Recently, a wise friend of mine mused whether people liked him for who he truly is or what he did for them.

I started wondering that for myself too. And how does one tell the difference anyway? I think it depends on the motives of the giver and the perceptions of the receiver.

Deep down, we all want to be loved for who we are, for better and worse, for our beauty and beastliness. But oftentimes and all too easily, we deprive ourselves and each other of this experience of true acceptance.

For those of us who need to be liked, we do things at the expense of who we are to secure people’s affections. But then, we do ourselves in by earning likeability. We create a situation where we become uncertain about our true worth because we got in our own way.

Conversely, we can do things for others that have nothing to do with whether we like them or not (e.g. like those of us in care-giving professions). And yet because these recipients FEEL personally cared for and loved, they may misconstrue our actions as expressions of personal affection, and value us for making them feel good. Needless to say, this misperception sets up false expectations (sometimes played out as romantic feelings), is bound to disappoint, and tempts the disappointed to devalue us. So while we can only safeguard ourselves from being misconstrued up to a certain extent, we can definitely work towards being more cognizant of misattributing people’s regard for us based on how we feel. If we are not cognizant, we may end up devaluing people when they make us feel bad or overvaluing them when they make us feel good. And that’s not loving them for who they are.

To resist earning affection and determining the value of people by how they make us feel is tough work though. It requires us to look in the mirror and see things we don’t like about ourselves. It requires self-awareness, courage, discipline, and a whole lot of honesty. This look in the mirror can be scary, especially if we’ve convinced ourselves that there is not much to genuinely like in the first place.

I’ve looked in the mirror before, survived (it feels like death), and I need to do it again, sooner than later. It’s a sucky place to be, but that’s where I’m most receptive to God’s grace and his process of redeeming the life He’s given me.