The goodness inherent in what I’m about to tell you is that it forces God to reveal who you really are without everyone else “getting it.”
On a coaster handed out to every groomsman at my best friend’s wedding was written a specific message from the groom. Reflecting on his words over the years has helped me see why our friendship works and has survived experiences other friendships couldn’t.
I’ll keep the specific phrasing as private as he intended it, but the best part says something like this: “Arvin, I often don’t understand you, but I’m with you because I know what you are and what you are is good.”
The crime for which I’ve had to forgive myself most in recent years is that of exploiting my own God-given gifts and talents to garner the applause and pleasure of those around me. It’s an exclusive and private form of self-disrespect because no one, not even those who love you, will be able to recognize it. Even if they could, they are forever incapable to do anything about it.
Folks can tell when you’re doing something you weren’t made to do in order to please someone. But when it comes to my gifts, the things for which I was born, who can tell me I’m only using it to make someone else happy?
Possible answer: God’s Holy Spirit.
The cringe I feel when I type that name out—the cringe that signifies I’d rather write His name differently so my writing wouldn’t be excused as Christianese—is yet another example of what I’m trying to tell you.
In case one is inexperienced enough to think this is a small issue or splitting hairs, I’ll explain further. The heart of the matter is this:
People, even (and especially) Christian people, tend to applaud and support what they can understand. Upon witnessing a person operating in their element or God-given lane, they can only approve of it if they themselves respect and feel comfortable in that element as well.
The only time I’m wrong on this is when I’m dealing with someone who actually heard from God.
Take Peter, for example. He’s existed in a context and society where people go about their lives motivated by money or, in the case of the Pharisees, pleasing God by following rules well enough to entitle themselves to the perks of the pedestals everyone’s convinced are legitimate.
Then Jesus shows up, floats over every pedestal with signs and wonders while roaming around with bottom-feeders without needing to feed on the bottom. Peter calls Jesus out for being the Son of God because he hears from God, not because he understands everything Jesus is doing. If he’d understood Jesus in real time, he wouldn’t be cutting off Malchus’ ear.
“You are blessed, Peter, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You didn’t learn this from any human being.”
What I’m finding is that to follow God’s Holy Spirit on the grand tour of his new heart is to abandon the self-exploitation I used to use to please others, even those on the pedestals of power in Christendom™.
In simpler words: I’ve found myself displeasing and confusing many of the Christian people I love simply because I can’t make them understand me.
But the stress and pressure of this went away when I realized not even Jesus Christ could force others to understand him.
I realize now why God allows this. It is his intimate, expedited protection.
To be Mr. Understood is to also be limited to the capacities of those doing the understanding. If I stop at every checkpoint to run through the list of people by whom I need to be understood and applauded in order for me to move forward confidently, I slow everything down.
I’ve tried this a lot. Here’s why it sucks: you live going back/forth between lying to yourself and resenting everyone around you. You hate anyone more successful than you and look down on those who are less successful than you are. You become a Pharisee displeased with the height of your pedestal.
To finally abandon the idol of being understood before feeling empowered is to green-light an invasion of God into your life. He creates a space between you and everyone else that’s solely reserved for him.
Now, instead of caring what people think of your work or ideas, you’re free to love them before they prove they understand you by applauding or booing. I’ve gotta say I much prefer this.
Being understood is overrated, I’d rather be trusted.