It's a pretty safe bet that most of us do things without thinking. We have our habits and our routines, our particular personalities that shine through in our words and actions, and our core beliefs which shape how we respond to things and direct us in our actions. We also have past experiences which have shaped the way we see things, affect who we are and can influence the way we live our lives. But how many of us take time to think about the message we are sending to others by our choices, actions, behaviors, responses, etc...?
I'll go out on a limb here and say that most of us don't think about it, and I'll be that first to raise my hand in shame. We all do things unconsciously that send a negative message to others that we don't intend to send. Worse yet, sometimes we do things intentionally to send a particular message, yet we don't realize it's a negative or wrong one, or don't realize what that message really says about us.
For example, when my wife asks me to help with something around the house, and I've got “something else” going on, an all-too-often response from me is to heave a great sigh, reluctantly listen to what she needs, and then reluctantly heed her request. I've even done it with the kids when they want a story read to them. It's unintentional, or course, but what message does it send? It sends the message that I am self-absorbed and that I think I am more “important” than they are, and that their “petty” concerns are not my problem. It says to them, “I don't value or appreciate you” and sends up a huge red flag that I am not letting God live through me as I should. Is that the message I really want to send to my wife and children? Of course not. My intentional response, the one I give when I an actually paying attention and have focused myself properly, would be to act as any Christian would...to show my genuine care for my family and happily and eagerly address the needs that come up, and spend quality time with them. But when I am not paying attention to what I am doing, and have let my prayer life diminish, I give the subconscious and unintentional response.
Or what about work ethic? How many people intend to send the message to their employers that they need their jobs and enjoy having a source of income? My guess would be “pretty much everyone”, with few exceptions. But do we always send this message to our employers? How many people spend their work day grumbling about the amount of work they have to do, or moaning on about the dull atmosphere of the office (instead of trying to do something to make it more lively), or waste company time playing video games or chatting it up on social media when there is still work to be done? I've been guilty of these. What message does that send to my employer? It tells my employer that my job isn't really that important, or that I'm not as interested in getting my work done as I am in just hanging around the office earning a paycheck for nothing.
How about our appearances, and the way we present ourselves? Understandably, some of us may be in financial situations that preclude us from wearing the kinds of attire we'd like, but I believe that the average person, at least in America, is able to dress modestly enough such that their appearance doesn't shout “I want you to objectify me!”. We see it everywhere and hear it from the mouths of adults and children alike: “I want to look cute [for whomever]”, or “Does this make me look sexy?”, or “that's a really sexy outfit/expression/photo/etc...” as though being overly “sexy” in public were a good thing. Depending on what a person thinks makes them look “cute”, the intended message typically does not match the actual one. Instead of saying, “look at me, I'm cute as a button, but please focus on my countenance and treat me as a person”, the person says , “I want others to view me as a sex object...an image-tool for their personal use”. So called “cute” outfits that I have seen, the majority of the time, are designed to objectify people...women in particular. The “cute” or “sexy” apparel and self-posed photographs or “flirtatious” glances tell guys “I am easy”, or “I want you to lust after my body, regardless of whether you respect me as a person”, or “I don't mind being treated like an object by you” or “I don't value myself enough to expect you to value me”. These could be unintentional messages, or intentional ones that the person doesn't realize are wrong to send out. (Why they are wrong could be a whole topic on its own, and has been since the dawn of time.)
And what about our Christian witness? I plead guilty here as well. Whether it be the reluctance to provide or receive charitable fraternal correction, or the over-driven monstrosity that leads us to harp on every little thing and accuse any Christian who doesn't view the Faith exactly the way we do of being “not Christian” on that basis alone, we send the wrong message. Out of fear or human respect, we might hold back from admonishing a fellow Christian who is taken up in some sin or another. The intended message there would be, “I like you so much that I don't want to hurt your feelings and make you feel bad.” But the actual message is, “I don't love you enough to tell you the Truth.” I've been guilty of this. On the flip side, we can get over-zealous and start correcting our brethren for things that aren't objectively wrong, or in matters where great variation is allowed for, or where the circumstances are important and can determine culpability or guilt. I've even witnessed someone raging against someone else for something that the other person wasn't even guilty of. We can scream to people “I love you SOOOOO much that I will hammer you for every single little thing you do and will not rest until I have brought you fully to Christ!!!!” while that person might just be hearing “ I'm scrupulous and a blow-hard and while I am quick to judge the actions of others, I tend to ignore my own faults, which makes me a hypocrite, and I only view things through my own lens which makes me my very own arbiter of Truth.”
As Christians, we are called to give witness. We are called to correct each other, to pluck out the logs from our eyes so that we can remove the splinters from our neighbors', to spread the Good News of Christ, to love one another as ourselves, to express Truth and Charity without compromising either, and to love and serve God above all. How we dress, how we talk, the method with which we correct, our willingness to admit our own faults...all of these things send a message, a witness to people. What message are you sending?