I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I know that this time of year has brought so much stress and excitement for our family, but it has been wonderful to have all of us back together for the winter break. I swear it feels like the period of time in between my last post and now has been a whirlwind; time is flying by faster than I even anticipated for my senior year, and sometimes I’m not even sure how to take it all in. I just finished up my (last) fall semester, so things have settled down for the time being and I’m so grateful to finally have the time to sit down and write! So here comes a post about something that has weighed heavy on my heart throughout the past few months: seeking approval. Here goes.
While I know that my desire to have others approve of me is something that inherently manifests itself in my life on a daily basis, lately it has plagued my actions and my relationships in ways that are much more evident. I have been so blessed by the friendships that I have built throughout these past few years in college, and as our friend group has grown closer and closer we have sought each others’ counsel on virtually every aspect of our lives. Senior year has made this dynamic interesting, because we’re all starting (with great hesitation) to come to terms with the fact that our close-knit group won’t always be sitting in our living room discussing life decisions — come May, we won’t have this support system in the same way we’ve known it while living together for two years. This has been difficult for me, because what I haven’t realized all this time is that I have become increasingly more dependent on the advice of my best friends. This has never been a bad thing, because my friends are some of the most dependable people I know — unfortunately, this concept of approval has slowly manifested itself in some of the worst ways over the past few months.
I think the thing that gets us the most about approval is that our dependency doesn’t hit us until we’re in withdrawal. It’s one thing to be accepted, and it’s another to be approved of — somewhere along the line, simply being accepted isn’t enough anymore. If you remember from my last post, I was recently grappling with a decision that I honestly didn’t know what side to come down on. It wasn’t a matter of a good thing vs. a bad thing, it was just a question of choosing one path over another and for several weeks, all I did was mull over this decision in my prayers and in my conversations. I had obviously enlisted the advice of my closest friends, but because I was so divided on the issue, the situation ultimately turned into me collecting everyone’s opinions and allowing them to add to the white noise that was already distracting me from my convictions and discernment in where God was leading me. I knew that the people who were taking the time to discuss this decision with me were weighing in out of a genuine intent to take care of me, but I had allowed my need for approval to take their input and let it reign supreme. Even when I had finally made a decision in my heart, the question that constantly ran through my mind was, “what if no one else is happy for me?”
When it was all said and done, when I had finally prayed enough about it all to trust my own judgment, when I finally decided that choosing one option was worth the price of forgoing the other, I made the unpopular decision. In some ways, I’m grateful that there was such a thing as an “unpopular” decision — it meant that my friends cared about me enough to want to truly weigh in on what they believed was best for me. I was still accepted, but the approval I had never realized I leaned on so much was suddenly gone. At first I was upset, but then I realized that if the tables were turned — if one of my friends had been in the same boat and they made a decision that I didn’t think was best — I would have stood there proudly disapproving too.
Shame on me. Because what all of this showed me is that what I’m hoping to receive from others is the very thing I’m willing to withhold from my closest friends when it benefits me to do so.
You see, this story isn’t about how I was needlessly disapproved of while making a decision in confidence. No, the real story is that when all of the truths came to light in this situation, I realized more than ever before that all too often, I want my friends to seek my approval more than they seek God’s. I want them to know that I, in all of my wisdom and intellect, know what is best for them even when they don’t — because I just know. I’ve always thought that this was what it meant to care about the people I love the most, that tough love was really the only way to go, and that being honest about disapproval was fruitful. And maybe that whole concept worked when we were living our lives in grade school and following the cookie-cutter process of growing up, but now we’re about to graduate and make so many different decisions, all equally important and valid. Who am I to tell any of my peers that my plan for them is better than their own? More importantly, who am I to tell them that my plan is better than where God is leading them?
That’s the thing about approval — it continues to consume us more and more. In my case, I became more stingy with my approval of others when I realized I wasn’t receiving it as much from my friends. The reality is that the Lord has never led us down a path by holding His approval over our heads like we often do in our friendships. Jesus poured out His blood so that we would always have approval by our Heavenly Father; He loved us so deeply that the word “approval” doesn’t even begin to cover the way God looks at us. I think it’s because the Lord has always been after our hearts, and He knows us well enough to know that using approval to give a positive or negative connotation to a situation only leaves us burdened and desperate, not open and willing. And if He loves us this way, shouldn’t I strive to love my friends in the same manner?
What I’m most grateful for is that God chooses to show me some of my worst flaws in the most safest of places — I can’t think of a better time to come to terms with the enemy of approval than in my last semester of college. As some of the biggest decisions yet begin to present themselves to myself and my friends in the coming months, I will have to constantly remind myself that these are not my decisions to make. God has His mighty hand in all of this, working in the most broken parts of our hearts to bring us closer to Him — and He will manifest His will through all kinds of decisions that are far beyond my ability to understand. Who am I to think that anyone’s approval can outweigh God in the debate of one decision versus another? Praise Him that He is over all things, because this situation and so many others have shown me that I have never been in a position to tackle this life on my own.
I know that there will be times when the people I love the most will make a decision that I can’t understand the rationale behind, and my first instinct will be to shake my head and point fingers, all the while believing that my disapproval is just a demonstration of love. But really all I’m doing is claiming in my heart that God isn’t more powerful than the decisions we make, and it all goes downhill from there. God never called us to be the judge, and for good reason. Praise Him for being the most gracious Judge that we will ever know.