I always seem to find a way to overstate my admirable qualities in order to shield my private flaws from the public view.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve cared far too much about my image. I tend to project my best self—what I’d like to be noticed, known, and valued for. I project a certain image hoping to protect my insecurities. I always seem to find a way to overstate my admirable qualities in order to shield my private flaws from the public view. The problem with all of that is this: the walls we use to protect our image are the same walls that imprison us with our pain.
I’ve dealt with considerable rejection in my life. I felt the inherent feeling of rejection that came along with being a kid caught in the middle of divorce. I felt the pain of rejection when several families left my wife’s church over their shocking disapproval of our interracial marriage. I’ve had fellow Christians push me to the fringes of the religious circles I grew up in, had them criticize me personally, had them scoff at the ministry God was developing in me. And that was all before I turned 24! And what was my response through all of this?
I performed so that I might be accepted.
I don’t know of many lives that rejection hasn’t touched. Rejection was certainly a reality for Jesus.
We can all find ourselves in this position at one point or another. I don’t know of many lives that rejection hasn’t touched. Rejection was certainly a reality for Jesus. Scripture tells us that he was “the stone the builders rejected.” The book of John says, “He came to his own and his own received him not.” We see in the Gospels how his adoring fans became a vicious mob.
When we give in to the pressure to prove ourselves, we ultimately lose ourselves. Jesus didn’t give in, and neither should we.
It’s remarkable that Jesus remained unwilling to perform for acceptance. We see this in his temptation in the wilderness. The devil’s strategy was to tempt Jesus to prove his identity through his ability—to perform on command. The enemy was essentially saying, “If you are the Son of God, prove it!” We are all met daily with a similar temptation, aren’t we? “You have value; you’re intelligent; you’re beautiful? Prove it! Post it! Perform for acceptance!” But when we give in to the pressure to prove ourselves, we ultimately lose ourselves. Jesus didn’t give in, and neither should we. Even when asked to do good things, he refused the enemy, saying, “I only do what my Father commands.”
Maybe you’re asking the same question I asked myself: “How do I become free from the pressure to perform?” I found the answer while considering an event that happened before Jesus had even performed his first miracle, the event that took place immediately before his temptation in the wilderness—his baptism. When Jesus was baptized, a voice spoke from the heavens, saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” I believe that Jesus didn’t feel the pressure to perform for the devil or for people because he knew that he was already pleasing to the Father. And now maybe you’re asking the same follow-up question I asked: “If Jesus pleased the heart of God before he ever performed a miracle, why should we feel so much pressure to perform for God or anyone else?”
I’m realizing that who we are known by trumps what we are known for. With God, we are not loved based on reputation; we are loved based on relationship. We can live beyond the approval of the world because we live from the affirmation of God.
I’ve found the real remedy for feelings of rejection, and it isn’t through tirelessly performing but through receiving the work that Christ has already performed for me. It’s through knowing that I don’t have to project an image of perfection but that instead I get to take on the image of Christ. I don’t have to mask my flaws either. Even the glorified body of Jesus had scars, so why would I attempt to hide mine with the superficial coverings of status, salary, or success? I’ve decided that the show is over. Now I get to live vulnerably before my Savior, in whom I am fully known and truly loved, accepted and approved.
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