Approval Ratings

Update: This post was actually written several years ago. I don’t know why I never published, but just came across it again. Always so relevant. Still meaningful. To Him be the glory. 

I have realized something about myself. I guess it started when I was working on writing out my testimony which I shared at our church a couple of weeks ago. Today I have tangible proof that I really am that person.

All my life I have been seeking approval, to be accepted, and useful in order to prove that I deserve to be here, to prove that people like me. (Testimony to be posted someday in the About section)

As I’ve been trying to clean out boxes and drawers and closets, I found these.  Lots and lots of thank you and birthday cards I’ve saved up over the years from all kinds of people: friends, sponsors, co-workers, students, employees. The common thread – all wonderfully encouraging words of affirmation and thanks. For what, I really can’t tell you now, but it seemed important at the time.

approval ratings

What I do remember, is that feeling of acceptance, approval, affirmation that came with receiving each one of them. “There – proof! I did something right! They like me! They need me!” Those are the best ones, it’s a wonderful feeling to feel needed! They each brought a rush of good feelings – warm, hopeful, energizing, exciting. It gave proof that all the work I put into (whatever it was) was worth it. So I kept them.

Why?  It’s not that I really go back and read them very often. But I know they’re there if I needed to, right?

Why would I need to?

Because I lose that feeling. I begin to believe again that I don’t belong, don’t matter, don’t make any difference, that I’m not important, not liked. I wonder why I’m spending my time doing….what, I’m not really sure anymore.

But it’s even more than that, I think. Really, in the deepest part of my heart I want to please God, to do something that will make my time here on earth count for eternity, make a difference in someone else, in the world. And these words from others give me some sense of security that I’m doing that.

I’m really not that into “stuff”.  That’s not to say I don’t have any — I have plenty!  God has been very gracious, and so has my husband. From the outside I’m sure it looks like materially I have it made. That’s not exactly true, but we are definitely not lacking for the basic necessities or even the fun extras. I used to feel guilty about that. But if God has given good gifts, it’s ok to be thankful and enjoy them, and be willing to share and let go of them at any time as well.  I am ok with that.

What I am “into” is affirmation, words of acceptance, approval, love. I can collect those and hold onto them so tightly, and am always on the lookout for more to add to my collection. What can I do for this person to earn an “atta girl” or “Thank you!”?

So — if that’s true, then who am I really trying to please? God? Others? Or the great big idol of ME?

It comes down to what fulfills me, I guess. Then that is definitely not seeking to be approved by God.

Today, I took this picture, and then threw away the cards. My apologies to those that picked such beautiful heart-felt ones, and took time to thoughtfully write such encouraging words.  Please know that your gift did what you intended and I was certainly blessed. But I can’t let that blessing turn into an idol. Or take my heart away from The One whose approval is the only one I need.

Galatians 1:10:  “For am I now seeking the approval of men or of God?   If I were still seeking the approval of men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

I ask God’s forgiveness for the idol I’ve made of serving man, wanting approval in a form that is tangible, vocal, even re-readable! I want to be willing to serve Him, only Him, in obscurity, even if no one ever notices. I really do want to do that. Why is it so hard? And why do I forget all the ways He really has, tangibly, verbally, in writing sent word after word of affirmation, love, acceptance?

These are the words I want to remember and go back to, the ones that He has whispered over me after a tear-filled prayer, or shouted out in black & white in a time of aimless wondering, “Why, what next?”

Psalm 139:17 “How precious are Your thoughts towards me, O God. How vast is the sum of them”

Isaiah 43:4 “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.”

Romans 9:25 “…and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’.”  

Isaiah 43:12-13 “…and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God. Also henceforth I Am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

1 Timothy 1:12-13:  “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Then there is all of Ephesians chapter 1, really all of Ephesians, if I still need to be reminded all that God did to make me His, to accept me, to love me.

Why do I forget these things, and think of them as less tangible, less validating, less comforting than the words of finite, sometimes fickle human beings written on flimsy pieces of paper destined to burn with the rest of the earth in the final day?

Because I am a finite, sometimes fickle, weak, insecure, needy human being.

And when I admit my weakness, and my neediness, then I can hear Him. He has called, chosen, loved, redeemed, forgiven, and appointed me to His service.

Late last night, I tossed & turned, unable to sleep, my head too full of too many things. And my mind turned to some of these thoughts, in a more despairing way. “Why doesn’t anything I do matter, when I’m trying to help, trying to serve, people tell me thanks, but then life goes on the same, all unchanged!”  Poor me — I don’t count, haven’t made a difference.

In this late, quiet, middle-of-the-night aloneness, I especially returned to the feeling of nakedness and vulnerability that I had giving my testimony a few weeks ago. I’m not really that great of a person, pretty ugly inside in fact, but God saved me! That’s a good thing. Repentance is a good thing! Giving God praise and honor is a good thing!  I had been so thrilled to be able to share what He had done. Now I began to feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid it was really pointless.

Isn’t that always of the enemy?  Convince me that it was a mistake, nothing’s changed, it wasn’t worth it.  But God so graciously reminded me of something else. In the last few days, I’ve had at several women thank me for being willing to share my story. No,  there weren’t any huge words of “wow, that changed my life!” But seriously, what was I expecting? I don’t really know. But I too often forget that changing others is His job, not mine.  My job is to love, obey, be a witness, declare His mighty works, and let Him do the rest. From that reminder, the picture He gave me was of ripples.  The splash is big at the center (that’s the vulnerability that I felt,) but the ripples go all the way out to the shore, getting gentler each step away from the center. I saw these women mentioning it to me again, weeks later, as ripples. He is still using it. I am not the center! It ripples backgroundseems quieter, gentler than what I may have felt, but He is still working and I have no way of knowing, nor even a need to know, how far out the ripples of my obedience in this one area may go. That is all up to Him. I am extremely comforted by that.

That is His affirmation, and even if I never see where the ripple hits the shore of eternity, it is enough to know that He called me into service and I obeyed.

I pray this will be the only approval that I ever need. And I pray that I will remember this when that ugly self-pitying monster starts to wriggle to life again, looking to be fed by human affirmations.

There is only one affirmation I need: God has judged me faithful, He has allowed me to serve Him!

That is enough. I can leave the rest to Him.

Thank you, Father!

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