It was a moment I never saw coming, and one I’ll never forget.
I had walked down to the local Burger King with my kids so we could grab some time together. On that particular morning, it was busy and we found ourselves somewhere in the middle of a really long line. Not exactly the stuff of movies, right?
Except that one of my kids, Matthew, was with us. Matthew, just 8 at the time, is autistic. And a little eccentric and unpredictable.
Back then, he was going through a phase where he ‘had’ to use the bathroom every time we went to a store. Not that he actually had to go. It was more of an obsessive-compulsive thing, and it always seemed to happen just when we were in a hurry.
So this time, I decided I was going to take a stand. I had him use our bathroom just before we walked the block to BK so he would be good to (not) go.
Everything seemed to be going fine. Matthew had asked to use the bathroom once, but I reminded him he had just gone, and he got past it. The other kids were staring dreamily at the colorful pictures of milkshakes and Oreo pies, the intoxicating smell of french fries was wafting through the air and… one of my kids tapped me in the back.
‘Uh, hey dad, you might want to take a look at this’.
Expecting something mundane, I wheeled around to find that Matthew had dropped his pants in protest of my ‘no bathroom’ rule. Yup, right there in line. And all of a sudden the cashier and 5,000 other customers weren’t thinking about flame-broiled burgers.
I’ve got to admit I was pretty embarrassed. Seriously, Matthew?! I was pretty sure that this was going viral on Twitter, and started looking for a secret passage so we could tunnel out of there.
But, after I fought to pull Matthew’s pants up, we (and the other customers) recovered to order our cheeseburgers and have a good time.
Looking back, God has used awkward Matthew-moments like these to help me get over myself. And become far less self-conscious.
Although I hope you never experience anything quite like this, God wants to use your awkward moments to transform you, too.
The truth is, I’ve really needed (and still need) moments like these. Growing up, and even well into my twenties, I was way too worried about what others thoughts about me. My wife, older ministry leaders, people I preached to… all had too much influence over how I thought about myself. (My bad, not theirs.)
It’s so normal… but so deadly.
A Biblical Perspective
The bible has a lot to say about this because it gets at the very core of who we are. Proverbs 29:25 is one obvious example:
The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
In this verse, the ‘fear of man’ is contrasted to trusting in God. What we fear is what we build our lives around. What we are consumed by. What we base our decisions around. What shapes how we feel about ourselves.
When Matthew dropped his drawers that day, I felt a moment of panic. What would people think of me as a parent? And how would even they know he’s autistic so they could give me the special needs child free pass? Basically, I was severely tempted to be consumed by – to fear – the people all around us, and what they thought about me and my parenting skills (or lack thereof).
Think about your life for a moment. Where do you experience an unhealthy focus on others and what they (might) think of you?
Seriously, take a moment and go through the main ‘categories’ of your life. What – and who – comes to mind?
Maybe it’s your critical spouse and their next dig. Or a controlling child you keep indulging to avoid their wrath. Maybe it’s a demanding professor or boss. A grouchy neighbor you avoid. Or maybe it’s someone who’s actually pretty nice, but accomplished, and you don’t want to get too close to them, lest the ‘real you’ show through. Maybe it’s just someone who has something you want – like a beautiful house or self-discipline – something you feel like you could never obtain.
It doesn’t take a ton of insight to realize our fears about what others think of us is a huge problem.
Awkward Moments To The Rescue
While the bible encourages us to, ‘in humility, count others more significant than [ourselves]’ (Philippians 2:3), that doesn’t mean we should elevate their opinion of us to a central, controlling place.
But, that’s easier said than done, right? It’s one thing to mentally acknowledge someone’s opinion should only matter so much, but then still find ourselves obsessing over it.
That’s where awkward moments can be so incredibly helpful.
In an awkward moment, the pretense that we’re in control and put-together is stripped away. And usually without much warning, which puts us in a vulnerable spot without a rehearsed plan.
How will we respond?
If our security depends on being perfect, in control, and strong, awkward moments like this will undo us. We’ll be devastated as our weaknesses and failures are on public display.
Or, we’ll shut our hearts down and pretend – possibly to ourselves – that we don’t care what others think. But that requires a certain level of self-deception that disconnects us from ourselves, others, and ultimately God. It pretends that we can handle our messy world just fine.
But if we’re willing to take our frustration, embarrassment and insecurities to God, amazing things happen.
We can be totally honest with God about how we’re feeling exposed. Inadequate. Weak. Like a failure.
That’s possible whether we’re to blame or not.
If we’ve done something wrong, and that goes public in an awkward moment, we can ask God to forgive us. And he will, so we can move on, even if others choose not to.
In the case of Matthew’s Burger King reveal, I really hadn’t done anything wrong, but I still felt so much shame, and insecurity about my parenting. Later that day, I had the chance to take all that to God and ask him to remind me about how he sees me. And to break the power of other people’s opinions in my life.
Over time, and tons of awkward Matthew moments, God has really answered that prayer. I still struggle with what others think, but it’s so much better than it used to be.
A Worthy Goal
If we’ll handle our awkward moments with honesty and let them help us find our security in God, we’ll find ourselves heading toward what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4:
‘… with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me’.
As Tim Keller points out in his little (but phenomenal) booklet on this passage, Paul has learned to disregard others’ opinions. But he has also learned to take his own opinion of himself lightly. What really matters is what God thinks.
We want to get to the place where our focus isn’t thinking more highly of ourselves (if we’re insecure), or less of ourselves (if we’re proud), but where we think of ourselves less altogether. This is the true freedom that allows us to put God and others first.
By putting our inability to make life work on full display, our awkward moments help us see how silly it is to find our security in other people’s opinions of us. They give us the glorious gift of finding our identity in the God who loves us completely anyway.
- Think of an awkward moment from your life, preferably within the last year or so.
- How did you feel and respond at the time?
- As you reflect on that moment now, how can it help you shift your focus from others’ (and/or your) opinion of you to God’s?