I recently traveled out-of-state for a writing conference and spent four days with about two hundred people I had never met. As soon as I arrived, I walked into the meal hall, barely hearing my own voice above all the people talking.
But I knew none of them. And none of them knew me.
Being unknown was exciting. Strangers and I could start right there, without any long-outdated first impressions or other friends’ opinions getting in the way. Each introduction had the potential to take us from complete strangers to newfound kindred spirits within a few minutes.
But sometimes something felt off about our conversation. When meeting yet another person for the first time, I noticed that something felt off about our conversation. Sometimes there seemed to be a hidden current, another motive for meeting someone new. It felt as if we were trying to prove ourselves to each other, trying to validate ourselves by measuring ourselves against each other.
We would chat about interests and occupations while leaving one question unspoken: What do you think of me?
We’re afraid of each other.
I know I’m not the only one to worry about another’s opinion.
We choose our outfits, our profile pictures, our conversation topics, maybe even our careers by wondering what others will think of us. Whether we’re still students or we’re just starting our career job or plugging along at it, we have something in common: our fears about popular opinion drive more of our daily choices than we realize.
According to Disney, even Cinderella worried about it. In the latest remake of the classic story, the narrator tells us what’s going through Cinderella’s mind right before she tries on the slipper the prince hopes will lead him to his love:
Would who she was — who she really was — be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest a risk that any of us will take: to be seen as we truly are.
(Don’t tell me Disney doesn’t preach.)
But isn’t the narrator right? We wonder if the people around us will think we are enough, if we’ll measure up to some invisible but inescapable standard.
Even if I convince others that I make the cut, deep down I still question if that’s the truth, if I really do measure up. Sometimes I’m too quiet at social events, and other times I talk too much. Some days I multitask so much I can’t stay focused on what I’m doing and I let important details fall through the cracks. I’m hopeless with maps and directions and can never seem to get organized. I see so much wrong with me — without even touching on deeper heart issues and “sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1).
All these fears I have about not measuring up? They’re valid because I don’t.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
But like a diagnosis that paves the way for healing medicine, it’s in this hard-to-swallow realization where I find hope. Because Jesus comes to find us in our failure.
He knows all about me — every mistake, every sin, every fault, every embarrassing social slip-up — and He knew all of it before He chose me to be His. None of that stopped His love, and all the mistakes and facepalms and hindsight embarrassment won’t, either.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15).
God knows our hearts? It’s a scary thought. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to go. And our hearts used to be just as black as the Pharisees’.
Used to be.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8)
I will never be good enough. Nowhere close. My worst fears about not measuring up are true — and taken care of. Jesus is forever enough, and He has given His “enough” to me.
We don’t have to be afraid anymore.
As we step out into the world each day, into work and errands and the opinions of others, there will always be people who disagree with us. People who disapprove of the choices we make.
But worrying about what other people think of me has taken too much of my time and energy and life. I’ve been given a solid foundation that no human opinion can take away. In all my failures, all my mishaps and all my social faux pas, I am loved and accepted in Christ.
In that freeing security, our concern about what other people think is no longer important. We don’t have to stress over others’ appraisals of our worth, comparing ourselves to someone else who always seems to get life right. We don’t have to worry about our mistakes and failures. God knows it all. And no matter what happens or how we mess up or what people might think, we are secure in Christ.
There is one thing we will always have in common with every stranger we ever meet: We’re both messed up. But in Christ we are known — completely. And loved anyway.