Friends, I have a confession to make: as a 30-year-old man, I can still find myself very concerned with what other people think about me. As a matter of fact, until very recently, I think I could have safely been labeled an “approval addict”. Sure, I think most of us can look back at our middle and high-school years and remember being extremely concerned with gaining the acceptance of our peers. We had to have just the right clothes, listen to just the right music, have that car or hang out with that group. Perhaps we even allowed peer-pressure to affect our choices involving drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. in a very negative way. After all, desiring acceptance is just a natural and normal part of growing up, right?
But perhaps you, like me, have found that you never really grew out of that peer-based system of approval. Now, as “grown-ups”, we continue to be very concerned with the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, what cell-phone we have, etc. It has been said that “we spend money we don’t really have, to buy things we don’t really need, to impress people we don’t really like!” Pretty ridiculous when you actually think about it, isn’t it? If we’re really honest with ourselves, I believe we will find that we’re prone to this unhealthy belief-system because we have a real fear of experiencing rejection or disapproval from others if we don’t “measure up” to their standards.
In my own life, I’ve found that I do certain things to gain the approval of others in order to feel good about myself. I believe that growing up without a dad left me looking for love (in the form of acceptance and approval) in “all the wrong places”. I wanted to be liked which included everything at all costs, and found myself participating in all kinds of things that I knew to be wrong just to feel “cool” and to avoid being rejected. This approval-addiction eventually led to serious devastation in my life, ultimately causing me to cry out to God and ask Him to come into my heart and rescue me.
However, I can now see how my approval-addiction simply carried over into my new life in Christ, and how it has flourished here. I constantly make comparisons to others, finding that I feel better about myself when the comparison is made to someone I perceive to be “more sinful” or “less spiritual” than I. However, I experience feelings of inferiority and guilt when I hear someone talk about their devoted and disciplined spiritual life that I believe to be far better or “more godly” than mine. Bottom line? I often find myself measuring up against others’ behavior and their opinions of myslef, instead of trusting in what my Heavenly Father has to say about my worth and value. Practically, when I’m around Christians, I may say or do certain things to seem really godly or spiritual, or act like I’ve got it all together and I have no struggles. When I’m around people outside of the faith, I may be hesitant to share Christ or to take a stand for Him, because I’m afraid of facing rejection or ridicule.
In The Message Bible, Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” The New King James Version put it this way: “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” You see, the problem with allowing the opinions of others to control our lives is that they are fallen humans, just like everyone else is. People are fickle. One minute they like you, and the next, when you do something they disagree with or disapprove of, they don’t. This is the “disabling snare” that the Bible speaks of, that can leave us confused emotionally and paralyzed spiritually.
Take a moment to consider what the Bible has to say about us, God’s children. In Psalm 139, the Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (verse 14), and that His thoughts towards each of us outnumber the sand on the seashore (verses 17-18). Matthew 10:30 tells us that God has the very hairs of our head numbered. Psalm 56:8 says that He keeps our tears in a bottle–that He is so intimately aware of our lives that He keeps track of every tear we cry. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul tells us plainly that nothing can separate us from the love of God, because of what Jesus has done for us. And, because the Bible tells us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), His opinion of us will never change!
In my own life, learning and meditating on biblical truths, like the above, is beginning to bring me great freedom from my addiction to the approval of others. The truth is that we are accepted, approved and worthwhile only because of Jesus and His sacrifice for us on the cross. How we measure up, what others think of us, the religious things we do or don’t do – all these things have no bearing or value in God’s economy. If you are struggling with an approval addiction, I pray that you will dig into God’s Word to find out for yourself what He has to say about you. When you grab ahold of His truth about your value, you will experience freedom like never before, and truly be able to serve Him wholeheartedly, without fear or hesitation.
“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free,” (John 8:36, NLT).