I texted my friend and waited for her response. Nothing. Waited a few minutes and checked my phone again. Still nothing. I re-read the text I sent — maybe I should have worded something differently? I scrutinized my earlier text, but nothing seemed offensive.
I checked a few more times, but finally moved on. A few hours later, she responded. I could tell right away she wasn’t offended in the least.
But why was I so quick to worry in the first place? Why did I think she would be offended by a little text? Why did I let my second-guessing consume precious time and emotional energy?
That wasn’t the only time I’ve obsessed about mixed signals and possibly offending someone. How many times have I mentally replayed a conversation, wondering what I should have said differently or stressing about if I need to clarify my comments? How often do I overthink what to say in a small group? How many times am I concerned about a social situation when there is no reason to be worried?
What would they think?
Of course, it’s good to be considerate and think about how our comments (or texts) might come across to someone else. But I knew this was more than that. I was worried to the point of distraction — over what turned out to be nothing.
Some might call it social anxiety, and I know that can be a real and debilitating struggle. But for me, I think my problem might be rooted in something simpler: fear of people. “We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord),” Ed Welch writes in “When People Are Big and God Is Small.”
Fear of people can look different for different people — and at different times or in different situations. It might be avoiding a social event because we’re worried what someone will think of us. Or it could mean going to a social event because we’re worried what someone will think of us.
Many of us have made decisions based on what we thought other people would think. Maybe it was a college major or job choice, or maybe it was just the meal we ordered at a restaurant. Either way, we’re handing too much power to other people — who may not even realize their opinions affect us.
So where does that control belong? Whose opinion really matters?
This is a Sunday School question, of course. Jesus’ opinion matters more than ours or anyone else’s. “The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord,” Welch writes. “God must be bigger to you than people are. This antidote takes years to grasp; in fact, it will take all of our lives.”
The more we realize our security in Christ, the less we look for it anywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s comforting or frustrating to think that I will spend the rest of my life trying to put less stock in people’s opinions. At least I can know I’m not alone: “Fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it,” Welsh writes.
Everyone knows what it’s like to worry about someone else’s opinion. But we don’t have to stay afraid. The grace we have been given means that my mistakes and social faux pas are never the final word.
And honestly? The security that Christ gives us often trickles down into our relationships, too, particularly with other believers. We still think about others and consider their feelings, but we don’t have to worry over every little blip in communication.
A right view of God leads us to a right view of ourselves — and others. When we keep our eyes on how big God is, the insignificance of an unreturned text will be all the clearer.
Copyright 2021 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.