The Conundrum of Approval

“If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing.”- Margaret Thatcher.

approvedChapel with David Choi

In Chapel at Moody, we had a quest speaker, David Choi, from the church of the Beloved. One point in his sermon stuck out to me. He said, “We’re all trying to find security… We’re trying desperately to find validation in our identities.” He shared all the masks that he had worn throughout his life. Growing up as a Korean, he struggled academically to please his father. He always got A’s, but it was never good enough. Then he moved to a boarding school in the Midwest where everyone was smarter than him, so he tried to be the athletic and funny class clown. Then he went to Wheaton where everyone was a spiritual leader and president of their respective Bible Clubs, so he led a youth group. Then he went to seminary in Boston where he again wanted to fit in and show off. It was a never ending game of charades.

My masks

As he was sharing, I couldn’t stop my head form nodding. I know what it’s like to wear a mask, to become a social chameleon so that others would accept me. So often my desire for validation and approval dictates how I spend my time, money and energy, what I blog about or post on facebook. It determines my job and educational degrees. To this day I am still trying to prove my worth to the middle school bullies who made fun of me and ignored me, a decade and a half ago. I put on the smart/tough/able/invincible MJ mask, but it is exhausting and ultimately the only one receiving approval is the mask. This is the conundrum of approval; the more one seeks it, the less likely one will gain it. It is a never ending vicious cycle that is apparent in some of the most beautiful and successful people of the world. There are fashion models who never accept that they are beautiful and keep trying harder and harder to gain that ever elusive sense of worth. Approval is a drug that never satisfies and continually keeps one begging for more and more.

There’s a quote that Dr. Ben shared from Anne Lamott and I thought it was an accurate depiction of humanity. “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.” No one is exempt; some are better at hiding it than others.

But how does one gain approval? By not needing it.

One characteristic I highly admire is fearlessness. When I hear the word “fearless,” one person I think of is Frida Kahlo. As an artist her style was daring and unique. No one else painted like her and no one else dressed like her, but that did not matter to her. She expressed what she felt and in the end that is what gained the approval of others.

Another example comes from business. Often business owners try to cater to every type of customer. For example, a photographer will say that he does weddings, babies, nature, animals, etc. But once he tries to cater to everyone, he actually is catering to no one. It is a better for a business owner to narrow down his customers and focus on a few. I read somewhere that the difference between an artist and a politician is that an artist focuses on the few that appreciate their work, while a politician focuses on the majority that dislikes him. Artists/Writers/Musicians express what they feel needs to be said, not necessarily that which will gain them popularity.

Ultimate Approval has already been given

Of course ultimately as Christians, we know our source of approval.

“Before the foundations of the world, He loved you. Before the fall of Eden, He loved you. Before He sent His Son splitting through the cosmos to this world, He loved you. Before He died upon the cross, He loved you. When He rose again, He loved you. And He’s coming back again because He loves you. When you took your first breath, He loved you. When you messed up bad, He loved you. When you made good grades, He loved you. When you won and when you lost, He loved you.” -Jennifer Dukes Lee

David Choi finished his sermon by sharing our true identity; it is the identity that never changes, no matter how much we mess up. We are sons and daughters of the Most High King. God did not/does not begrudginly save us. He was not there watching us saying, “Oh, I hope he doesn’t get saved.  Darn, looks like I’ll have to let that one into heaven.” Quite the contrary, God wants to be with us more than we could ever want that for ourselves. He wants his children close to him.

I love Galatians because in chapter 3:2,3 St. Paul gets sarcastic. He says,

“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

He calls them foolish. How could they be saved by faith and then all of sudden think it was their actions that could save or unsave them? That’s nonsense, but it’s something we Christians always think subconsciously. We think, “Uh oh, God’s not going to like me anymore.” However, later in chapter 5 Paul says, “It is for freedom that you have been set free.” We were not freed from sin to enter another bondage of sin management or the vicious cycle of seeking approval. God has already given us the stamp of his approval.

You are a child of the Most High King

One of the saddest thing for me to see is passion-less Christians.  I know often I personally forget my identity and let doubt and bitterness seep in.  Shame and guilt are so familiar that I go back to negative thinking and the hamster cage of trying to earn others’ approval. I also try to gain God’s approval even though it is only by Christ that I am approved, not by any works. I constantly need reminders of who I am in Christ. I constantly need to speak truth to myself and others. I constantly need to be reminded of the gospel.

I am a Princess of the Most High King and so are you (or Prince).

Do you wear masks? How do you try to gain approval from those around you? Has there ever been a time when fear dictated your actions? How do you see your identity in Christ? How do you remember your true identity?

One comment

  1. This is another thought provoking article MJ. I have several thoughts but I need to process what you are saying here and wait until I return from my trip.

    I think this article is SO good in fact that our readers are speechless!