*The following story is true. The names have been changed for privacy.
I'll never forget the day Coach Garza brought Jason to my office.
I was an Assistant Principal at the time, a role which offers a close-up view of the good, the bad, and the ugly of everyday life in American households. And, a lot of the strangest things happening in those households walk through the school doors with the students each morning.
Once Coach Garza and Jason were seated in my office across from my desk, the scene went something like this:
"Mr. Dominguez, we've got a problem. I'm getting reports that Jason here has been telling the other kids in PE that he smokes crack."
Without even having to communicate, Coach Garza and I knew we were both about to fall over laughing. Jason did not exactly fit the "crackhead" mold, to say the least. In addition, I had already worked with Jason's mother on previous occasions, and knew her to be a caring mom who tried her best to stay on top of Jason's comings and goings. But, we carried on. I took up the questioning from there.
"So, Jason, you smoke crack?"
"You've smoked crack 26 times?"
"Who is giving you crack?"
"What's his name?"
"What's Freddy's last name?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know your uncle's last name?"
"I've been trying to find out, but no one ever tells me!"
At this point in the conversation, Coach Garza and I made eye contact, and we both knew it was time for a break. I excused myself, stepped out of the office for a few moments, had a good laugh in the hall, and returned to resume my interview with troubled young Jason.
"So, Jason, do you mean to tell me that your uncle Freddy, whose last name you don't know, has smoked crack with you 26 times, and your mom has never found out?"
"Yes, but the last time we did it, my older brother caught us."
"What happened then?"
"My uncle and my brother."
"So, you've smoked crack with your uncle 26 times, and on the 26th time, your brother and your uncle had a big fight, and after all this, your mom still doesn't know anything happened?"
Jason ran out of answers at that point. His story was circling the drain, and couldn't be retrieved.
Coach Garza took Jason back to the locker room to change out of his gym clothes while I called Jason's mom.
It took me a little bit to explain this whole story to her, but her reaction still rings in my ears:
"I told him to stop trying to impress those kids!!"
I was able to establish with whatever certainty I could get in that situation that Jason's story was, indeed, completely false, totally made up in an effort to look tough in front of his peers. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the kid, especially considering his mother's immediate assessment of his reason for saying what he said. She knew her son, had probably been over this before with him, and had a good sense of what motivated him.
It's easy to chuckle at Jason's story. I know I do when I recall it.
But it's worth pointing out that young Jason is not alone. He's certainly not the only young adolescent to care more about his peers' perceptions than his own well-being. But, he also has good company in any age group.
How many times have we all struggled with this tendency, well into our adult lives? Haven't we all worried too much about people's opinions? Haven't we all been motivated by a desire to impress?
Scripture addresses this issue plainly:
"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them." (Matthew 6:1)
"[The hypocrites] love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men." (Matthew 6:5)
"...they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting." (Matthew 6:16)
"...they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." (John 12:43)
Your relationship with Christ is the only thing that will matter when your heart stops beating.
Not what a neighbor thought about your house. Not what a friend thought of your wardrobe. Not what a motorist thought of your car. Not what a colleague thought of your career. Not what folks thought of your wild and wooly days before you became a Christian. Not what those same folks thought of your repentance. Not what a brother or sister in Christ thought of your work in the church.
Paul takes it a step further by boldly stating that living in Christ and trying to impress others are mutually exclusive: "If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)
Live in Christ, or live to impress people. You can't do both.
To be sure, none of this should be taken as a license to disregard other people's rights or feelings, or to be rude or inconsiderate. The point is to do what we know to be right, and not to be distracted from this by a desire to gain the approval or admiration of other people.
Our worst sins, our greatest triumphs, and all we do in between are opportunities to pull closer to Jesus. They are also opportunities to make a splash in front of our peers.
Why do you do the things you do?