The Opinions of Others and The Curse of Approval

There’s a recurrent dream that has been lingering like an unwelcome guest at a coffee shop, interrupting my otherwise peaceful rest. It has haunted me for the past ten years, rearing its head, reminding me of my greatest weakness. For the longest time, uncertainty clouded my judgement as to what the dream actually meant. But years of quiet reflection have brought the nemesis from its hiding place and into the light.

The dream taps into my teenage ambition of becoming a professional baseball player. I find myself as part of a team, playing at either the college level or in a semi-pro environment. However, the dream is riddled with anxiety because it’s been years since I’ve stepped on a field. Of course, I’m up to bat or getting ready to pitch and all eyes are on me. The pressure mounts as I step into a familiar position, but lacking the confidence I once had.

Then, I wake up.

In this most recent episode, I could see my own name HAM written across the back of my jersey. But this time, something different happened. When I woke up, I heard the words, “Your name on the back of a jersey doesn’t validate who you are.”

In a moment of clarity, the dream made perfect sense.

Wrestling with Approval

Growing up, my dream was to play baseball in college, and my life was arranged accordingly. But the summer of my senior season, against popular opinion, I forewent my state championship to go on a mission trip to the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. For ten days, I shed my identity as a baseball player, threw caution to the Caribbean breeze, and served Bahamian children, teaching them about God.

That trip changed everything.

When I returned, I called the baseball office at NC State and declined their invitation to walk on, choosing instead to became involved in ministry as a Young Life leader. For years, I’ve looked back on that decision with angst, wondering what it would have been like to play college baseball.

Baseball was how I defined myself—it was my identity. And once it was gone, my heart began searching for things to replace it—for something to fill the void. Throughout college, it was playing the guitar for Young Life and Campus Crusade. In my early professional career, it was making money. In my marriage, it was providing for my wife. Through the frustrations of financial distress, it was surviving.  After writing my book, it was how many copies we’d sold and getting a publishing contract.

Yet all the while, I was still the little kid who wanted to see his name in lights. Who wanted to look at the back of his jersey with pride, knowing that he’s made it. That truth rips through the facade and exposes me for everything that I am. I’m the guy who finds his identity in the approval of others.

If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone.

More Than a Name

Words of affirmation are my love language. For the majority of my life, I have allowed the opinions to validate who I am. Whether they see me as successful or esteemed has affected how successful or esteemed I actually feel.  And there it hides, part of my DNA, constantly affecting how I see the world.

In my own insecurity I even read these first few paragraphs to my wife asking her if she thought they were worthy. Even in the midst of facing my fears in writing this, I can’t quite let go of what other people will think. But in a culture that has become enamored with being fake, I refuse to hide from the truth.

In order to grow in any capacity, we must seek the truth with reckless abandon. He will answer as he promised. Sometimes, we don’t like the answer He gives us. Sometimes He will shows us that we’re too wrapped up in our own image. But, He is always gracious as He gently brings us into the fullness that we were created for.

When God gave me those words after my dream, He was speaking truth to me. The name on the back of a jersey doesn’t define me. And your job doesn’t define you. Neither does the thoughts and opinions of your in-laws. Neither do the regrets of your past. The One who created you defines you.

God says that you were created in His image—fearfully and wonderfully made.

Do you believe that?

With all of your idiosyncrasies and imperfections and beautiful gifts, you were made with great care and purpose. As the words of Jesus, the Name above all names, echo from the ear drums of the first-century riffraff through eternity and into our hearts, “Even the hairs on your head are numbered.”

If God loves you enough to embrace the tedious task of numbering the hairs on your head, why would you give an iota of energy away to the opinions of others?

In these moments of misplaced focus, we choose to see with a limited, earthly perspective rather than an unlimited, eternal one. Whenever you begin to feel the tension, wrestle those ugly thoughts of others-validation into submission before the supreme-validation of our Father.

Things Above

I ducked out of the office early today because my heart was hungry for the Word of God. I holed into the corner and sipped my dark roast while I read from the book of Mark. In a flash of Holy-Spirited brilliance, the words jumped off of the page. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a stubborn Peter, He was speaking to me.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” —Mark 8:33

Oh, yes. How I so easily shift my eyes and ears from their eternal, kingdom perspective to a temporary, earthly one. I confess, Father, I am guilty. The answer, so clearly expressed in the piercing truth of the Word, is to combat our desire for earthly validation by shifting our mindset to the things above.

Jesus lived this tension and He taught it to His disciples. The Apostle Paul learned it and later penned it throughout his letters to the early Christian church.

“…enemies of the cross of Christ…with their minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…”

“If you have been raised with Christ…set your minds of things that are above…”

As believers in Christ, our identity, our affirmation, our hope, our sustenance, our provision is found in Christ. Yes, we fully engage in our earthly lives with joy, bringing glory to God, but we must not be swayed by the agenda and opinions of this world. We are citizens of heaven with the love and approval of our Father as our rock-solid foundation.

As I look back on my decision to hang up my baseball jersey, I now see God’s story played out. He had to pry my fingers away from baseball to prove to me that my identity was greater than that. Over the years I have reluctantly waned, but His faithfulness has remained. Even through my dreams, He has reminded me of who I am.

So today, may you boldly and courageously embrace the God-shaped identity within. You are a beautiful child of God—fearfully and wonderfully made. As you set your mind on things above, may the worries and circumstances of this life become a footstool to the power of God.

MH

 

About the Author

Matt Ham is a speaker and author of the book, Redefine Rich: A New Perspective on the Good Life. Along with partner, Kevin Adams, Matt is involved with a new social enterprise called You Print. Earlier this year, they launched their podcast called Wake Up Our Faith and this Fall, they’ve announced a new series called Blue Print 4 Life, a resource for becoming God’s expression.

For more, you can sign up for their mailing list at www.wakeupourfaith.com.

Matt also has a free monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to by clicking, here.

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