The Perception Problem

We live in a perception driven world—from the President of the United States who worries over approval ratings to the student sitting in the classroom who fusses over her Facebook likes—we all worry over the way we are being perceived by others. In fact, we diligently work at crafting a careful persona and often manipulate situations to ensure others will be impressed (and not just on social media). We want nothing less than to evoke awe from our peers and relish compliments such as, “Wow, you always appear so put together– how do you do it?” or “Wow, your family never misses a church service—that’s amazing!” or “Wow, your kids are always so obedient– what is your secret?”

But the ugly lurking behind this compulsive need to control how people view us is a desire for self-glory, and it reeks of idolatry. Sounds extreme, but let me give you a personal “for instance.” Recently, the Lord lifted my blinders to reveal where my desire to be well perceived by others had become a ruling thing in my relationships.

I’ve always prided myself in being a fairly good conversationalist. I try to be equal parts attentive and engaging. I try to ask good questions and give space for deep responses, and I work to focus the conversation on the other person. Certainly not bad things, but after a conversation, I often find myself rewinding it back in my head. As I comb through the narrative, I sometimes recall a comment or reaction of mine that didn’t quite hit the mark. I instantly grow worried—oh man, why did I say that? I wish I had said this. Does she think me rude or uncaring? I hope she doesn’t think I was implying this. After a good bit of self-analysis, I often confide in my husband. What do you think of this comment? Does it sound OK?

What am I obsessing over? Why have I spun so completely out of control? Because I’m afraid I’ve damaged the way I am perceived. I worry that after such a remark, this person will think me less good.

This may seem silly, but what my reaction reveals is deeply troubling. It shows that I fundamentally have a wrong perception of myself. I think myself something. I think myself important. I have forgotten what the Bible says about my true self.

God says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5

Paul says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12

Here’s the rub. I’m not good. I’m not important. I merit nothing. But because of the completed work of Christ on my behalf, I am declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). I am accepted before the Father, and I am undeservedly given the title of daughter and heir (Galatians 4:7). So why am I busy glorifying myself when all honor and worship belong to my Redeemer? (Psalm 29:1-3) With a grateful heart regenerated with His very blood, I must acknowledge along with John the Baptist that “He must increase, I must decrease.” John 3:30

Here’s the truth. I can’t project Christ if I’m busy projecting myself. As his child, my whole agenda changes.  I no longer strive to craft an identity because He is my identity. I no longer work to protect my personal image because I strive to image my Father, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” Matthew 5:16.  I no longer labor to magnify self because I seek to magnify Christ. I walk away from a conversation asking not “What do they think of me?” but “What do they think of my God?” We forsake grooming our perceived self in favor of accurately representing our worthy God, and instead of satiating on praise from others, we stand in awe of God and direct all praise to Him.

At first, we may selfishly wish to resist such an approach. We don’t want to be “hidden in Christ” or “lose” ourselves, but the amazing truth is losing ourselves creates space to live fully in Him, and his presence comes with authentic peace and lasting joy.

We don’t have to worry how others perceive us because we are confident of how God sees us—forgiven and accepted. We don’t need the approval of others because we have the approval of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We can rejoice in others great fortune because we are most fortunate in Christ. We can mess up and seek forgiveness because we are completely covered in Christ. We can extend mercy to the unlovable because we have been granted unreserved mercy in Christ. We can love each other imperfectly because we are perfectly loved in Christ.

We can quit exhausting ourselves with worry over the way we are being perceived by our neighbors, our family, our co-workers, our social media followers, or our church. We can rest in God’s proclamation over us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine . . . . You are precious in my eyes” Isaiah 43:1, 4.  We can let people see our real selves—sinful yet redeemed children of God—so the Savior’s love is more fully displayed. We are gladly abased that Christ may abound.

So don’t be crushed by public opinion. Be comforted by the unwavering acceptance of the King of love. Bow to his rule in your life, for His yoke is easy, His reign is eternal and His person is worthy: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:12

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