Let me set a scene for you.
I’m at baseball practice the other night.
I’m chatting with one of my closest friends who’s boys play on the same team. She’s reminiscing about the fall and soccer season. Because if you have boys you know life revolves around sports, even when they are seven and five.
Here is how the conversation went…
Her: “You remember so and so from church?”
Me: “No, I don’t think I ever met her.”
Her “You know, so and so with the such and such hair.”
The blanks look on face indicates I still have no clue. She continues.
Her: “She was talking about church and she said, ‘You are close to the Fay’s, right?”
My friend nods and tells acquaintance from soccer and church that we are close.
Acquaintance from church: “Is Christy a warm person? Because whenever I am around her she just seems uninterested. She seems kind of cold.”
I don’t really remember what happened after that. It felt like what happens when you push the slow motion button on your iPhone. They were continuing on with the conversation but all I heard was low groans and mumbling.
All that night I kept asking myself, “Is that really how I come across?” I felt sick to my stomach.
After the kids were asleep, I lay next to my husband on the bed.
“Am I a cold person?” I stammered before I broke into full on sobs and what we women have termed, the “ugly cry.”
Being the loving and intuitive husband he is, he reassured me no less than a hundred times that I was not. Once the waterworks had subsided, at least temporarily (we women are only ever in between fits and spurts of sobbing) we had a conversation that has bounced around in my head with fervency ever since.
As he continued to offer words of comfort, that her perception of me was, in fact, incorrect, he gently posed a fascinating question, “Why is it that she perceived you that way?”
Now before I go on. Let me say this. And I want to say it loud and clear so I will write it in caps. WE CANNOT NOR WILL WE EVER BE ABLE TO PLEASE EVERYONE. If we dwell on every negative word that has ever been spoken about us we will, inevitably, inflict lasting damage on ourselves.
BUT. And there is always a but. Could it be healthy to pose this question…
“Is there something I can learn from this?”
Because I really do want to be the best version of myself. And part of that is becoming acutely aware not only of my strengths but of my weaknesses too. And although this acquaintance from church was wrong about me, for the most part, or so I thought. I had to honestly ask myself, “Am I willing to let good be worked from this?”
The difficult thing is sometimes digging up said good leaves our hearts a little bit bruised. I have been processing this for months and still, even now, writing about it feels a little like rubbing hydrogen peroxide on a raw wound.
You see, as I unpacked some of this with my husband that night, and in the weeks following continued to wrestle a bit with God I have arrived at a few conclusions. The teacher in me always needs a few practical take-away’s so I have attempted to form a few of these for myself.
I am a glass half-full kind of girl. And this means that I generally think the best of other people and myself. This also means I tend to assume people think the best of me. Key word being assume. This can be a great quality. I don’t spend hours agonizing over what other’s think about me. I am confident when meeting new people because I genuinely believe they will perceive me for who I really am. And, even on a day where I am not at my best, I tend to think people will give me the benefit of the doubt.
Okay, here’s what I was reminded of that day at the ballpark. People don’t always assume the best about me. Sometimes, they assume the worst. My guess is that day, when I had an interaction with “acquaintance from church” I was a bit consumed with checking my own children into class. Perhaps I was distracted by my three year old son who lately has been extra clingy and hesitant to stay with his teacher and classmates. OR, and this is a distinct possibility, I just spaced out and failed to notice her attempts to engage with me in some kind of verbal or non-verbal communication.
My husband likes to remind me of the time when we were about fifteen or so (years before we started dating) when our paths crossed at church. Well in all honesty, I don’t remember our paths crossing at all. He swears he made eye contact with me and proceeded to wave from across the lobby and he vehemently asserts I flat out ignored him. I have no recollection of any of this.
I hate to admit it, but I might be the kind of person that drives you crazy. The kind of person that pushes her cart up the aisle in the grocery store and then pauses to read a label. The kind of person that unintentionally blocks the entire aisle way without really noticing the disruption she has caused. I assume that everyone understands I just needed a brief moment to compare sodium content in those cans of diced tomatoes. Meanwhile, my fellow customers murmur under the breath, “lady, get a clue.”
Am I the only one like that? Or can someone else identify? Please tell me I a not the only one like this.
Now, we can’t always help how other people perceive us. Others will always see us through their own lens of insecurities, personalities and individual histories. And we will view others through our own unique lens. But I sure have gotten to thinking lately about my part in other’s perceptions.
Maybe you’re not like me. You’re more like a glass half empty kind of person. Not that you walk around like “Debbie Downer” all the time. Just that you tend to walk into a room and assume that everyone thinks the worst of you, as opposed to the best. That is my husband. Now before you think I am speaking negatively of him let me say, he happens to be one of the most likable guys you will ever meet. Everyone that knows him, LOVES him, and is deeply loyal to him. And it has to do with this predisposition he has to assume the worst.
You see, when he walks into a room he immediately goes to work proving to everyone that whatever they happened to negatively assume about him is totally off base. It’s generally done subconsciously so none of it comes across as fake or forced. By the end of the night everyone feels like he is the best friend they never knew they didn’t have.
Here’s how our different personalities play out in a real life scenario. It’s the end of a family gathering, the kind which include aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, and we are attempting to herd all of our cats (i.e. children) into the car. I say a brief and general goodbye which is only heard by the few that happened to be in ear shot. Then I go about the business of uncovering the missing shoe and other tasks and hassles that come with transporting mass humanity. Once we are all miraculously in the car we wait for my husband for at least five minutes. He has to make the rounds. Wishing each and every person an individually tailored goodbye. Cue me getting irritated and checking the clock several umpteen times. Why bother? I wonder. I mean it’s family, they don’t all need a hug on the way out to know I care about them, right?
Classic example of me assuming people will give me the benefit of the doubt when in reality they might have appreciated a little extra effort on my part.
Now, there’s probably a happy medium here. Isn’t that always the case? While assuming that others think the best of me might have the negative consequences for other people, my husband assuming that everyone else thinks the worst of him has negative consequences for him. I’m carefree but labeled as cold. His genuine desire to prove everyone wrong exhausts him.
Probably somewhere in the middle of us is where you want to settle.
For now, I am going to work a little bit harder at going the extra mile. Well, because, didn’t Jesus say something about that?
I am praying that God would open my eyes to see things I wouldn’t naturally be aware of on my own. And that He would make me sensitive to the needs and circumstances of others in ways I haven’t before. I am going to remember that sometimes other’s won’t assume the best and so I need to put in a bit more effort to put forth my best. I will however, determine to not be too hard on myself, acknowledging that my best will vary from day to day. When someone speaks a word over me I will submit it to God. I’ll ask Him to search me and examine my heart and I will make it my goal to listen to His leading whether I like it or not. And I will aim to be the kind of friend so I can have the kinds of friends that aren’t afraid to tell the truth. And I will do my best to coat and saturate said truth in love.
I will always have blinds spots. Flaws in my character I cannot see on my own. Psalm 139:23 says, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” So I will pray for moments like this one that force me to take an honest inventory of my inner life, even if it’s hard and it hurts
Let me end with this passage from James in the Message translation because His words are always better than mine.
Post this at all of the intersections dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” (James 1:19 MSG)
I want my life to be a salvation-garden. So I better be prepared to let the Gardner have free reign to do His landscaping work in and through me.