For as long as I can remember I have craved the approval of others. I remember when I was very young, maybe six years old, I asked my Sunday School teacher if I was her favorite student. As I entered middle school, I began to assimilate with those whom I perceived popular. Although rarely nice to me, I felt if I could gain their endorsement then all would be right in my life. I always did everything I was asked or told to do. As a child, I seldom was in trouble and sought to win over my parents by always being “good”. At twelve years old, I was molested by my dad and when I told my mom, fearing her disapproval, I wept as I said “I’m sorry” over and over again.
My teenage years brought higher levels of approval to obtain: fashion, boys, academics, sports, home life, church and spiritual life. I learned that doing certain things would garnish the approval of certain people: writing the best short story earned me awards at writer’s fair, leading a riveting Bible study delivered praise from my youth leader, having certain jeans led to approving comments from popular girls, being great at serving the volleyball brought my coach’s approving smile and even game time.
Each time I earned someone’s approval, I felt my confidence build; my self-worth grow, but it was always short-lived. So I chased approval harder: going farther and farther to milk admiration wherever I could. And when I didn’t earn it in one area, it would dash my self-esteem and motivate me to perform elsewhere. When my mom was upset with me, my boss would remark on my work ethics. But when my boss had to give even slight corrections, I would strive to get compliments from a friend or guy. I found myself in compromising situations on occasion because I wanted someone to like me. Even as an adult, I would carry certain handbags, wear the latest styles, dress my kids a certain way (or try to), be the best cook, or have the best stuff so that people would think I was the best. When I could not perform in one area of life, I compensated in others.
My tank of motivation has always been fueled by words of admiration. It’s my primary love language, and I always thought that if I could make everyone happy at the same time, I would be fulfilled. I take criticisms very personally, and always have. If someone disapproves of something I’ve done or dislikes something I have, then I feel they do not like, or even love me. I find myself exhausted trying to meet, and continually failing, certain expectations.
Several years ago, I was at possibly one of the lowest points of my life. At risk of losing everything, I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. I cried out to God and in my prayer, I said “I just want to be loved for who I am, no matter what I do”. It was in that moment that I heard God’s voice louder than ever before: “I approve of you.” As I crumbled under the weight of what that meant, my heart began to heal from all the years, decades, of brokenness. The God of all the universe approved of me. Of me. The gravity of that began to swallow me: it wasn’t because I had done anything right or avoided wrong. It is not because of what I’ve done, but because of who He is. His stamp approval is engraved in the palm of his hands as two nail scars from being hung on the cross for me.
In Galatians 1:10, Paul asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ”. Even Paul struggled with this issue of receiving the approval of man. I believe many women find themselves in this situation: they want their parents, their children, their friends, husbands, employers, church to approve of them and find it exhausting trying to be all things to all people. They are perpetuating their low self-value by the inability to meet their perceived expectations.
I want to tell you, friend, that you (and I) cannot make everyone happy at all times. You may not be the best at everything, and no one else is, either. You may have shortcomings, and people will like you anyway. You may over cook your supper. You may gain weight. You may not win. You may not be able to afford THAT handbag. You may yell at your kids. You may let laundry pile up or the dust build. But that is not WHO you are. And God still approves of you. Just as you are. God will give us the strength to fulfill our obligations, but he will also help us let go, as our friend Elsa would suggest.
I’ve come to the realization that it is okay to care what people think, but when I give my best, it’s also okay if they don’t think it’s enough. We cannot live life seeking man’s approval, we are servants of Christ. And he approves.
Oh my Lord, thank You for being approving of me. Your love is all I seek. Help us to run after your approval and not the approval of those around us. Guide our steps in the ways You would have us go and open our eyes to see Your glory shine through all we say and do. Amen.