One of my earliest memories of worrying what people thought of me came in second grade.
Mrs. Reed was the meanest teacher I’d ever had. All my other teachers had given us hugs and seemed to know how we were feeling, even if we never said. In Mrs. Reed’s second-grade classroom, little blue Smurfs lined the wall, each of their white hats displaying a name. Three little magnetic buttons lined their tummies. Anyone who got in trouble was instructed to remove a button from their respective Smurf.
The first button cost them five minutes of recess. I don’t remember what happened when you lost all three; back then they could have probably locked you in a closet or something terrible.
I never spoke out in class. I didn’t want the attention. I especially didn’t want to get in trouble. But this day, Brent, who wanted to be my boyfriend, was sitting across from me kicking me under the table. So I kicked him back and told him to stop.
Mrs. Reed looked up, “Jennie, get a button.”
The room started spinning. This had never happened to me. I stood up in front of everyone and began my painful walk to strip my Smurf of his pride.
Recess came, and as the class filed out, I stayed stuck to my seat for five eternal minutes. I wanted to be under my seat. Mrs. Reed was grading papers and not even looking at me. I was sure she was too disappointed to acknowledge me anymore. I felt like I was getting a fever. Some disease spreading through me.
It wasn’t the last time I’d have that feeling.
My brain is not so creative. It comes back to the very same fears that it had when I was in second grade. Smurf buttons and recess has turned into amazon reviews and status updates and criticism about my work or the way we are raising our kids.
I’ve spent most of my life terrified of the invisible thoughts of a few people, and for most of my life that fear has paralyzed me.
See, fear isn’t a small thing—we are wasting our lives on it.
In the last few months, I have been thrown in the deep end of leadership, launching and leading an organization with a team of gifted brilliant female leaders called IF:Gathering. Feelings of pressure, adrenaline, failure, joy, conflict and paralyzing fear seem to all bounce around in me on a given day. Because here is the thing about leading something: You will be loved and you will be hated.
The irony here is several years ago, due to my terrible case of people-pleasing and a rather strong fear of public humiliation, I existed entirely on the back row of life. I sat safely in the dark, away from stages, away from criticism, away from helping people, my gifts tucked neatly under my chair in the name of humility.
So as one facing her two worst fears, being hated and/ or humiliated, let me tell you what I have learned:
If you want to lead well, just never defend yourself again. Take it. Jesus actually meant it when He said, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also,” in Luke 2:28. Because it is the very most freeing way to live. (note: I did not say it is an easy way to live.) I remember early on as I learned this one the hard way and let’s just say it led me to my next lesson.
Humility is Often Closely Connected to Humiliation
When we’re sitting alone in the dark on back rows, we’re really only faking humility. Humility is built in battle, in the moments when you are running and fighting and leading and then you fall and people see and know you aren’t God. At those moments, you remember you desperately need God.
Love the Fear
As a child, I hated feeling nervous. My mom used to say, “it’s just butterflies.” So I sat in the back of life for decades, avoiding “butterflies.” I successfully avoided nausea—and the very best parts of life.
If you ever want to do anything of significance, you have to learn to love the sick tense feeling in your belly instead of hate it. It doesn’t seem to ever leave me these days. So I am making the butterflies my friends.
People Liking You is Overrated
If you live trying your best to be liked by everyone, you are living a boring life. So just quit. Get over it.
Do you want to be liked or do you want to actually do something significant with this life? Let pleasing God become bigger than pleasing people.
A few years ago, I stood in front of tens of thousands of women hungry for God. We hosted our first gathering, and today I consider all I would have missed if I had fought just to be liked.
The back row was comfortable, it was easy, it was safe. But I am over comfortable, easy and safe. Especially when forever stretches out before us and people’s lives and freedoms are at stake. I suggest we get on with it. Let’s risk something for God’s glory and for other’s good.
Face your worst fears, friends, and they start to go away.