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Charmlessness unto Godliness

August 13th, 2012 | 4 min read

By Cate MacDonald

I have recently found myself immersed in learning a hard lesson, much too slowly.

It seems to have started with a lecture I heard at Wheatstone, in which John Mark Reynolds urged, as a side note to his topic, to “let your enemies just be your enemies.” In less controversial (I think) terms, he was saying that we should not strive to manipulate (an underhanded form of domination, the only form to which I am prone) people into liking us when our tastes, actions, beliefs, or very self would naturally incline them not to.  This, to me, was a brand new idea.

Perhaps this is what the Proverbs are telling us in, “Charm is deceitful.”

I have taken it upon myself to make most people in the course of my life like me. I am a close enough observer of human behavior to know how to act around different groups of people, to know how to be with them in a way that will ensure their approval of me. This is certainly a useful skill, but I am realizing it is not always (ever?) good.

I am a long-term relationship person—the youngest of my significant friendships are about 5 years old, the oldest are still happy, active, and intimate after 21 years. Longevity is often a mark of a healthy relationship for me, and, given that I’m introverted and stubbornly unwilling to meet many new people, it’s also a necessity.

Friendship

My tendency towards long relationships meant that I was a bit late in learning what it felt like to lose a friend. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I first intentionally broke relationship with friends, mutually, and full of strain and enmity. All of the sudden, I knew I had people in my life who really didn’t like me, and, from the reports I was getting back, they were influencing more.

My overwhelming impulse was to try and repair all damage, to make them like me—whether they liked it or not. For other reasons, I was not able to act on this impulse, which saved me from the sin of manipulation, and saved them from my attempts at controlling how they felt about me. It is only now, faced with a more complicated and nuanced relational problem, that I am realizing what it means to let people have the freedom to dislike me as much as they please. It kind of sucks.

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