If you’ve grown up in the same town for a while: there are many who time-stamp you with certain labels that are nearly impossible to shake. You’re the lazy one. The angry one. The unreliable one. The bad kid. The loud girl. That one time you ___. And when we outgrow those labels, the shackles can still follow us.
Most of us do grow up: but we feel a need to defend ourselves or explain our actions or really win the trust of our neighborhood opinion. Yet there are always a few who have made up their mind about you, and they will always see you as the little punk kid who can’t possibly change.
I’ve been in the same town almost two decades and have made bad choices at least the first half of it. So up to this day, I’m still in a gossip-chokehold. Every few weeks, someone else is saying, I can’t believe you’re really a pastor now. Didn’t you hate God? Weren’t you at the strip club every weekend? Weren’t you running into the cops all the time?
Even in ministry, there are tons of pastors and leaders who will subtly sow those seeds of suspicion about other people. Be careful with her, she’s a little too friendly. Yeah that guy can preach but he’s got some issues at home. You don’t want to attend that church, they’re all crazy there.
Recently I made a sacrificial decision to my own hurt that was intended to be gracious to others. I knew I had to because it was the right thing to do. It was done secretly without much fanfare. And as expected, 1) most people assumed I had done the easy dishonorable thing, and 2) they were surprised to find I had done the right thing.
Which means, no one ever wants to believe that people can change. We think the grace of God is reserved for the people we prefer. We say that “God loves everyone” until it comes to a difficult person, to some guy with history, to some girl with baggage, as if Jesus died for everyone except the people we don’t like.
We find grace an uncomfortable proposition. It’s easier to assume that someone is the one-dimensional cartoon caricature that we wish them to be, because it means we don’t have to expend energy to get into their struggle. We write someone off and dismiss them because it’s our natural flesh-driven position. We don’t contend for love. We call it “wisdom” when it’s really just laziness.
May I please beg of us to reconsider this? Because the moment any Christian thinks that someone is beyond redemption: we are calling ourselves God. We’ve traded the truth for a wicked evil idol. We’re suckerpunching God’s sovereign grace.
The only reason you might have any happiness today is because someone else gave you a chance you didn’t deserve. Your friend decided not to believe the local rumors about you, and even when they were true: your friend acted like they were not. Jesus gave you grace you couldn’t earn, and if you’re not offering that to others, you haven’t understood grace at all.
But regardless of who says what — keep doing what you’re doing. Do your best anyway. You might not get to share your side of the story. No one might ever believe you’ve changed. Maybe no one will see you’re striving for sincerity, that you actually love Jesus, that you’ve become more patient and humble and gracious than you’ve ever been.
But that’s okay. Because you have grace for the people who don’t.
The thing is: Even when you do the right mature thing, others will assume you’re doing it to get ahead or look good or show off. When you do wrong, it’ll only confirm pre-made biases that were set in stone way before you. Both of these judgments are obsolete antiquated opinions that will almost never change no matter what you do: so do what’s right anyway, and don’t worry.
Your life will be a testimony to Christ, and they will believe Him.
His glory will be enough.
11 thoughts on “When They Assume The Worst: Keep Doing Your Best”
In my own history there have been folks who distrusted me because of surface perceptions. So often the position of grace does not allow us to share the full story with those on the outside of it. Whether we share or not though they do form opinions. We may never win with certain people, but that’s ok. God vindicates the righteous.
Absolutely. My need to feel vindicated by myself often leads to destructive actions too.
And I have discovered that trying to vindicate myself never works anyway.
Christ experienced this personally. Mark 6:1-6
This is the reason that a person trying to serve the church that they grew up in rarely (if ever) succeeds. In the eyes of the congregation, you’ll always be that little boy or girl. Have seen much damage caused by this.
It is more difficult to minister in a place where your past haunts you. Christ can still use you, just maybe not where you are. If you stay, stand strong and surround yourself with new friends and confidants.
God can change anyone’s heart. Unless they completely resist Him and don’t want it to change. I fully accept God’s sovereignty, but I also know that sometimes His sovereignty is seen through taking someone out of this life.
Thank you for sharing that; it’s true that Jesus is the best example of this.
One thing I didn’t mention is that it’s nice to see the same town grow to respect you. Some of it is begrudging and still performance-driven, but others are open to seeing God work. There are many times I’ve seen the same students grow up in my own town and they become drastically transformed into wonderful individuals. I can’t possibly see them as a kid anymore.
As always a good article (and 2 good comments, too). I only add that the attacks are not aimed at us personally as much as they are the smoke screen by the attackers – if they accept God has transformed you (me) then it means God expects the same from them, and through laziness, arrogance, closed mind they resist the transforming Spirit. I know it is not easy, and I have lost a lot of sleep and personal comfort victimized by these type of people, but I keep coming back to the reality that when I stand before Jesus what other people did will not be on the list of questions – only what I did or neglected. I affirm strongly, “Keep doing the right thing…”
Didn’t think of that, pretty insightful and agreed. It seems like the root of this is jealousy: to see the “bad kid” suddenly surpass everyone in their field. But I would think that we should want this. Wouldn’t it be great that every bad kid grows up beyond who they used to be?
May God make it so!!
Sad but true, I actually find it easier to live a life of faith away from home and have grown so much. Back home, I’m still the “rebellious one” and other labels and people still believe it because that’s what they want to believe. The scary thing is you can end up reverting back to that character (as I did once) because it seemed that all people wanted to believe. Not the right thing to do, I know, but it was hard to fight the views. I feel much stronger now though.
As to the thing you mentioned on senior people in the church speaking about others? Oh yes! I’ve been on the end of that and it was devastating and hurtful. A friendship ended because this person, many years my senior and a mentor, was told to back away from me because I wasn’t showing signs of sufficient change. What they weren’t aware of was how much this friendship had been affecting me for good. The loss of this friendship set me back when I found out that the order came from the pastor. Devastating. I’ve forgiven since but it truly hurts.
Great post JS.
I’ve seen that happen too, when someone just throws their hands up and says, “Fine, I’ll be what they think I am.” Just shows how much we all need grace.
I’m sorry that happened to you. I think leaders don’t always realize how much power they have to both heal and destroy. When I moved on to a new ministry, my former senior pastor called my new pastor to “un-recommend” me and gave a list of reasons why. My new pastor is fortunately a nuanced thoughtful person and didn’t believe all that crap. But this sort of blacklisting is downright barbaric. Again: I can only hope our work speaks for itself and that we continue to serve hard anyway.
Sorry to hear you were a victim of this heinous crime also.
I thought afterwards that I should have added that some years later, at my last church, the leadership showed such love & acceptance of me, seeing value in me as a servant of Christ that they restored my respect for church authority. I was able to forgive the people from the past, re since healing & went on to grow deeper in my faith.
The experience, however, means I have a heart for people who sometimes get overlooked or left in the cold.