If you need people to like you to be at peace, consider the following exhibits…
My wife and I watched the HBO documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. It was amazing. Mr. Rogers was obviously as great a human as we’ve seen in our lifetime. He was filled with love, compassion, and conviction. He would lovingly talk with children about complicated emotions with tenderness and care. Then, with fire in his eyes and voice, he would confront the capitalistic media about exploiting children for money.
At his funeral, there were protestors with signs declaring that Mr. Rogers WAS IN HELL because he loved people too much; the wrong kinds of people. People were celebrating this man’s death, condemning his life and work. If Mr. Rogers went to hell…
There’s a story in the Old Testament of the Bible about a man who heard a warning straight from God. He tried to warn the people of a coming military defeat so they could save their families.
“Jeremiah had been telling the people. He had been saying, 2“This is what the LORD says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’ 3The LORD also says: ‘The city of Jerusalem will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’”
4So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!”
5King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.”
6So the officials took Jeremiah from his cell and lowered him by ropes into an empty cistern in the prison yard. It belonged to Malkijah, a member of the royal family. There was no water in the cistern, but there was a thick layer of mud at the bottom, and Jeremiah sank down into it.”
How do ya like that?! This poor guy was doing everything God had asked of him! He was trying to help! He could have just taken the warning and saved himself. Now he’s sunk in mud, cold and helpless. He did nothing wrong. He was completely inside the will of God. He tried to help save people. If Jeremiah was left for dead…
There was an ancient tradition in the Roman Empire where one convict could be pardoned by the will of the people. It was a sort of gift for the Jewish people from their Gentile leadership. Jesus of Nazareth was on trial. A man named Barabbas had already been convicted of murder. The crowd could choose which man would go free. Here’s the scene in Luke 23:
20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
Jesus, the One who healed their children and the disabled… He had spoken worth to their widows and orphans. He had lived homeless and demanded nothing of His people accept love for their fellow humans. He challenged the oppressive establishment and the evils of the culture.
The whole world turned against Him. He was left to die alone, except for a couple of His closest family and friends. If Jesus was hated…
Consider the similarities of Exhibits A, B, and C.
Now… why in the world do we allow our inner peace to be affected by the opinions other people have of us? Why would our happiness be conditional upon the approval of others?
There is no data you could unearth to support such a ridiculous habit. When we allow the opinions others have about us to affect our inner peace, we are throwing out all rational thought. We are also basing our happiness around something that we have absolutely no control over. Simply put, you can do everything right and still not gain the approval of people. Heck, you can die in place of another, and they may still speak ill of you. You can submit your life’s work to helping children feel good about themselves, and still have people accuse you of wrecking a generation. You could warn someone of a coming disaster, and they may try to kill you so they don’t have to think about moving. It really happens.
Here are four things to keep in mind to keep your sanity in the midst of criticism from others:
First, try hard to stop making it a goal to have another person like you.
Instead, make your goals center around your own actions. You can make it a goal to interact well with an individual. You can pray for them regularly. You can listen intently when you converse with them. Make it your goal to do well in those areas, but not to be liked by them. That’s out of your control. You can feel peace in knowing that, in all the things you can control, you did your best. If they like you because of it, that’s a bonus!
Secondly, ask if there is something you can learn from the opinion of another.
You aren’t perfect. Maybe there is something you can learn. Don’t fix a problem to gain the approval of someone! You may fix it and they still won’t like you! Just use their opinion to make yourself better.
Thirdly, ask yourself this honest question, “Is there a common denominator here?”
This is a brutal question to ask yourself. In other words, if one person doesn’t get along with you, it’s probably them. However, if you have conflict all over your relational world, and generally people have a poor opinion of you, it may very well be YOU that is the problem! You are the common denominator among many miserable relational equations. What part of your character needs work? Again, don’t fix things to be liked by others! Fix things to become a better human!
Finally, consider these teachings from Seneca and scripture:
Seneca taught, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it, the fruit of a good service is the service itself.” The Apostle Paul says something similar but takes it a bit deeper in Colossians. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” He’s talking specifically about carrying out your responsibilities, both relationally or occupationally. He seems to say that we should keep our focus on doing things to be seen by God as our primary audience.
Learn from Mr. Rogers’ life work. You cannot make everybody happy. Some people may someday even celebrate your death, though you did nothing wrong. Do NOT allow your inner peace to hang on the opinions of others. Do what you are doing right now to the best of your ability. Love people as best as you can. Do nothing with the goal of pleasing people, only with the goal of living well. You’ll gain great inner peace from knowing you have done all you can to love and serve well.
Father, please help me to serve an audience of One today. Please bless me with great friendships. Give me favor in my relationships. Give me favor in the eyes of my boss and my coworkers. I will rely SOLEY on You for that, and I won’t obsess over what I can’t control. I will focus only on doing things for You. I will serve You and other people to the best of my ability and find joy in that. Give me great inner peace as I live only for Your approval.