When I was a teenager, I harbored a GIANT secret. It was a secret that I hoped no one would guess—I wasn’t perfect. The truth was that I wasn’t even close to perfect. I felt like a mess most of the time, and I hated feeling that way. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, then you know that I’m pigheaded, and you also know that I like plans of action. Well, I had a pigheaded plan to cover up my flaws—I was going to act as perfect as possible all of the time. Unfortunately, acting perfect isn’t easy. I was trying incredibly hard to do everything just right, and I was horribly afraid that I was going to fail. And every second of every day, my deepest fear was that people would see right through my “perfect” exterior and realize that I was the weirdest goofball on the planet.
Because I was afraid that people could see through me, I was always on alert. In my mind, I became an expert at reading body language. I thought I could pick up on nonverbal cues and tell when people thought I wasn’t measuring up. As I went throughout my day, I was constantly studying people’s faces to see if they were being critical. I was always picking apart people’s sentences to see if there was a hidden insult.
This of course, was EXHAUSTING!!!
When I thought people were being critical, I would become offended and try to defend myself. I would either confront the person by explaining in great detail how I was doing everything right, or else I would retreat into my shell and ignore the person completely. Neither method was healthy, and neither provided positive results.
Truthfully, I was a mess.
1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love isn’t easily angered, or irritable, or touchy. It says that love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. If I’m going to be honest, even though I was trying hard to be a “perfect Christian” I wasn’t living a life of love—I was living a life of vigilant manipulation. If people didn’t think I was perfect, I was going to MAKE them think I was perfect. I’d argue my point until they were exhausted, or I’d ignore them until they were ashamed. My attitude wasn’t just wrong—it was sinful. Not only that, it was just plain STUPID. Most of the time, the nonverbal cues that I was so “expertly” gleaning were incorrect. Lots of times, people weren’t trying to be critical, and they were totally confused when I’d get my poor little feelings hurt and pitch a fit. The truth is, when I went around guarding myself from offence, I looked like a fool, and I was a pain in the neck to be around.
This verse hit me right between my eyes and made me stagger. I knew that my obsessive desire for approval meant that my heart was full of envy and strife. James said that where there is envy and strive there IS (not maybe or possibly—but IS) CONFUSION and every evil work. As I read that verse, I began to wonder if it was possible that my mind was confused. Was it possible that I was perceiving things in a skewed way?
After praying about it, I went to my mother and asked for her help. My mother is one of the wisest people that I know, and she didn’t brush off my concerns—she agreed to be my sounding board. When we were out and about, she would listen to things that were said to me and later we would discuss things. I’d tell her exactly what I thought the person had meant, and she would tell me what the person had ACTUALLY meant. You see, I’d hear the exact same thing my mother heard, but I had the meaning all mixed up. For instance, when a friend said she had to run to the store and asked if I wanted anything picked up, my mother heard a nice offer from a thoughtful person—I heard someone saying that they didn’t want to spend time with me and telling me that I was too incompetent to go to the store for myself. Many times, my mother was astonished at what I thought I’d heard.
When I realized that I was confused, I wrote James 3:16 on a note card. I laminated it and put it in my pocket, and I kept it in my pocket for close to a year. Whenever I would talk to people and think they were being critical of me, I would put my hand in my pocket and touch the notecard. I would remember that I could be perceiving things incorrectly. I would remember to give the person the benefit of the doubt. I would remember that love isn’t easily offended or touchy. I would smile and let any “cruel” words or “slighting” actions slide past. I would refuse to take offense. I would picture myself as a big, bouncy ball. Offence would try and hit me, but it would simply bounce off my rubber sides and fly off into space.
As time passed, I began to enjoy my new freedom. And yes, it WAS freedom. Not having to worry about protecting myself from every word and glance was liberating. Not having to stomp out fires and prove my worth was exhilarating. I never knew how horribly bound I was until suddenly I was walking free.
Was I being a fool to live this way? Shouldn’t I have kept trying to protect my reputation and my “perfect” image? Not on your life. I’ve learned that most people aren’t trying to be snarky or mean. Most people are so caught up in their own lives that they don’t have time to worry about yours. Most are busy, and worried, and harassed, and tired. And if they say something offensive, they usually don’t mean it—most of the time they aren’t even aware that they’ve said it. And if they are trying to be a jerk—then why would you worry about what they thought anyway? Why would you waste one second of precious time trying to convince them that they are wrong? It simply isn’t worth the effort. Life is too short.
Before the scales were lifted from my eyes, I thought minds couldn’t be confused, but I was wrong. You see, when we get into the habit of being easily offended, we allow our minds to become the devil’s playground. When we allow envy and strife into our hearts, we basically lay out the welcome mat for confusing thoughts. I’m not always the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but one thing I’ve learned through bitter experience is that being easily offended is a HORRIBLE way to live. It is suffocating. It is exhausting. It is mentally tortuous. It’s much nicer to let go of the vigilance and trust God to handle things.