Several years ago, I remember going to the first sessions of the Apprentice Experience. These sessions were led by people that I truly admired and had learned so much from. Instead of sitting under their teaching and soaking in the wisdom and the potential for insight that God would provide through them I found myself trying to come up with impressive things to say and keen insights that others would find clever and deep. I wanted others to know how spiritually mature I was and that I was on par with these great teachers.
How quickly my superficial and shallow make up showed up in a setting that was supposed to be spiritual and full of learning and experiencing God. I discovered I had a lot of Growing Up to do in the area of seeking approval and attention.
The word approval looks so innocent on the page or the screen. You would never know that its power has caused such misery across human history. Our efforts to find approval, even from people we don’t even know, has so consumed many of us that our own personalities are lost and our true selves are put to death. I have known men and women whose sole criteria for the worth of an institution like a church, a job, a small group, or a set of friends was how much praise and attention they got out of it.
I am not much different. I am often jealous and envious of others who receive praise and attention or always seem to be the apple of people’s eyes. I like to demean those people in my own mind and argue to myself and sometimes others why they are not so great. What I am doing is playing the comparison game. With 7.8 million people in the world, this comparison game will never stop and I will always find someone that gets more attention, is more appealing to others, receives more praise, and accomplishes more. There is not a more unwinnable game on earth than the comparison game.
When I find myself seeking attention and wanting people to notice me and trying to impress others, I also notice that I am weakened, fragile emotionally, straining and grasping and exhausted. This is no way to live.
To get me out of this rut I have to turn to scripture because within scripture I find words, stories, and truth of who I am outside of the approval of others. I have to seek Jesus and know that he is seeking me. I love the classic benediction of “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” I find favor in God, I find attention from God, I find love and compassion from God, and I find peace. Dallas Willard often talked about the experience of Jesus coming right up to you and saying, “I love you! I approve of you!”
In my life, I have been controlled by the approval of others and when I don’t receive it then I can get bitter and resentful very quickly. I have to remind myself that my ultimate approval comes from God not from anyone else. For God so loved me that he has given me his own son to love me, teach me, befriend me, and die for me.
What more approval do I need?