What do you think of me? Why do I care?

Answers to the Big Questions in Life. The problem of comparison and fear of rejection doesn't disappear with age, in fact if not dealt with, Welch describes how the problem gets worse, it's just the things and standards we grade ourselves and judge others by that change.

The problem of comparison and fear of rejection doesn't disappear with age, in fact if not dealt with, Welch describes how the problem gets worse, it's just the things and standards we grade ourselves and judge others by that change.

Ayla Cosh | September 2015

By Edward T. Welch - (2011) Greensboro:New Growth Press

what do you think of me?This book is written for people pleasers, those so desperate for acceptance they tend to change who they are and what they think depending on who they are mixing with. It is also written for those awkward prickly characters who like to reject others before they themselves are rejected. It's written for the person with social anxiety and for the life and soul of the party. It's written for those who think they are not funny, popular, pretty, clever enough and for those who deem themselves to be enough of these things. It's written for the person who is brought low for days by a criticism and for the person who can feel elated at a compliment. It's for those who feel they are superior and those who feel inferior. In summary it is written for everyone because the problem is endemic.

The problem is simple and we all have it; we deeply care about what others think of us, we care about what they might think of us, we are desperate for acceptance and we all want to be loved.

If we scratch the surface of our lives the problem is just beneath. It underpins our familiar and well trodden paths of anxiety in certain social situations, embarrassment at public mistakes, the need to have the right clothes or car, the desire to be seen with and included in popular groups of people. In fact the problem disguises itself in many different ways; fear of rejection, self consciousness, overwhelming desire for acceptance leading to bending to peer pressure.

The problem is simple and we all have it; we deeply care about what others think of us, we care about what they might think of us, we are desperate for acceptance and we all want to be loved. These desires and cares, although not wrong in themselves, become a major problem when they take the central position in our lives.

The author, Edward T Welch aims this book specifically at a younger age group, perhaps age sixteen to early twenties as a lot of the examples he uses are about studying, relating to parents, and particular issues at that life stage. If you do not fall into the intended audience age bracket,  this is still a great read as the problem of comparison and fear of rejection doesn't just disappear with age, in fact if not dealt with, Welch describes how the problem gets worse, it's just the things and standards we grade ourselves and judge others by that change.

I would particularly recommend it to anyone ready to face these issues in their own lives, to anyone aged 16-25, for those who are raising or working with teenagers or students and for anyone who wants to taste what freedom in Christ means for their relationships and interactions with others.

Who is God?
Who am I?
Who are these other people?

Welch spends most of the first half of the book on 'the problem': how to diagnose it in our own lives and the result of the problem if left unchecked. He uses very uncomfortable questions to help us identify our idolatry of others opinions, questions such as "have you ever wished you could shrivel up and disappear?", "do you feel like a failure sometimes?", "are you ever afraid to ask questions because you might look stupid?" He talks about what the idolatry of others' opinions leads to, for example fear of their opinions and allowing them to reject or accept you. When you fear something, you are controlled by it.

Welch goes on to show how being controlled by the opinions of others is a miserable state leading to low self-esteem, shame, peer pressure, social anxiety and many other 'modern labels' which often sadly do not encourage us to get to the heart of the matter and prevent us experiencing real change.

After unpacking the problem, Welch goes on and divides the rest of the book into three questions which we have to answer for ourselves, enabling us to examine our hearts and, through the transforming work of Christ, to pull up the deeply embedded roots of idolatry. He wants us to answer the questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

Our answers to these questions reveal our hearts and Welch makes the point that we are already living out our answers in the attitudes and actions of our daily lives. Welch addresses the 'who is God?' question by focusing on different aspects of His character using different passages; for example Creator, Redeemer, Holy God. Welch wants us to think about these aspects of God in the hope that they would lead us to be more amazed at how this holy and all powerful God could show such mercy and grace to us. He makes the point that only when we have the right view of God can we truly have the right view of ourselves and others.

In the section entitled 'who am I?', Welch talks about how we are people who generally look to be loved more than we look to love others. He shows us that fearing God more than others, making God bigger and the opinions of others smaller, enables us to love more freely, as Christ does. When we no longer need people to approve of us, to boost our self esteem and make us feel good, we are free to truly love. In the 'who are they?' chapter he focuses on how others can become less like vehicles to serve our emotional needs, and more like brothers and sisters who we are free to love and pour ourselves out for, because we have and continue to receive limitless love and mercy from God.

This is not a self help book as it encourages us to focus less on 'the self' and more on who God is, what He has done for us and then how we can love and serve others. I have really enjoyed reading this book, it is full of hope for change, change for us as individuals and our communities as a whole. We don't have to remain as we are. I would recommend reading it with a good friend or someone who you trust to gently point out your insecurities and be accountable with. To be part of someone else's journey of change, and to be vulnerable enough to have others be part of ours, could be transforming for our small groups and church community.

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