Recently, I heard about a man (let’s call him John) who went to his 25th high school reunion. John never felt very comfortable with himself during high school. He always felt too skinny, and admired the other guys in his class who were athletic and popular. But at this reunion, one of those athletic popular guys told John how he always admired how confident John was in high school.
You see, the way John saw things didn’t match with how others did. John and his high school classmates looked back on their four years of high school very differently; all because they perceived them differently.
Experience is shaped by perception. We see ourselves one way, while others see us differently. We worry about how others perceive us and whether they will accept us.
Sometimes we even worry if we’re good enough for God.
It’s easy to get stuck inside our heads, lost in all of these questions, and forget that each person is just as bound to their perception as we are to ours. More often than not, this perception is shaped by insecurities and fears, and even traumas.
But what if we were able to let go of this bad thinking? What if we could get out of our own heads and see things, not as we fear they are, but as they really are?
So let’s briefly look at three areas of perception and try to look past the lies we tell ourselves to discover the truths that God is trying to tell us.
On a daily (or even momentary) basis, it’s easy to fluctuate between feeling confident and feeling unsure of ourselves. We are constantly sizing ourselves up against all of the goals and expectations that we have, whether self-defined or given to us by our family or society.
If we’re feeling insecure, we can find imperfections in just about anything: our looks, our voice, or our smarts. We can doubt our abilities in school, sports, and work. And then on the other extreme, there’s pride. We can see ourselves as the best at whatever it is, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.
But somewhere between insecurity and pride is a balanced self-worth. It’s the ability to look honestly at ourselves without being destructively critical; to see when we have done well and where we could use improvement. If we’re struggling with something, we need to be honest with ourselves and ask God to be with us and guide us. If we’re battling insecurities, we can ask God to give us clarity and to guide us to see the truth of our situation.
It’s a balance that we can only strike through regular self-reflection, which includes the sacrament of confession and the guidance of a spiritual father. It’s a balance between acknowledging our sins and shortcomings while putting our hope in Christ and the salvation He offers.
It would be great if we only looked inward. But unfortunately, most of us are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Judging others and worrying about how others see us are related problems we can face.
If I’m preoccupied with what other people are doing, I neglect looking at myself. It’s like during Lent, when it’s all too easy to look at what others are eating instead of looking at our own plate. Or maybe we worry people will judge us if we don’t fast properly, and so Lent becomes a time to worry about whether we look pious enough instead of a chance to turn more and more towards Christ. And since we catch ourselves judging others, we worry how other people are judging us.
But worrying about these things does no one any good. How others perceive us doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are, and our relationship to Christ. And we can never know what’s really going on in another person’s heart, and the secret struggles they bear. All we can do is work on our own struggles, and try to honestly see ourselves, which takes us back to the first point.
But all of this worrying over ourselves, judging others and worrying how they see us…is just noise.
It’s noise that keeps us from hearing the truth that, regardless of whether we live up to expectations, or whether we are as good or better than anyone else: the God who created us, who fills us with life each and every moment, that God loves us unconditionally just as we are.
We come to God as we are, and through our knowing Him, He transforms us into the person we can be.
The person He made us to be.
We are His masterpiece. We are His unique design, imperfect though we may be.
Jesus Christ sees our imperfections, but not according to our specifications. He sees the difference between who we were and who we are today. He sees the difference between who we are today and the person we could be if only we trust in Him.
You see, we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and through a relationship with Jesus Christ we can become more and more like Him. We are living icons of Christ. Each Christian, regardless of our past mistakes and struggles, is an adopted child of God (Galatians 4:4-5). Through our faith in Christ, we have a connection to God the Father.
Our worth is no longer dependent on what anyone else thinks; our worth is revealed in our relationship with Him.
It can be tough trying to walk the line between humility and self-pity, between a healthy sense of worth and pride. It can be tempting to want to worry about how other people are living their lives, to wonder why we aren’t like them or why they aren’t like us. This temptation is so disruptive because it keeps us from living our lives as they actually are; it keeps us bound to some other person’s story instead of living the story that God wills for us, personally.
When instead we allow ourselves to live as Christ sees us, when we see ourselves as icons of Christ made for a specific purpose, we can begin to live according to His purpose for us. Whether we are the best or the worst at something isn’t as important as doing whatever we do to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.
We can ask the Lord to help us keep our eyes on Him. We can ask Him each day to keep us from being overly preoccupied with other people and what they might think of us, or what we think of them.
Then, free from the burden of the world’s expectations and our judgements, we can come to Christ ready to follow His will for us today.
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.