I read a story about a couple who wound up in their parish’s counseling office. The husband complained that his wife was forcing him to go to church. When the counselor asked the wife why she was doing that, she complained that her husband preferred to stay at home to watch cartoons. “But,” the counselor said, “you’re forcing him to go. It’s making him miserable.”
She said, “He has to come with me! What am I supposed to tell people when they ask me where he is?” And the counselor said, “You tell them he’s home watching cartoons.”
She protested. “How am I supposed to tell people that? What will people think of him?” And the counselor said, “They’ll think he’d rather watch cartoons than go to church. Big deal!”*
This floored her. She had been trying to control what other people thought of her and her husband and it hadn’t occurred to her that she didn’t need to. It was making them both miserable and the thing is, it was unnecessary. You can’t control the thoughts and opinions of other people. Trying to do so is an incredibly tough way to live. How many times do you walk into church, worrying in the back of your mind about what everyone thinks of you? It’s so draining, and in the end, you feel like a failure. You think, “Man, I’m failing as a Christian. I’m just not happy. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and I’m miserable.”
The answer is grace, God’s wonderful gift that frees us! Grace frees us from fear-driven control and the shame of feeling like you failed. In grace, you don’t have to worry about other people’s opinions. You don’t have to be miserable. You don’t have to feel like a failure. You know you can’t control the thoughts and perceptions of others, and it doesn’t trouble you. You’re relying on Jesus! You can ask Jesus for wisdom and He’ll come through. That’s what He said He would do.
Legalism comes with long lists of things you can and can’t do, and even longer lists of things you should and shouldn’t do. It’s a constant struggle to try and meet all of those expectations. And it’s so unnecessary! You can’t control everything and everyone, and you shouldn’t try. There’s no need for it. You don’t have to worry about what people think of you. Not when you’re in the care of the One who loves you most of all.
Don’t live in shame. Don’t live in fear. Never mind about that person over there who is frowning on you. You don’t live for him. You live for Jesus! That’s all that matters. God is smiling on you, you know. He loves you so much. That’s where you will find your joy.
*Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace Is in Place