As I’ve graduated from seminary (it’s still weird to say that) and have began my pastoral internship, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in myself. I like call it “Image Management.” It sounds pretty innocuous, like the name of a PR firm, but it is far from harmless.
Image management is the strong temptation to manage the way others perceive me. It’s the desire to hide bad stuff and publicize my better qualities. We all do this to some degree.
Pastors have an especially high temptation to try and look good because that’s what parishioners expect. There’s the added pressure of not screwing up when the world is watching and waiting for yet another pastor to tumble down in flames.
Recently, certain situations have forced me to realize how selfish I am. For instance, my mom has been in the county hospital since last Monday for a knee replacement and wanted me to come visit her.
Even though I absolutely love my mom, I honestly didn’t want to go. It was over an hour away (much longer if I hit traffic, which is a nearly ubiquitous presence on that stretch of highway). It was in Oakland, where I don’t know my way around. My car’s old and I’m not sure if it could make the trip. I don’t particularly like hospitals and it wasn’t a life-threatening illness or emergency. She’d be fine. I had a million (sort-of legitimate)
reasons excuses why I didn’t want to go, but I knew I had to go.
Why did I feel like I had to go? It would look bad if I didn’t.
“What would people say?” I wondered. “What kind of person doesn’t visit her mom in the hospital?” “Even more so, what kind of would-be pastor wouldn’t visit her mom?” I was sure I’d be tried and convicted by others’ opinions.
As those questions flooded my mind, it stung me to realize that I was far more concerned with what others thought about my actions than my selfish heart behind them.
I realized that I am a Pharisee, consumed with cleaning the outside of the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence; doing churchy things, while neglecting the weightier matters of mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:23, 25).
As I prayed about it, I realized that I didn’t really have to go. It would be fine for me to call my mom to check up on her and to let people think what they would about my actions. No matter how hard I try, I cannot please everyone with the choices I make.
Ultimately, I will answer to God alone, who isn’t fooled by outward actions. He is far more concerned with me actually being compassionate (as he is), so that it flows into compassionate actions rather than me doing compassionate things so that others think I’m better than I am.
Belief in the Gospel means that I am deeply, unconditionally loved as I am, even when I’m selfish and fail to live up to expectations. As I prayed that God would make it so that didn’t have to go, I understood that God wouldn’t love me any less no matter what I chose to do. It made me want to honor him all the more and it made me want to show that love to other people.
It was only because I had permission not to go that I resolved to go, in spite of all of my fears and excuses. I wanted to go to show how much I love my mom, just as God had showed me how much he loves me.
And you know what? I survived the drive in my old car, managed to get there without hitting traffic once, and visited my mom.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Phil 1:9-11)
P.S. My mom is recovering nicely.