A few months ago I went through a season of intense insecurity. I realized I had hit rock bottom when one night at 3am I was awake listing the people in my life that I knew didn't really like me. I rehashed every recent encounter. I tried to trace back in each relationship if it had always been that way or when it had changed. I tried to pinpoint what it would take to be 'liked' by that person and whether it was my stuff or their stuff that was the real problem. I was mildly obsessed with getting to the bottom of it all and it made me miserable.
I am physically & emotionally cringing as I type all this. I KNOW how juvenile it all sounds. It is precisely why it has taken this long to write about it. I lost 25 years of growth and maturity, returning to a slightly more insecure version of my 13 year old self. Even in the midst of it I was embarrassed by my thoughts. I can see now that I was drowning in a sea of self.
Then I read a little 47 page book by Tim Keller called The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. I literally read it in car line one afternoon, but despite its brevity, the Apostle Paul's words from I Corinthians 4 caused a major shift in my thinking. These verses (and Tim Keller's exposition of them) reframed everything from the standpoint of Gospel-centered humility:
4 It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless.
7-8 For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle.
-excerpts from I Corinthians 4 (The Message translation)
And there it is. To quote Keller, "The essence of Gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or less of myself, it is thinking of myself less."
When I have an encounter with a person, what would it look like to be so focused on listening to them and caring about their needs that I didn't have time or space for my ego to get hurt? I gulp even as I type it. I am a lover of people, but I am a communicator to the core. I have a deep need to be heard and understood. Many, many of the other human hearts I encounter on a daily basis surely feel the same way. At the end of the day, we want to be loved and accepted warts and all.
The beauty of the Gospel is the assurance that I am completely loved 'just as I am,' by the great I AM. I can talk my face off to Him. I can ask Him to search me and know me, including all the cringe-inducing junk my heart wrestles with in the dark at 3am, and He will not reject me. He sent His one and only Son to die a painful, sacrificial death to free me from that stuff. It is dishonoring for me to pick all that back up and carry it around as if I don't trust that He really has taken it and dealt with it on my behalf.
Jesus made it clear that the two greatest commandments were to love God with all we have and to really love other people. If I am striving only for the Lord and obedience to these two things, I am free. I have been forced to face the uncomfortable facts: It is not popularity, likeability or public opinion that are my problem...it is the sin of pride, the desire to be thought well of and the need to please others that haunts me.
In this season of lists, Christmas cards, year end letters and sometimes awkward social functions it is good to be reminded where our security really comes from. May we commit ourselves to remembering the gifts the birth of that baby in the manger paved the road for...eternal security at great price and true freedom...from the opinions of others AND from the opinion of self.
As Keller concludes:
"Like Paul, we can say, 'I don't care what you think. I don't even care what I think. I only care what the Lord thinks.' And he has said, 'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus', and 'You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.' Live out of that."