Public Opinion

Whenever I’m in the car, I either pray aloud or listen to music, and when I listen to music, I seldom just listen. Most of the time, I sing along with it, even when it’s the rare time that I’m listening to classical music—when that happens, I make the trumpet sounds, do the violin parts, and sing along with the piano, all the while gesturing like I’m a conductor. I usually move along with the music, as well, whether it’s country, rock, or praise music. But all that stops instantly when a car sidles up next to mine on the roadway or at a stop light. Sometimes I continue singing, but I always look to the side or put my hand up to my face so the other driver won’t be able to see what I’m doing.

I also love to read. I read while I’m eating (when I’m not eating with my kids), brushing my teeth, exercising at the gym, blow drying my hair, washing my hands, and even sometimes while I’m showering. I long to read when I’m at the gym while I’m walking from the stationary bike down to the locker room, but I only allow myself to do it in the stairwell when nobody else is there.

Sometimes I’ll see someone at the gym or at church who has on a beautiful outfit or who has beautiful hair. I might notice someone teaching extraordinarily well while I volunteer in nursery or admire someone’s joy. Sometimes I compliment them, but most of the time, I just think the thought and let it stay there.

Why? I don’t like to admit this because I’m from the west coast where many people want to be individuals, not going with the flow. When I moved to East Tennessee, it was really hard for me at first to wear orange on football game days like the rest of the populace. I was upset when my mom bought me an orange sweatshirt (even though it wasn’t quite the bright hue of the Vols), and I refused to wear it for a time (I have come around to supporting our local football team, by the way). I don’t know how long this will last, but I have so far refused to pay for an expensive cell phone plan or buy a minivan, which puts me behind the times and unfortunately can even bring inconvenience to my friends sometimes. I don’t want to do what everybody else does just because they all do it. I don’t want to stand out, but I don’t want anything I do to be dictated by what’s popular or normal.

So why do I hide my book or stop singing and dancing if I think someone’s looking? It’s not like I’m doing something shameful or wrong—I just don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. I don’t want to stand out because I worry about what other people think of me.

About a month ago, I was walking to the doctor’s office with a book in my hand, just dying to read it while I walked, when I realized that it doesn’t matter if people think I’m a little weird! It’s amazing to me how self-conscious I felt for such a silly little thing as walking in public reading my book. I vowed then, maybe like one of those slightly crazy elderly people who stop caring about social mores, that I would read in public when I want to (as long as it’s not rude to anyone) and sing, dance, and lift up my hands in worship in the car when I want to—maybe I’ll even bring a smile to someone’s face! I’ll work up the nerve to compliment someone I don’t know (of course, only if it doesn’t make them uncomfortable)!

These actions don’t matter too much, but it made me start thinking. What else do I do or not do for the sake of what others think? God’s been working on me lately about my concern about what people think of my parenting. He has been gently breaking me down through my sweet daughter’s strong personality. Not long ago, it came to a head with some of her severe outbursts at church and other childcare places I wanted her to calmly enter. A few times, it took me around an hour to stop her screaming and flailing in public, and through God’s help, calm her down and help her apologize to the childcare workers. It’s been very embarrassing to have my four and a half year old daughter acting that way. She’s as big as my six year old, and my first thought when we’re in public is that people must be wondering why I don’t have control of a girl as big as that. Believe me, we are praying and trying everything we can, and she is getting better, but while we’re still in process, it’s messy and embarrassing.

Why am I embarrassed by that? Because I’m worried about what others will think of my parenting skills. Praise God that He has taken me to the point where I don’t worry as much about what others think of my parenting because really, I don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to my daughter’s temperament. I’m doing the best I can to teach her, and if someone else judges me for it, I can’t help that. Really, the only Person I should want to please is God Himself, who already loves me and accepts me because of Christ for the faulty human being I am.

So, although I still do care what people think, as my husband pointed out at the Fourth of July parade when he wore his (in my view) enormous, ugly, ragged straw work hat, if you see a girl walking down the street absorbed in a book or one rocking out to Toby Mac in a car at a stop light, just smile—you’ve seen me.

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