I haven’t given much thought to reputation since my high school years. Of course, during early adolescence it was everything. I took great pride in being known as a good girl. I liked that people looked to me for advice. That they knew I was the one to ask for a Bible verse or prayer on hard days. I didn’t want to be popular, those girls were trouble. But I did want to be liked and to have a place– and in its own weird way being a good girl gave me that identity.
I transferred my identity to marriage and motherhood over the years. Having a reputation as a natural mama, a homemaker, an ally on all things faith/sexuality, a safe place, a great cook, a loving wife –this has all been core to who I am. Some of those identities were scarier than others. Some invited criticism from strangers and it was scary to know that my reputation was at stake. To know that people I had never met had the power to interpret things I’d written or said (or even just the existence of my marriage) and had things to say about me was terrifying.
But all of that still felt purposeful. If I was being maligned, it felt to me that it was for the cause of Christ. That I was being slandered because I was saying things about God and faith that needed to be said, but some people just didn’t want to hear. That I was helping push the Church in ways that it needed to pushed. And that I was doing it alongside my teammate, my leader, and my best friend. At least we were in the mess together and anyone who really knew us believed in what we had to say.
Then my most recent identity came to include the title of divorcee. Now just walking into Home Depot with my three kids invites comments from complete strangers. A thousand assumptions are made about me every day and there is very little I can do about. Nor does it feel very purposeful. It often feels like it invalidates my ability to minister or serve more than it enables me. Being a single mom comes with all kinds of looks and completely uninvited comments. I remember as I walked through the last months of my marriage, feeling it’s inevitable demise, that I often found myself praying: “God — your glory is at stake here! What happens to me says something about you!”
It was during that time that I found myself drawn to a particular phrase in Scripture. One that I came across again and again, “Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.” I struggled with this phrase immensely. I mean, we all know believers who are falsely maligned or who have lost their reputation through no fault of their own. So what is this promise? It doesn’t mean we won’t experience the shame of having a bad reputation, so what does it mean?
This past week I’ve been studying 1 Peter in my Women’s Bible study. 1 Peter 2:6 landed in my lap and reminded me of all those churning thoughts from a year ago: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” My dear friend Nikki shared some facts about cornerstones in our study on Tuesday. How they set the tone and structure for the rest of the building. A good solid cornerstone creates straight and strong walls that will create a safe and reliable building. The walls won’t crumble and they won’t be “put to shame.”
This idea of the cornerstone being responsible for our lack of shame was an a-ha moment for me. It’s so easy to think that our reputation matters because of what it says about us to others. But what I believe God is promising us is that the building he’s creating (us!) will never crumble or fall. That when people look at us they will see Christ, the chosen and precious cornerstone bearing all our pain and weight and creating a gorgeous and strong building. It’s not about people thinking the world of me, it’s that they will see me and see Jesus. And you know what? Seeing Jesus causes a lot of people to stumble and reject truth (1 Pet. 2:7-8). So their response to us might look like being put to shame in the world’s eyes.
And yet, the promises of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 wrap us in Jesus’ comforting arms. If we are rejected and our reputation is damaged in the world’s eyes, we are still God’s holy and chosen people. Though we have no home and people on this earth revile us, we are God’s special possession. Once not a people, now the people of God. Now that’s a reputation and an identity I can rely on. Never failing, never vacillating, not dependent on what’s in vogue at any given moment: forever chosen and adored by God. Hallelujah.