Approval

I fear what others think about me. I worry about it. I even project what I worry people might be thinking about me onto said people and then relate to them on the basis of these projections.

So, yeah, I’ve got issues.

For the better part of my life I have been or have thought of myself as insecure. Ever since I was a kid I have lacked self-confidence. Particularly during adolescence this insecurity was sometimes paralyzing. I could feel trapped in my own little world. Looking at the kids I wished I was, it was like gazing through a window, except instead of a pane of glass the divide was a huge chasm. Crossing it was altogether impossible. I would never be like them or liked by them. Or so I thought at the time.

Things change, and so do we, and by the grace of God I grew in confidence throughout university. Thanks to my growing faith, I began to be able to do things I never could have done when I was in Junior High School. That’s not to say I was a supremely confident young man while in university; rather, God had begun to work in me.

But even now I can still feel insecure. Like I said at the start, I’m afraid of what other people think of me. Not always. I never said I was consistent. Yet I have moments when I feel like that same kid in Junior High. It’s like 25 years or more haven’t even gone by. Despite all the growth, all the so-called progress, in an instant my confidence can disappear.

As far as I can see, then, such struggles are a fundamental part of who I am as a human being. I will never be fully rid of this particular weakness. No matter how far I have come, there are things you can’t leave behind. Indeed, the fact that I struggle with being so concerned about what others think of me is proof that my teenage insecurity is alive and well.

Another thing is that there’s a part of me that seeks and even longs for the approval of others. I want approval to alleviate feelings of insecurity. If I don’t get it or even perceive that I don’t, I will feel very insecure. And perception is a strange thing. I spoke about projections. I also find myself studying peoples faces, tones of voice, and whatever else in order to determine whether in that moment I have their approval. Granted, this isn’t always conscious. But it’s there, especially in those moments where I am acutely self-conscious.

If all of this sounds rather sad, I suppose it is to a point. Though I have overcome these tendencies to a significant degree, thanks, in large part, to my faith in Christ. It’s all a part of that growing process that constitutes the Christian life.

In my last post I talked about having a secure sense of identity, and that this is only possible when we receive our identity from Jesus. Dealing with insecurity and having a desire for approval involves the same territory.

I grew up as the only child of a single Mom. By the time I became interested in who my father was I was already in junior high. Eventually my Mom arranged for he and I to meet. Years later, while chatting with my Mom about this, I happened to mention how I had decided in the end not to go through with meeting him. And my Mom, with a sort of quiet surprise in her voice, said, “That’s not how it happened.” She said, “You did go to meet him but he never showed up.”

Hearing her say this was a real “Whoa!” moment. Imagine how psychologically important it was for me to believe that I had made the decision not to meet him. Consider the need for approval that was all tangled up with my desire to meet my biological father and my mind’s act of protecting me from what really happened. Rather than approval, I experienced rejection. And my sub-conscious erected defensive walls to keep the painful truth at bay. I have no doubt that a connection exists between that adolescent experience and my present day need for approval.

At the outset of his ministry, Jesus heard his Father’s voice say, “This is my Son, my Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” It was acknowledgment of the unity of the Father and Son, and it was also affirmation that Jesus was indeed acting according to his Father’s will and that he had the Father’s approval.

When we come to faith in Christ, we become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. By extension, the words of affirmation and confirmation Jesus heard from his Father are also words that the Father says to us. That is, through Jesus we have the approval of the Father. “You are my sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.”

The great thing is that our approval does not depend on us. Though, yes, we can please God, we can’t earn his pleasure. We can never deserve his approval. The foundation of the pleasure he takes in us, of the approval he offers, is the pleasure he takes in his Son Jesus. That’s the sort of approval that we all long for and the only kind, ultimately, we truly need.

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