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My husband is a gracious man so he won’t admit this openly, but I have a long history of embarrassing him in public. Take the Chocolate Cake Incident of 2009.
It was our first year of marriage and we were at Disney World. We were dining at the Canadian restaurant in Epcot, and we had just finished our entrees. I couldn’t decide what to order for dessert, but then I noticed a woman at the table next to us. She was sitting by herself and eating multiple desserts, at least 3 or 4. I have no idea why she ordered so many desserts (probably because she is awesome), but I turned to Ike and commented, “Her chocolate cake looks delicious! I should ask her if she likes it.”
For whatever reason, Ike thought this was a terrible idea. He thought it was intrusive, or maybe just weird, but either way he begged me not to do it. I, on the other hand, was sure she wouldn’t mind. After all, she was eating four desserts. Surely, this was a woman after my own heart.
As luck would have it, she was. I asked her opinion of the chocolate cake, and she told me it was delicious. THEN she asked if I would like a bite. She had barely touched the cake, so I could take a piece from the other side of the slice.
Well, I thought this was the greatest thing I had ever heard. Ike did not. He furrowed his brow and yelled at me telepathically: “DO NOT EAT THAT WOMAN’S CAKE!” About that time our waitress returned to take our order. She had witnessed the entire exchange between the woman and me, and she looked equally appalled. The restaurant was a fancy place, so she probably wasn’t used to patrons eating off of one another’s plates.
I looked at Ike. I looked at the waitress. I looked at the woman. Then, I looked back at Ike. It was like an old country western, each cowboy tickling his holster waiting for the first one to draw. That’s when I decided to go for it. I pulled out my fork, leaned over to the woman’s table, and took a bite.
As it turns out, she was absolutely right. The cake WAS delicious. So I ordered a slice for myself. Totally worth it.
Ike, meanwhile, was mortified. I’m surprised he didn’t crawl under the table and die. He still brings it up today as one of the worst things I’ve ever done.
Throughout the course of our marriage, I have embarrassed Ike many times by crossing social boundaries like that one. And as much as I hate to embarrass him, I take some pride in my social inhibitions. It’s one of the only areas of my life in which I’m not totally consumed by the opinions of others.
Take parenting, for example. I have never felt so insecure as I have since becoming a mom. God forbid people find out that my child watches tv, or still takes a pacifier, or eats potato chips for dinner (as in, ONLY potato chips). Or how about the fact that I’m a mom and a student. Are people secretly judging me for having an interest outside of my child?
Then there’s marriage. I have a strong personality, and sometimes I wonder if people pity Ike for having to put up with me. Ike has also made a lot of sacrifices so that I can finish my PhD., and sometimes I’m afraid people think I’m selfish.
Then there’s writing, an area in which I am practically a slave to the opinions of others. I am constantly trying to please both my conservative readers and my liberal readers, or come up with content that’s not just important, but click-able. My spirit is basically crushed after I pour my heart onto the page, only to be ignored by my peers.
In marriage, motherhood, and writing, I dwell in painful awareness of the judgments, values, and opinions of others. The pressure is not only oppressive, but it influences the way I live. After all, it’s hard to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit over the roar of a thousand opinions.
Recently that roar has been louder than usual, so I’ve returned to a passage of Scripture that, to me, is like an old friend: Philippians 1. Paul wrote the book of Philippians while under house arrest. His future was uncertain and he must have been afraid, but chapter 1 is the real kicker: some of his fellow Christians were delighting in his hardship, as if his failure was their victory.
To me, that would have been the tipping point. After all Paul had been through, to be mocked by his own team. How did Paul not crumble in despair?
In chapter 1, Paul reveals the secret of his persistent joy:
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (1:15-18)
I will never get over that, that portrait of freedom. Paul simply didn’t care what other people thought of him. He lived and breathed to exalt Jesus, not himself, so the opinions of others meant comparatively little. That is how Paul could be in prison, and yet be free.
I don’t know about you, but I yearn to have that kind of freedom. Who among us cares so much for Christ’s reputation when it diminishes our own?
But there is freedom in that place. When everything is about Jesus’ greatness, rather than your own, the most wonderful lightness sets in. The pressure is off. You have having nothing to prove. Your parenting, your marriage, your house, your clothes, your body, your dreams, your work–none of it can be touched by the sting or measure of other people’s opinions. Because it’s not about you to begin with.
The question is this: What drives you? Is it people’s opinions of you, or people’s opinions of Christ? One will increase the roar in your ear; the other will silence it.
What I wouldn’t give to to care so little for the judgments of others. Thankfully, Christ already gave it, and it is for freedom that Christ set us free.