“Don’t you forget about me”

April 7, 2017

William Temple, the mid-twentieth century Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”

Inasmuch as this is true, my “religion” is what other people think of me. Years ago, in my first job out of college, I worked with a successful salesman named Alec. One time he told me that he didn’t care nearly as much about his commission checks as he did about being recognized for his accomplishments.

At the time, given how small my own commission checks were, I thought he was nuts. Now I know exactly what he means!

I’ve made an idol out of recognition. I desperately crave the adoration and praise of others. And when I perceive that my “standing” before others is threatened in some way, I fall apart. (Notice I say “perceive,” because it doesn’t have to be based in reality.) I spend so much of my “solitude” obsessing over other people’s opinions of me.

Even a couple of weeks ago on Facebook, some high school classmates announced a thirtieth-year class reunion next year. Alongside the announcement, someone posted a video (captured from an old VHS tape) of the Henderson High School class of 1988: scenes of classmates goofing off and making faces in hallways, classrooms, breezeways, and the cafeteria. My classmates look like extras from The Breakfast Club. They’re all young and beautiful.

Then there’s me. I’m in it—for a moment. And in that moment, I was by myself.

I promise my internal monologue while watching this video sounded something like this: Why are you by yourself, Brent? Where are your friends? Did you have any friends? You’re only in this video because you got in the way of the camera. Were you a loser? Surely when people see you in this video, that’s what they’re thinking. And what must they think of you now? What do you have to show for yourself these past 30 years? If you go to the reunion—as if anyone wants to see you there, anyway—are you finally going to lose that last ten pounds?

This is just one small episode in my life. But God help me, these sorts of monologues happen all the time!

Getting back to Temple’s point: How much happier would I be if my religion were properly centered not on the false god of “what other people think of me” but on the God whose opinion of me never changes. He couldn’t think more highly of me. And no one and nothing can take away his esteem.

My head knows this, but my heart forgets.

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