Many years ago, as a young adult new in ministry, I remember having a conversation with one of my leaders, who was around the same age as me. The conversation was about alcohol and how I’d made the decision to not get drunk or use alcohol to process difficult moments. She responded with how hard it must be to never be allowed to do what I want to. I was so confused because she misunderstood my heart and motivation so completely.
I wasn’t being forced! I knew my responsibility to my family and my church and my calling and did not want to compromise for short-lived pleasures. For some reason, that still landed with her as some forced sacrifice that I was potentially struggling with. It didn’t matter that I explained. I was still misunderstood. This conversation taught me a lesson. Not every action or inaction will be understood and working to explain to control my reputation may be time wasted.
Ken Malmin, an instructor at Portland Bible College, taught this same lesson with an excellent analogy. He said that your character is the tree and your reputation is the shadow. While the tree determines major aspects of the shadow, the shadow is still able to be controlled by the angle of the person looking. Do not spend time controlling the shadow; spend time fostering the growth of the tree.
In moments when you are growing as a Christian, you may be misunderstood. This happens especially as the Lord is working to remove, edit, add and transform different aspects of your life. People may suggest that you are attempting to live more “high and mighty” or “be a Bible thumper” because you are not participating in the fun in the same way. That’s the shadow…not the tree that they are commenting on!
In Ecclesiastes 2:18-20, King Solomon reflects on what his years of wisdom have taught him. He reveals to us that, “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.”
Though he is talking about how the things we build are eventually left to the hands of others, the same concept is true for how we are perceived by others. I want people to know I love them and am choosing a life surrendered to Jesus. This is not always what people will receive when I make certain choices, and some of that is my fault; some of it is a mishandling of my actions or intentions. I can control my words, my actions and my motivations. I cannot control all of the results in other people’s minds. Spending time curating reputation leads me off of the purposes of God.
Our call as Christians is not to manage our reputation in the eyes of the world. It’s to serve God and serve people in a way that shines light on how amazing God is! When I start spinning to protect my own image, that takes energy and heart away from my true calling.
Are you working on growing a healthy tree of character? If you do, your reputation will reflect that eventually, but maybe not always consistently. Even Jesus, whose character was flawless, had a distorted reputation in the eyes of the crowd.
Stay growing brothers and sisters! Let the Lord be the judge. Serve those who do not talk about you with love in their words. It’s ok to be misunderstood. Being understood is not the goal. Follow Jesus, love and serve His people, and shine your light and love to the world in a way that points to Jesus.
Candace Cortez is Executive Pastor at Koinonia Church in Hanford, CA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559-582-1528.