readable”, she declared in a handwritten note which, coming from her, constituted a death sentence to my dreams.
For a note it was a bit long, more like a lengthy verdict. She finished her Joe Dallas scourging by encouraging me to forget about writing, because I clearly had no gift for it. “Stick to piano playing,” she suggested cheerfully. “I do like your playing.”
“I do hate your everything,” I growled, crushing the note. Then I made the fatal mistake of ignoring my own passion and deferring to Miss Hanson who, I decided in my deflated state, knew everything. Whereas illiterate, ignorant, amateurish, (don’t forget dull!) pathetic little me knew
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I would be 37 – a full 17 years older – before I would come out of my shell and consider writing again. Even then, I only did it because a friend who was an editor talked me into giving it a try.
Consult, But Never Cower
Since then I’ve authored eight books and am currently working on my ninth, I’m a contributing writer to a respected quarterly journal, and I’ve had the pleasure of editing and adding articles for a number of projects.
Now,my books are by no means best sellers, and my writing, though readable, is awfully far from “OMG I just couldn’t put it down!”
But the point is, I foolishly allowed someone else’s opinion to squash something which was both a goal and a passion. The fear of man or Miss Hanson is common, perhaps, but always wrong, often stupid.
Understandable too, right? I mean, people’s opinions do matter, and I don’t believe anyone who says they don’t care what others think of them. We’re created by God as relational beings, with specific needs for approval and affirmation. So to a point, yes, caring what others think makes sense.
So let’s consult, especially with people who know their stuff, and from whom we can learn and be guided. But let’s also defer without deifying, because when both our conscience and calling are clear, then cowering is also clearly the wrong option.
That goes beyond getting someone’s green light for our work. It also speaks to the need to be firm and clear about where we stand, especially today when clear stands can provoke volumes of hostility. (Honestly, if you’re feeling the need to make everyone happy, 2020 sure isn’t your year!)
When we place the comfort of approval above our mandate to be honest, to follow our call, and to stand for what’s right, then we’re not just scared, we’re snared.
Asking our Facebook friends Please Like Me is one thing. Letting our life adventures be stymied because we fear pushback is another.
Paul knew this awfully well, facing violent opposition wherever he went, so he could say with authority, “If I seek to please men I should not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
Peter and John echoed those sentiments when, commanded by the local priests to shut up about Jesus, they replied, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5:29)
Jesus Himself, no stranger to opposition, understood the danger of letting our need to be liked override our integrity when He warned, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you!” (Luke 6:26)
There’s the Good. Then There’s the Necessary
I do hope that you and I are liked and approved of, when affection and approval don’t interfere with integrity. Why not? Good grief, I also hope my lunch tastes good and feels great going down. But nutritional value trumps gastronomical pleasure, because what is good trumps what feels good.
Likewise, letting our lives become what they’re meant to become often carries a heavy price, like being misunderstood, opposed, even hated.
Well, so be it. If I must say Like Me, Please Like Me, let me say those words to God, and my own conscience, in that order.
Because if those two are satisfied, I think I can live with the Unlikes I’m certain to get along the way.
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