When I was in college I had to walk down an enclosed flight of stairs to get to the cafeteria for lunch. Being insecure and self-conscious, I imagined that everyone already in line and already seated was staring at me as I made my entrance into the dining hall.
One day this scenario was brought up in my psychology class, and one of my friends asked me why I thought I was so important that everyone would be looking at me. I’d never thought of it that way, and I thanked him for the insight.
I still suffered from what I termed “Cafeteria Complex,” but I did keep in mind what he said, and when I got really nervous I tried to remember that everybody wasn’t interested in what I was doing or how I was doing it.
Then one day in another class (or maybe it was in chapel) the professor (or the preacher) told us students to be careful in what we did and how we behaved – because people were always watching us and we needed to be good witnesses for Jesus.
Good grief. So which is it: Are people always watching me or could people not care less about my comings and goings? Well, I’ve learned over the years that it’s probably not either of those extremes. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
There will be times when others are too preoccupied with their own lives to concern themselves with mine. There will also be times when, for whatever reason, people will be interested in how I behave, how I react and what I say.
Which brings me to my next question: How do you know when people are paying attention to you and when they’re not? Answer: You really don’t.
So, what’s a Christian to do? Do we live with the pressure to be perfect and try to never do anything minutely wrong in anyone’s eyes for fear of being labeled a failure or hypocrite? Or do we throw in the towel and decide that what other people think of us is their problem and we don’t give a hoot?
Again, it’s best to settle somewhere in the middle. Jesus intends for us to live in His freedom. He doesn’t want us saddled with the yoke of perfection. He was perfect for us and because He knew we couldn’t be. So we do our best in any given moment. We might keep the idea in the back of our minds that someone could be watching, but we don’t let that possibility rule or intimidate or instill fear in us.
On the other hand, it’s also important to be keenly aware of how our words and actions reflect our Savior.
It’s a balance. If we put too much weight on what others think, we allow their opinion of us to become more important than Jesus’ opinion. If we totally disregard others’ opinions, we are not responsibly engaging with our fellow human beings.
By God’s grace, do your best. And then trust Him with the rest. We’re guaranteed to mess up – and maybe at the most inopportune time. We also may do something wonderful when no one is watching. The important thing is to be the person God wants you to be. Ultimately, it’s His opinion that matters the most!
Rev. Joni Manson is Pastor at Sabina United Methodist Church.