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Conquering the Need for Approval, Part Two

Break Up with Your Anxious Life

Here’s a Bible verse to strike fear into the heart of any legalist:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)

The world is full of good that needs doing. And I can’t possibly do it all. So, this verse triggered anxiety (and also co-dependency) in me for years.

Now, I understand that James was telling his readers to seek God’s will.* The exhortation isn’t, “Do all the good there is to do.” Rather, it’s to do the good you ought to do, as God presents it to you.

Through the Twelve Steps, I came to understand that the gift of seeking God’s will is that it freed me from being a slave to other people’s will. Step Eleven says this:

We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, asking only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.

In my twenties and thirties, it was easy to make me feel ashamed and anxious. I feared loss of community and belonging if I didn’t comply with the desires of my family, the to-do lists of my church and all the needs/wants of my friends and neighbors. I also feared my own conscience, which would call me all kinds of names. If certain people or authority figures didn’t approve of my behaviors or decisions, I was a nervous wreck.

I’ve gained a tremendous amount of peace and power over the last eight years by conquering this need for approval. Almost daily I practice Step Eleven and I’m sometimes surprised by God’s will. It’s often simple, like taking care of my house, my body, and my kids. Sometimes it’s harder, like telling the truth, saying “I’m sorry,” or ending a relationship. It’s often going to bed on time, waiting, or doing the next right thing. And a lot of the time, I feel like I’ve done enough.

But to get to this daily Step Eleven-induced loveliness, I had to engage with this deeper, broader questioning of myself first, which I would like to share with you today. Asking ourselves these questions will help us decide what defines “good” and God’s will, and who we have given power over our lives.

Who’s your judge? Who decides whether you are righteous or guilty?

In religious circles, we feel “bad” when we don’t fill our quota of good deeds. This also happens as we engage in charity work, social justice work, or community volunteering. We can also be pressured by extended family or friends to prove ourselves through what they define as acts of love. Are you angling for the “Good Christian Woman” title? Are you struggling to earn “Good Daughter” status?

Who’s your teacher? Who decides what it is important for you to know and what are the most valuable skills for you to have? We choose our “teachers” all the time: the authors we read, the influencers we follow, the personal trainer we hire, the news show we watch, the financial adviser we take advice from, even the pastor we choose to sit under on Sunday. We need to choose these teachers carefully, and critically examine what they tell us. No teacher is flawless. Some will push us to over-value worldly things that are out of step with God’s will. Is everything your fallible human pastor says something you have to swallow whole to be in God’s good graces? (The answer is no.)

Who is your taskmaster? Who decides when you have done enough and can rest? Your taskmaster might be the PTA president at your child’s school who is desperate for volunteers. It could be your mother who expects a certain quota of phone calls and a certain quality of cooking for holidays. Early in my motherhood, I was cooking nightly dinners with three side dishes like it was 1950, and my husband asked me, “Who are you doing this for?” “Um. My grandmother?” I replied. A lot of the “should’s” and “must’s” that exist in our heads are not our own voice, but the voice of someone from our past that shouldn’t have nearly the amount of power we’ve given them.

Who is your daddy? Who names you, calls you his own, and gives you an inheritance? (See the first blog in this series, Meeting the Need for a Name.) Who provides emotional protection? Who loves you no matter what, and never withdraws his presence from you? I hope your earthly father did this well; I hope your earthly mother loved you awesomely; but they didn’t do it perfectly.

God is our only true judge, and he has declared us righteous by grace through faith. Jesus offers to be our teacher and task master, with an easy yoke and invitation to rest. God is our father, and Priscilla Shirer, one of my favorite Bible teachers, preaches on “who’s your daddy” so well, I hope you will take three minutes and watch to watch her here.

No approval from any person can ever bring the peace to you that God can. However, conquering the need for approval is not declaring, “God loves me, so I don’t care what anyone thinks of me!” That’s a recipe for being a big, fat jerk, as you have probably seen in the world. The Bible is clear that our character suffers when we don’t get wise feedback.

Instead, our anxiety for approval is healed by choosing to value the opinions of those who are truly valuable. You get to choose your spiritual parents, to hunt for and invest in mentors that will love, nurture, protect and instruct you. You can be discerning in the teachers you choose to follow. You can work to earn the praise and good opinion of people who truly know and love you, who have your best interests at heart, are spirit led, wise, and brave enough to give you honest feedback. And you can, through prayer, meditation and scripture reading, improve your conscious contact with God.

Tune in next week for how to conquer the need for approval in the context of conflict – or in the context where you think someone is mad at you, when maybe they aren’t.

* Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4: 13-17

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