In every moment of every day we are surrounded – by things, by events, and, of course, by people and their opinions. And for every one person in our life – whether they are just passing through or part of the more permanent décor – there are at least three different opinions. And oh, how easy it is to lend out our ears to those people and their opinions! In fact, I think it might not be dramatic to say that our ears are on permanent loan! And then not just to the important people in our lives, but to anyone and everyone who might have what looks like an opinion.
Worst of all? We actually LISTEN to their opinions! We let the opinions of random strangers and people who don’t really know us determine the way we think about ourselves and the way we act! Now, some of it might be reasonably explained by saying “that’s the way I was taught” – they’re family so you are obligated to listen; they are in authority so you must listen; they are seen as very wise and so you would be stupid not to listen.
I’m sure we all have those rhymes that are ingrained into the fibre of our being, coming almost as naturally as breathing. They might not sound exactly the same, but the gist remains the same: we are duty-bound to live the life and be the person others expect us to be, for that is the way it has always been done and the only way to be a decent human being. And then we become heavy and weary…and who wouldn’t…because we are carrying around others expectations and desires. But to stop doing that, to stop listening to and doing what others want would be unspeakable, wouldn’t it? It would at the very least be very unchristian?! And so we bend and break under the weight of others’ expectations, for there is always more that we could have done or been, always something that could have and should have been different, always something more. A never-ending spiral of not quite being “good enough”…a spiral that started from the very best of intentions…
But then I am reminded of how Jesus’ family once wanted to stop Him from continuing on with the work He was doing and the reaction they got in Mark 3:31-35 (as well as Matthew 12:46-49 and Luke 8:19-21). Jesus’ own family, the people who knew Him the best, those people we would expect would have His best interests at heart, who would be all for the fulfilment of His life’s purpose, had decided that what He was doing did not fit in with their picture of how things were supposed to work. And so they had come to fetch Him, stop the craziness and take Him home with them. Which I am absolutely sure they thought would be the best thing for Him. Can you imagine what life would have been like if He had not rejected them? Well no, because then there would be no life and no hope. Now that’s something to chew on! Jesus Himself, the perfect example of being human, once had to reject those people we are horrified at even thinking of rejecting (and that is only in our own heads, that is not including the shock and anger of those outside ourselves!). I am also reminded of the words of Doctor Seuss himself: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. It is starting to seem as if we need to adjust the way we think about listening…for sometimes the right thing will get all the wrong reactions and strong resistance, while all the wrong things will be encouraged. So what now?
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver. The only place our ears should be is where our hope and our life lies – with God. He is the only one who truly knows all the details of our innards, He is the only One who has only our best interests at heart and He is the only one whose biggest desire it is to see us succeed. Now, that success might not be the success the world, our family, our friends or the random people on the street think it ought to be. But that success is the success that we were made for…the success in which our purpose, happiness and satisfaction are hidden away. A satisfaction that might mean dissatisfaction for many…
Is that the same as saying: “Screw everyone, I’m doing what I want”? Well, yes and no. For sometimes you might be convinced of something that you have to do and it causes others frustration or harm, while other times you know you are acting from within selfish desires and others get angry or hurt. What makes the difference then? What gives us the security of knowing that what we are doing is the right thing, even though it might not be the popular thing? RELATIONSHIP. But then not any and every relationship (as we are so prone to do), only our relationship with God. For it truly is only in our walk with God that the truth of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do can be found. Not only that, but it is only in that relationship that we can find true peace with who we are and what we do, no matter what or who surrounds us.
And so it seems then, Romans, that it is time we stopped lending out our ears and start taking them back! “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” – Henry Ellis. May God, and ONLY God, grant us the wisdom of getting to know this art, and may He give us peace in that knowing.