A friend of mine and I were spending time together working on our knitting and chatting and we got on the topic of the things we do to try to stay healthy. We are both big women and I know I’ve struggled all of my life with feeling judged when I was out in public, which makes being willing to leave the house for exercise emotionally daunting.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I realized that I carried a lot of that judgment within me and that many other people were also wandering in the world feeling like everyone who looked at them was judging them and that those same people were too busy worrying about themselves to really spend much energy judging me.
(I will take a moment here to say that just enough jerks in the world that have catcalled, make snide remarks in my hearing, or otherwise fed my feeling of being judged that there is a basis in reality for my anxieties. The seeds that it was normal for people to judge me and find me wanting were planted early, and took a long time for me to overcome.)
I carried the weight of what I thought other people thought about me for years. I don’t know at what moment I realized that I didn’t have to carry the weight of the (mostly imaginary) expectations of others any more. Once I did it was a revelation.
Like the psalmist from the Daily Office readings for Friday, Proper 19, before I had that revelation, my focus was on other people. I worried about what they would think of me, how they would act towards me, why they would be judgmental, and what they might say to me. I had conversations in my head, trying to prepare myself to go out in the world and make a space for myself.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
In short, I spent a lot of energy worrying about futures that never came to pass and that would not have played out in any way I could have imagined even if they did appear.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
When I started to work on re-framing my own thoughts to let go of both projecting imaginary judgment from people on to myself and from giving too much weight to the judgment of, frankly rude, strangers, I felt like a flower opening up and turning toward the sun.
Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
That feeling of being able to be open to the world rather than closed off in a permanent defensive crouch is how I feel about the grace God has given us through Jesus and his teachings. God gave us a person we could relate to, someone we could exchange stories with, someone who suffered our kind of pain and passed through death just as we all will and the message Jesus brought was not one of having to be ritually pure, rule followers to win over God; rather, that it was okay to be messy, sinful human beings who flailed (and failed) around trying to find the right path.
Jesus’s message, told over and over again in parables and straight from the heart was: love. Love one-another, love God, love enemies, love strangers. If you do nothing else on this earth: love.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway unless otherwise noted.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.