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Does it matter what others think of us?

From the February 2020 issue of The Christian Science Journal

I’m continually surprised by how much I still struggle with this question. For the most part I’m not aware of being concerned about what others think of me, and then, bang—something comes up that makes me question my goodness, adequacy, or ability, and I find that there’s still more egotism there than I realized. 

But I can tell I am making progress, because these days I find myself actually grateful for those wake-up moments, even though they’re uncomfortable. I see them as opportunities to keep surrendering to how God sees me, to rest secure in the steady approval that God has for all of Her children, to realize that this is what really matters most, and to experience the tangible benefits of this realization.

Through Christian Science, I’ve come to see that God’s approval of us is more like a math fact than a comparative opinion. It doesn’t vary from one time or person to another. As God’s children, His own spiritual expression, we are loved infinitely and eternally. And feeling this deep love allows us to go forward with equanimity and confidence, even in the face of destructive criticism from without or self-doubt from within. It allows us to accept constructive criticism with grace and to reject thoughts that belittle and impede progress. 

It’s interesting to note that at the very beginning of Christ Jesus’ ministry, when he came out of the water after John had baptized him, a voice from heaven was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). What a benediction from God, just as he was going to start his work of healing and preaching! And his very ministry proclaimed and demonstrated that God is Love and that the love of God is so complete that it redeems humanity from sin and rules out every mistaken and damning verdict saying we are inevitably subject to sickness or injury.

Jesus was mocked and threatened and, at first, appeared to fail to save himself while on the cross. He could have felt embarrassed or even paralyzed by public opinion, by the hate of others. Instead, Jesus embodied a life committed to divine wisdom later articulated by St. Paul: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

We are already approved by God—sort of preapproved for all eternity.

One day I read that passage with new meaning. I noted that “approved” is in the past tense, as in “an already done deal.” Read from this perspective, the passage doesn’t say we should study to become approved by God, but implies that we are to strive to realize that we are already approved by God—sort of preapproved for all eternity—and able to demonstrate this in our lives.

That was a real help to me in a healing of a mobility challenge I experienced. I was walking one January day when suddenly my knee gave way, and it became painful to stand or move freely.

During the next couple of months I prayed consistently for myself. I studied the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, to realize more of my intact perfection as a spiritual idea of God. My husband, who is a Christian Science practitioner, prayed for me as well. We both could see that progress was being made in my spiritual understanding, but the knee stayed pretty much the same. 

Toward the end of March, I was getting concerned. We had an upcoming trip in May that would involve much walking, a busy summer schedule of family visits, and a meeting in the fall that I needed to conduct. I couldn’t imagine how I would accomplish these events in my present state of immobility and discomfort. 

One day as I was praying, I remembered some definitions of the word embarrass that I had found helpful years earlier: to cause someone to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed, or to hamper or impede a person, movement, or action; to make difficult.

Quickly I realized that at the bottom of all of this was concern about what others were thinking about me. In that moment I prayed humbly to surrender that sense of self-focused embarrassment, and heard this message, which is a favorite passage of mine from the Bible: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What sweet release! I felt so clearly that God’s thoughts about me are the only ones that truly matter, and in fact God is the only one that truly knows me, since in reality God is the only Mind, and we are the flawless spiritual expression of the divine intelligence. I suddenly felt sure that whatever support I needed through the next months would be there. All feeling of embarrassment left with the realization that I had God’s full approval. All I had to do was go forward trusting God, and refusing to be impeded by unhelpful concerns about how others were viewing me. 

Mobility began to return quickly then. I was able to accomplish the considerable walking on our May trip with ease. And by the summer visits I was moving as freely as I had before the incident. 

Best of all, though, I’m committed to acknowledging daily, even moment by moment, God’s approval of all of us, cherishing our innocence and goodness as God’s precious spiritual expression—and our ability to live that innocence and goodness. The more we feel our divinely maintained worthiness, the less our sense of worth is contingent on others’ opinions and the more we are in a position to witness divine Love’s constant approbation for all.

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