One of my favourite authors is Selwyn Hughes. What a great Christian teacher and leader he was! He touched the lives of thousands of people through his preaching, and if ever you see any of his books or devotions, read them. They have touched my life, and probably will have an impact on yours as well.
He died in 2006, and in one of his talks he referred to a farmer in Wales whose name was David Jones. One day his tractor gave up on him—it wouldn’t start. He had a friend on the other side of the field named Tom Jones. Apparently this is a common name in that part of the world. So he thought, I will walk across the fields and see if I can borrow his tractor.
They were friends, and he knew Tom quite well. But he started to think what he would say once he got to Tom’s house: Now Tom is not a very generous person—years ago someone else in this village got into trouble and everybody got together to help, but Tom never did anything to help. He’s the kind of person who is a bit mean. David kept walking and thinking: Will he really be able to loan me his tractor? I suppose he’ll come up with a dozen reasons why he can’t help me out.
Eventually his mind was full of these negative thoughts, and he arrived at the farmhouse and knocked on the door. By this stage he was all worked up and anxious, and when Tom Jones finally answered David blurted out, “I’ve come to tell you that you can keep your jolly old tractor”.
You see, he had it all wrong. His thoughts had got into a state—and he was so anxious, he blew the opportunity, worrying what his friend was going to say, or how he was going to react. I think many of us go through life like this—never sure people are going to accept us, or that they are judging us.
A Comforting Realisation
Are you fearful of what other people think of you? It is often draining and useless, because as Ethel Barrett once said: “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” I heard this funny saying:
In my teens I thought that everyone was thinking about me. As a 40-year-old I thought, “What does it matter—I don’t care what they think anymore.” As a 60-year-old, I realise they were all too busy thinking about themselves for me to be more than a blimp on their radar.
It seems our fears about what others think are largely unfounded. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people around the world worry so much about what others think and say that they can develop an anxiety disorder. In order to reduce our anxiety about others’ opinion of us, we can learn to be more realistic about the thoughts of others.
The reason we care what people think is because we base our identity on their judgements of us—positive or negative. Because we think that part of our identity is how people view us (funny, cool, confident, shy) then we must protect that so that our identity is not affected. Sean Stephenson said, What people say about you is none of your business.
People’s Feelings are Fickle
And that is true! Apart from the fact that life really is too short to worry about things like this, the other aspect is that people’s feelings change. For example, I heard of a boy who was bullied at school for growing his hair long; yet within six months, more than half the boys in his year (including those who insulted him) grew theirs as well. People change their minds, so what they judge you on now might not matter in the future. Are you going to wait until something is deemed cool or acceptable to be the person you want to be?
I think we can recognise that most of the people we know don’t really think about us much at all; they really are too busy thinking about themselves and their own lives to be making conclusions about ours. In fact, many of them are doing just what the chronic worrier does: worrying about what others are thinking about them!
Even if others do think about us from time to time, we often misinterpret what they might be thinking, and assume that it’s something negative. We also have often learned to be concerned about what others think of us because we have learned to be highly critical of others. Also, we are often highly critical of ourselves. But just because we are highly critical, doesn’t mean that others are, too. They may not only be caught up in their own world, but when they do think about us, they are a lot kinder to us than we are to ourselves.
The First Step to Self-acceptance
To start to let go of worrying about what others think of us, we need to learn to be less judgemental, about both ourselves and others. If we are kinder to ourselves, we don’t need to expend so much energy worrying about others’ opinions. If we really could accept how seldom people think of us, and how caught up they are in themselves, we could slash our worry time by 100% and get a lot more fun out of life!
So try taking the first step to self-acceptance today. You’ll find your life becomes much more peaceful and the world will become a less hostile place. All simply by changing your view of you.
I think God’s Word has some great news and puts this topic into perspective. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe”. In other words, it’s God’s opinion about you that really matters. And God loves you and his love is from everlasting to everlasting.
It doesn’t matter what others think of you, as long as you trust in him. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:18, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty”. If a little child asks its mother or father, How much do you love me? the parent sometimes responds by extending both arms and spreading them out as far as possible, saying, This much! followed by a hug and a kiss.
That’s how it is with God’s love for you. Check him out and learn from him, rather than worrying about what others think of you.