By Rob Beames
“Hello, my name is Rob.”
“I’ve been a member of AA for 28 years now. I made my last poor decision a few days ago when I told a half truth, so a friend of mine wouldn’t think I was stupid. I’ve been approval free ever since. I vow never to do it again!”
You’ve probably never said anything like that in a support group, but most of us probably could. As long as blood runs through our veins, we remain proud members of a much less famous organization also known as AA: Approvaholics Anonymous. Much like its counterpart for alcoholics, many of its members never fully recover, in this case, from the habitual inclination to look for the approval of others.
For better or for worse, we are wired to desire and to seek the approval. Originally, created in perfection, this innate need is interwoven into our very fiber, and is, by design, for our good. Our wise and benevolent Creator gave it to us so that we would remain connected to Him. In a state of perfection, it keeps us focused on our dependence on the only One able to fulfill our deepest longings. Our existence is one of desperate need— He provides every breath and every beneficial action is a prompting of His Spirit. If we hold any other mind-set, we live a delusion. We fool ourselves if we think we live, act or exist for a moment without Him.
Because God is (to paraphrase Frozone’s wife in Disney/Pixar’s, “The Incredibles,”) the only good we’re ever gonna need, we do ourselves a huge disservice every time we seek someone else’s approval above God’s.
Since we were made to love and to be loved by others, we want others to approve and accept us. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it becomes an issue when our decisions and actions are based on how family and friends respond. It’s tough enough trying to keep this circle of influence happy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. For approvaholics, anyone we meet quickly becomes a prospect for approval. Even those we’ve never met can control our behavior, generally speaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us wouldn’t follow rules, if we didn’t care what others think of us. But this becomes problematic when try to be someone we’re not in order to please others, and our self worth fluctuates with what others think of us at the moment.
Even when we’re feeling good, we are selling ourselves short. In His Word, God is constantly affirming how great an esteem He has for us. To the degree which we continue to read and believe these truths, we want for nothing more.
For example, we are told that:
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence… For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:12,14-20).
Maybe we do not feel that God could possibly approve and accept us “as is,” but Paul points out that even our small faith in Christ entitles us to approach God with great confidence. Because God esteems Jesus with the perfect love that only He deserves, we are free, not only to associate with God, not only to be His friends, but we are given His very name and are members of the family of God. It is out of His riches that He plants us and establishes us in a love so great that we are unable to grasp its vastness.
In fact, this just doesn’t make sense, and so give up trying to understand it and instead look to flawed people like ourselves to confirm that we are okay. Unfortunately, the only thing others validate about us is that we are horribly broken, and that we are not even close to mending things on our own. That’s why Paul prays that we will discover that God loves us in spite of our pitiful state. He prays that we believe by faith that God loves us in this amazing, unconditional way, even though it surpasses our knowledge and makes no sense to us.
And it’s a good thing that it doesn’t make sense. If at any time we start to feel that we warrant God’s love, then we lack some serious perspective, which in turn inhibits a harmonious relationship with God.
On the other hand, when His power is at work within us, we are filled with His fullness, rather than becoming full of ourselves. To be filled with Him is to be emptied of ourselves and to know that we are worthless no matter how well we think we’ve done, or how many people speak well of us. Yet, the reverse is also true. No matter how low we sink, or how much we may disappoint others, we know God proudly embraces us without hesitation.
Since we know that, by faith, we have incredible value in God’s eyes and His unqualified approval, we need not seek it anywhere else. Our worth in Christ becomes the power that produces bravery in awkward situations, courage as we face painful rejection, and love when we feel only ridicule from others.
Of course, progress can only begin in Aprovaholics Anonymous once we admit we have a problem. Just as the alcoholic learns he doesn’t need a drink to get him through the day, we recovering approvaholics can learn one day at a time, that with Christ dwelling in our hearts, we have all the approval we need.
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this!)