The like button on Facebook has changed our culture. In this highly socialized world, we hold more power in our ability to dish out digital thumbs than entire news organizations had just ten years ago. With each click, we approve or we don’t.
Our thumbs sway elections, dictate corporate spending, and create instant celebrities overnight.
Approval is a funny thing, though. While we long for it ourselves, we often withhold it from others. We’re like the little hobbit, Sméagol, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As we give into approval, just like the little hobbit gave into the lure of the Ring of Power, it cripples us. It becomes our precious.
I know because I’m a recovering addict.
Like most addictions, it began innocently. As a child, I remember bringing home my first report card, grinning from ear to ear, proud of my perfect grades. Or when I would get a hit during a baseball game, my eyes would wildly scan the sideline for my parents looking for their approval.
Those emotions were natural and pure. But as I grew older, a tension emerged. I began to crave this approval. As a young professional, my passion to succeed began as noble pursuit. I had a genuine desire to use money for great, beneficial things. But that creeping tension to succeed because I would be accepted or popular or worthy was ever-present.
I’m learning that when we become reliant upon approval and allow it to dictate our worth, we forfeit our very identity.
So how do we control our desire for approval and not lose ourselves in the pursuit of it?
The Power of Pride
At some point, I had to realize that I had a problem with approval. That was step one.
Curiously, I began to see that I would err in one of two directions: pride or humility.
When my heart wasn’t in the right place I would either shrug off compliments, a sort-of faux humility, or I would let them feed the thing inside of me that couldn’t get enough.
As I began to notice this polarization, I read this from C. S. Lewis:
“Pleasure in being praised is not Pride…when you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about praise at all, you have reached the bottom…The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you.”
No amount of praise was enough to feed my ego. In the end, my ego threatened to consume the last thing in its path: me.
As I began to notice my polarized response, I started pressing into why I felt the way I did.
Maybe it was my brush with cancer that caused me to gain the perspective that I needed, but truthfully, it has come from an understanding of my true identity.
The Freedom to Serve
In hindsight, approval has never been the issue. If anything, our desire to be loved is inborn. Our longing to be accepted is simply the whisper that our Creator placed in us when we were formed. Moreover, the true desires hiding beneath those longings are incredibly motivating.
But those longings can only be contained within our relationship to Christ. They are too powerful to wrestle on our own strength. It is when our identity is found in Him alone that we no longer need the approval of others to sustain us.
That is where we kill our ego and find true life.
In turn, a true desire to help others and add value to their lives will be birthed out of our knowledge that we are loved beyond measure.
When we accept who we are in Christ, our lives become an expression of His. We begin to live, as He taught, in service to others. When we begin to humbly serve others, we remove the chains of approval.
The gifts that we’ve been given—the beauty, the wit, the artistic ability, the compassion—are but an expression of His beauty, His wit, His artistic ability, His compassion in us.
And that’s precisely why we can’t separate our spiritual life and the rest of our life. They are one in the same. We can’t leave Jesus in church on Sunday and we can’t keep Him boxed in to our Wednesday small group, we have to take Him with us in the every day.
More than anything, I’m learning that He will join us if we invite Him. It’s not easy and it’s not popular. It might not get that many likes on Facebook. But I am finding true freedom, true peace, the more I press into that place.
And that is something that I give a thumbs up to.
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About the Author
Matt Ham is dedicated to guiding others toward rich living. His own experiences have led him to the understanding and freedom of a rich life, and through his RICH Principles he helps folks uncover true richness, identifying real treasure and discovering true joy and contentment.
You can order a limited hardback version of the book at www.redefinerich.com
To contact Matt, visit www.mattham.com/speaking