I deal with people every day. Some are great and just want to learn, or enjoy our time together. Other people come with things that bother them, or preconceived notions or ideas. They judge me, or our congregation according to those expectations, regardless of what they mean to us. The problem is, they either reject us out of hand because of a bad experience they had, or they have a different reason for embracing what we embrace.
I once had someone react angrily when they realized that we light Shabbat candles. Instead of recognizing that we light Shabbat candles to sanctify Shabbat and to bless God’s Name, they saw it as something negative. He told me that when he was a teen, his mentally frustrated mother once beat him with candlesticks. While I deplore his mother’s abuse of him, as well as her taking something used for a blessing and turning it into a curse, I didn’t feel it was right to reject an ancient tradition because this guy suffered at the hands of his mentally unbalanced mother.
On another occasion, I had a woman who moved to our area who joined our congregation constantly compare our congregation to the one she had left. I was never as good as her former rabbi, and our congregation did everything wrong because we didn’t do it the way her former congregation did things. A year later, she moved back to her former location, and her rabbi told me he was tired of hearing that I was a better rabbi than him, and their congregation was not as good as ours.
I’ve had people attend our congregation who wanted to become members because they felt the church was doing things all wrong, and we were the “true” expression of Biblical faith. I politely let them know we were not trying to be the “true” expression of anything. We are Jewish, and we worship as our people worship. Period. I let them know that if there were things they didn’t like about their church, they probably wouldn’t like us either. Sooner or later, they figured out that we weren’t trying to be more “biblical,” and they left.
How are we supposed to deal with people’s expectations? To some extent, its a good thing to try to please people, but there is a fine line between pleasing someone and losing your own identity. If I had to get everyone’s approval to do everything, I’d never do anything. I used to worry about what people would say or think, and it kept me from doing the things I wanted. I reached the point where I figured at some time I’d be at the end of my life, and I would have either done what I wanted, or wished I had done them. I chose to do them. I care about making people happy, but not to the point that I can’t do what I want.
I knew people who were very gifted and talented; they were the first ones to pitch in and help when something had to be done. They were in many ways a great blessing. The problem was that if you did or said something they disagreed with, they got upset and were out the door. They tried to steer things their way by inflicting their emotions on others. They rewarded you with their approval when they liked what you did, but punished you with their displeasure when they didn’t agree or approve. There are people like this in every congregation.
The real question we need to ask ourselves is, do we want to let other people tell us how to live and worship? As a general rule, I don’t let other people make my decisions for me. The reason I don’t, is because when something goes wrong, I’m left holding the bag, and they are nowhere to be found, or if you can find them, they are the ones leveling criticism.
I’m not writing this with anyone in particular in mind. The examples happened a long time ago. They were all people I cared about, and could be any of us. My point is not those people or their actions, but rather, our response to others. You can’t make wise decisions based on other people’s excess baggage. If I do something, I want it to be because I believe it’s the right thing to do, not because it will pacify someone. In the long run, that’s what really matters.