I don’t struggle with trying to win people’s approval. I don’t calculate the kind of response that will make others admire me in a meeting. I don’t care what people think about my sermons, and I don’t check my blog (dozens) of times a day to see how many likes and shares I’ve gotten.
Except I do. I struggle, calculate, care, and check.
I think over the years I have become a little less driven by people’s approval, but it’s still an issue for me, and it might be for you, too.
Wanting people to like what you offer is not a bad thing. When you put something out there (art, truth, sermons, food, sex) for someone else to enjoy, digest, or participate in, you’re saying, “Here’s a part of me, and I’m offering it to you. I hope you like it!” This is part of what it means to be human. Have you ever watched a 4 year old offer one of his toys, only to be rejected? Tears or fists start flying (at least in my house). We are wired to offer something that delights or nourishes someone else. We are being untrue to our nature when we think we shouldn’t care about how others receive the stuff we put out there.
Getting hurt is part of what it means to love well. I once heard Jean Vanier say that if God really is love, then God must be the most vulnerable person in the universe. To love at all is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable means to be open to the possibility of rejection. Obviously, boundaries should be in place when loving this way becomes unhealthy. But we are created to love like God loves, which is openly and vulnerably.
Now, this is very difficult, because in the age of digital communication where we cannot see each other’s faces, we are losing our ability to be kind to each other. The rancor we see in emails, comments, and on all forms of social media is out of control these days. When you are on the receiving end of one of these, you start making vows: I’m never sharing that again. I’m never trusting them again. I was stupid to think this was valuable, that’s going back in the trunk and never coming out again. But to love like God loves is to keep offering the best of what we have, instead of vowing to put it back in the trunk when it is rejected.
Perhaps some day you will reach the zen-like state where you can vulnerably put your stuff out there and not get hurt. But until then, you have three options to deal with the pain of disapproval:
You can refuse to put your real stuff out there, and be satisfied giving only safe gifts, the ones that are tried and true, but don’t explode and inspire and transform. A lot of people choose this route, and the world is poorer for it.
You can keep putting your real stuff out there, but distance yourself from any real human contact, and refuse to let anything or anyone in (criticism, approval, joy, or pain). Ever met a pastor or writer or CEO who is brilliant on stage or on paper but is terrible with people? They’ve chosen this route.
You can keep putting your real stuff out there, because some people are connecting deeply with it, and they’re connecting most deeply when you’re giving most vulnerably. You’ll keep putting it out there because you’ll remember that you are not your gifts, you are not your blog, you are not your sermon, you’re a person that is separate from your gifs. And what you are is very, very good, regardless of how you are evaluated.
In it together, friends.