Shake It Off//When The Haters Hate
I sat on the bathroom floor of my friend’s house, alone, frustrated and ashamed. Attempting to fit in at Drama School, I decided to accept my classmate’s invitation to a party. Without realising the event was a costume party, I was surprised when a girl walked in dressed as Jesus. As the song “God is a woman” by Ariana Grande started playing, she stood up on a chair and deliberating made a mockery out of Jesus’s last moments on the earth.
Frozen and lost in a crowd of people cheering her on, a sense of sadness and indignation overwhelmed me. I watched on powerlessly as she paraded to get cheap laughs.
It didn’t get better, correcting her dress that was about to fall off – triggered a guy in the crowd to exclaim “Ooh, I’m a Christian girl. I’m saving myself for marriage.” A guy who I’d never revealed the details of my faith to. Frustrated and embarrassed I locked myself in a bathroom, holding back tears.
It was at this party that I truly internalized what it meant to not be of this world.
You Are Not Of This World
To be in the world yet not of the world goes against our culture. Our media-saturated age is obsessed with popularity. Our cultural fixation has even created a new class of millennials called InstaCelebs who other than amassing millions of likes from hip yoga poses on rooftops, don’t contribute much more to society.
Our own personal social media account tracks our “likes” and “views” and feeds us metrics on where we stand in the popularity polls. It’s easy to see how we can be caught up and lured into this invisible contest. It’s this cultural pressure to want approval and to be well-liked by others that press against what Jesus had to say:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18)
The words of Jesus became of bittersweet comfort to me. Jesus knew how I felt because he was “hated before they hated me”. Jesus was despised because he subverted the values of the world so it should follow that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Letting Go Of Wanting To Be Loved
Back at Uni, they knew I was Christian, but my classmates insisted I’d enact a gratuitous sex scene. Visibly uncomfortable, I made my position clear. I did not want to act it out, but my rebuttal was met with more pushing and then cold, belittling jibes and sneering.
The battle between holiness and the brokenness of the world is an ancient problem, reaching back to the very beginnings of the Old Testament. As followers of Jesus, we can be sure we will have to face it at some point.
When we do, we have two choices: we can live trying to please those around us which will probably result in a superficial relationship with God. Or we can choose to actively hand our lives over to our Father and allow Him to transform us.
In the effort of wanting to be liked, I’ve feared the snubs – “Holy Mary”. I’ve ardently pursued relationships to try and win people over. I’ve quelled my faith so people don’t think I’m some weird, religious outcast. I’ve been mocked for my life decisions and told: “Lighten up, everyone else does it”.
How much do you desire to be loved? Often this will conflict with a desire to live a life set apart. Wanting to be loved more can end up watering down our convictions.
“Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (John 15:19) The reality of Jesus’s words finally sunk in and became somewhat of a liberating truth – not only may persecution come my way, I should assume that people will hate me because of my faith.
The realisation that haters will hate can help us to let go of our inhibitions. We can freely apply our mind and heart towards living for Jesus, instead of being filled with fear of what others think and thoughts of how to appease. We can view negative encounters like grey clouds; the rain pours but ultimately helps us to grow while they disappear.
Blessings when the Haters Hate
When others scorn and snub – it stings – yet the Bible calls such treatment blessed. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:10)
What are these blessings? Trials can strengthen our character where maturity and perseverance are the fruit of this growth (James 1:4). God is more interested in our character than our circumstances and He will use situations in our lives to shape our personalities (Romans 5:3-5). This is a beautiful truth because it means that, while God is always working for our good (Romans 8:28), he is also a compassionate God who only tests us as much as we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Rest assured that no obstacle we face is too big.
The by-product of persecution in the early church was gospel growth. Christians were aggressively persecuted. We cannot imagine the trials these disciples had to endure. But their persecution resulted in them being scattered and meant that the Gospel was spread quickly to faraway places.
Then Shake It Off
I will have my haters but in the words of Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate hate hate, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake it off”.
People hate what they don’t understand. On the outside our lives and devotion seem weird, some would say – otherworldly. This is perhaps the mystery of the Kingdom that Jesus expressed: “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been given to you but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables. So that “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving”. (Mark 4:11-12)
Continuing on the narrow path will carry its fair share of puzzled side glances and belittling eye rolls. But I can say “although afflicted, I am not crushed” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Persecution may come in its various forms but it is still well with my soul.
When we shake off the shackles of wanting to be loved by everyone. We are set free to seek God’s Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). I have found the one whose love never fails, is genuine and not conditioned upon what we do. I have found my joy and great reward – my Father in Heaven.
I love people and still desire to show Christ in all my interactions, however, I’m no longer consumed when the haters hate. If they do, I keep Christ’s words in mind “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet !” (Luke 9:5).
Written by Esther-Maria Thomas
Esther-Maria is a 20-year-old musical theatre student brought up in Germany. She now lives in London and is part of a church in Ealing. She is passionate about sharing her faith and digging deep into the word, she also enjoys working with young children.
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