Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I recently finished reading “Messy Spirituality” and one of the books on my “read-soon” pile is “Simple Spirituality”. Once I have finished that book, I think I will write a book titled “Simply Messy Spirituality”.

Because it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Or maybe a lot of the time?

Those who read my blog hopefully recognize it for its openness and honesty. I feel compelled to write about something now which is sort of messy. I’m opening myself up here and hopefully some of you will feel led to open yourselves up a bit with some comments as well.

Here goes … I struggle with an addiction to the need for approval / affirmation. There – I said it! But, do you want to know the really messy part? I have seen this in myself a lot more since I have been on a serious faith journey than I did before. Now, some folks may say that is just because I am now more self-aware but I don’t think so. I think it instead comes from my own inability to admit to my brokenness and my lack of “perfection.” I guess that pride is largely at the root of it.

When I was younger, in school and college, I never struggled with peer pressure. I sort of marched to the beat of my own drummer. I was usually a reasonably well behaved kid and young man and I tended to not go along with the crowd. I was comfortable with that. I was comfortable inside my own skin. I was okay being who I was and I really didn’t feel this need for approval or affirmation from others.

But, since I have been on a serious faith journey, I have struggled with that need to know that I am doing okay. There’s this sense of “Am I doing this right?” which needs to be fed that then feeds into a “Please tell me I’m doing this right!” plea. I really don’t like that. I feel like the little kid performing a new trick or stunt, nervously and repetitively asking their parents “Mom! Dad! How am I doing? Huh? Huh? How am I doing?”

We talk a lot about freedom in Christ and I have written a lot about trying to get rid of my “self” but yet this need for approval seems to never leave me. On an intellectual and theological level, I understand the concept of my worth coming from God, not man. And I absolutely love that because it does hearken back to my days of marching to the beat of a different drummer and being completely comfortable with that.

But the deeper I get into spirituality, it seems the more I crave affirmation. And I expected it to be the other way around!

And, to make matters worse, the further I go on my faith journey, the more I want to question things, the more I want to push the envelope in my theology and beliefs, the more I want to fight injustice, the more I want to give grace, and the more I demand grace. But, unfortunately, the more I demand affirmation and acceptance from man rather than seeking it from God. Will I ever be able to live on God’s affirmation and acceptance alone?

(NOTE: The following is a DIGRESSION but read it any way if you wish.)
I was meeting last week with some friends from church when one commented that she really doesn’t “get” all the lingo that we tend to toss around as church folk. My how I loved hearing her say that! One statement she picked on was how often we say something that sounds like “I love seeing the Jesus in you!” I’ve said it many a time myself. But, as my friend said, “I don’t know what that means.” And, you know, I wonder, too, what we mean by that. It seems to be something we say which affirms another believers’ need for approval and affirmation. But, really, what do we mean by it? Are we implying that the only reason a non-believer (who would presumably not have any Jesus in them) would do something good is because of some self-serving interest? Do we really believe that? Part of me at points has wanted to believe that the only non-self-serving good things people do are of Jesus. But, is that really true? I don’t know. I am not 100% certain of that.

I’d love to hear what you have seen happen to your need for approval over the years, especially before and after your faith journey. Has your need for approval decreased since finding freedom in Christ (which seems to be the way it should work) or have you seen it stay the same or even increase?

If you’ve seen it decrease, I really want to hear from you and hear what that has been like. (I will assume you’ll be doing some proper reflection and introspection on this and not just giving the typical “churchy” answer that would be accepted, and expected, by fellow believers.)

If you’ve seen your need for approval increase, I’d love to hear from you as well. For one thing, I will simply feel affirmation if you tell me your story. And affirmation seems to be what I am seeking. But, beyond that, I pose the question to you as well: Will you ever be able to live on God’s acceptance and affirmation alone? Are we really capable of that? Really really really?

Thanks for your honesty and input. Comment away!

  posted at 10:48 AM  

At 12:32 PM, Blogger HeyJules said...

Oh I'll be commenting alright but let me stew over this for awhile.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger flowergirl said...

Wow, you are thinking some deep thought today, Todd. I think at some level approval seekers are actually accountability seekers. When I became more aware of how God impacts my life when I let him be in control, I also felt the need to "check with people" more. I truly want them to be honest and tell me if I am on the right path. It is a human thing and gives us a reason to reach out to those around us to see if they share the same feelings. I believe we are capable of living on God's acceptance and love alone but it is a journey and that is why we are called to live in community and love one and other.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Todd M said...

Thanks, FG. I have also thought a lot about the accountability seeking. I think there is something to that.

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is approval wrong? Can there be such a thing as "healthy narcissism?"

I don't think the point is to "get rid of 'my' self" but conversely is to really understand who you are. We (Christians) often quote John 3:30, "He must increase and I must decrease" as a way to justify this way of thinking.

I would like to suggest that at the core of the Christian life is coming up with a healthy understanding of who I am. Part of what I need (and I mean all of us) is affirmation from others. That is what it means to be a part of a community. If we were meant to live as solely individualistic nomads off by ourselves, then it would be different. Btu we were created for relationship. Part of relationship means we understanding who we really are.

What I deal with (and I would argue most of us) is that I draw my worth from what others think (or I perceive they think) of me. This definition makes me much more prone to poor boundaries (saying yes to everything) and taking responsibility for things that aren't mine (making everyone happy).

I think your heightened sense of wanting to please people is your people pleasingness moving from the unconscious to the conscious. Yes, you never chewed or hung out with girls that do, but I imagine you have always had a strong streak of it running through your life. What you are seeing is the veil being pulled back. The dark glass is becoming a bit clear. That is a good thing. That is something you need to thank God for the eyes to see and then adjust accordingly.

There is my two cents. Won't buy you a second cup of coffee at Tim Horton's but there it is anyway....

At 11:39 AM, Blogger HeyJules said...

And now I will weigh in (and let's hope I don't break the scale!)

I thought about this and thought about this and I think the other two people who responded came up with some very good thoughts as well. (They certainly make total sense and are well thought out...not the usual "I'm a believer" packaged sermons you were hoping to avoid.)

My thought is this: Our egos are the driving force in our mental lives. Our egos and ids and superegos will do almost ANYTHING to keep the status quo the status quo - even if that means eventual destruction. So...if you are becoming more and more like Christ and less and less like your original, sinfilled self...wouldn't it make sense that the ego would start to holler and yell and scream for some attention? I don't want to equate the ego with satan but if we are, at the core of who we are, fallen - doesn't it then mean that we are basically self-centered, egotistical sinners? And if we move away from that towards discipleship and onto sainthood, wouldn't it give our egos a bit of a stir that who we are at the core is being dissolved and replaced?

To sum it up...

You are becoming more christ-like (meaning you are moving away from the fallen version of a human that you originally were) and the ego is afraid of that person being extinguished so it is hollering out for the approval it thinks you need. My guess is there will come a tipping point where the new you will overtake the old one and the need for the ego to dwell on approval will quiet down and, eventually, die. My other guess is that you're nearing that tipping point and it's screaming at its loudest to keep you from making that final transition to becoming the real you you were always meant to be.


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Todd M


An ordinary guy. A wife I love very much. A great son. Wonderful friends. A metal roofing business and a sales training business. A loving church family. A few trade associations. A Christian school. And a four-pound poodle. Just trying to follow God and see where He leads.

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