I Don't Need Your Approval
Deep down, we all care what the other person thinks. The desire for approval from our peers so often dictates our actions, speech and a whole plethora of other behaviours. Why do we bother to choose our outfit before heading out in the morning? Because we want people to like the way we look. Why do we say the things we say and make the jokes we make? Because we want people to think we’re interesting and funny. Why am I writing this blog post? Well, because it’s my job, but perhaps also because I want you, dear reader, to think of me as someone who is wise and self-aware. Social media has provided perhaps some of the clearest demonstrations of our desire for approval; why else do we spend so long agonising over the perfect profile picture? And why do we then spend the following three days carefully counting the ‘likes’ on said picture? Even those people who profess to not care about what anyone thinks, in my experience, are often saying so simply in order to appear aloof and independent, when in actual fact they’re quite the opposite. At some level I think we all crave approval- we all want people to want us.
I recently applied for a job, and in the process realised just how invested I am in the approval of others. Everything I wrote in that application was specially selected and specifically worded to curry as much favour and approval as possible. Eventually it was no longer about getting to do the job I had applied for, rather it was about being offered the job and thereby knowing that the organisation in question wanted me, knowing that they approved of me and thought I was a good guy. Fortunately, I was brought to this realisation before it was too late, seeing that actually I was too fixated on approval seeking. I say fortunately because in the end I didn’t even get that job, and no doubt I’d have been pretty cut up had I still been so concerned with the favour of my interviewers. As it were though, God has graciously saved me from such a fate and I’m perfectly content with the outcome.
It’s not just in this case that I see myself craving approval however, and I’m sure you can think of a few circumstances from your own life. Maybe it’s romance; you want that special guy or girl to like you, not because you’re actually interested in entering into a relationship, but because it feels so good knowing that there’s someone out there who finds you attractive. Perhaps it’s your academic career; you want that degree not because it’s going to benefit your future prospects or better prepare you for work, but because it’ll show all your pals that you’re super smart. The ends in themselves can so often cease to be so, becoming instead merely the means to the true end - approval. It’s subtle, we may not even realise it, but the desire for approval can easily become deeply pervasive in our lives. I think it’s worth reflecting on momentarily in your own context; why for example are you so concerned about your interaction with that person yesterday? Or why are you so hung up on how you’re presenting yourself online? When we question our own conduct, we might begin to see our unacknowledged motivations.
Now as you may have guessed from my tone so far, I think this approval craving is a problem. Hopefully you’re also inclined to agree. So let’s unpack why this is such an issue. Now I think it’s perfectly natural to want to be liked and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but the problem comes when this becomes our all-consuming goal, dictating our every move. For starters, it completely unsustainable. If you’re seeking your satisfaction from the approval of others, then eventually that’s going to run out. Like all things in this life, peer approval is fleeting and temporary, even those relationships which you’d never believe could falter. Marriages can break down however and children can grow up to become estranged from their parents. Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself without that approval which you so crave, and what then? Well either you’ll crumble, or you’ll find yourself going further and further, trying harder and harder to get that approval, and that’s a real slippery slope friends. If we get our self-worth and identity from the opinion of others then we ultimately enslave ourselves to their sentiments, being tossed hither and thither with every change in the winds of approval.
Secondly, if we’re relying on the approval of other people to keep us going, then they essentially cease to be people to us at all. Those around can easily become a means to an end, a source of that sweet affirmation which we so need. That being the case, the person’s needs and qualities become largely irrelevant beyond on the context of winning their approval for our own benefit. That special guy or girl for example, who they are, their dreams, aspirations, struggles and strengths, they don’t matter anymore; all that matters is them liking me, and me knowing that they do. If approval is the be all and end all, then our friends, colleagues and family members become vending machines, with us punching in the necessary combination of pleasantries and niceties in exchange for a nice self-esteem booster.
So what’s the alternative then? Well perhaps it’s not external approval then, but internal? We don’t need to care what other people think about us, what really matters is what we think about ourselves. Well actually, no, that’s not it either. If you think about it, our own moods and emotions are just as changeable as those of the people around us, if not more so. As trivial a thing as a bad night’s sleep can leave someone feeling awful about themselves, or a simple mistake in the workplace can irrationally sink someone’s self-confidence. We cannot rely on our own thinking for a consistent source of approval and affirmation. The Bible tells us that actually our very minds are faulty, a symptom of mankind’s fallen nature. In fact we are told, ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ that we are like children, ‘tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’ (Ephesians 4: 13-14). According to scripture, our very minds are against us and against God (for more on this, see Romans 1: 18-32). It’s hardly surprising then that A. We so often find it difficult to approve of ourselves, and B. We so often find our desire to be for the approval of others.
What we’ve learned so far then is that we shouldn’t be relying on the external approval of others, and that we can’t rely on the internal approval of ourselves. So, what are we left with? Well, who is the one that is unchangeable, unshakeable and eternal? It’s a no brainer - God. We don’t need to rely on other people liking us and we don’t need to rely on our own fickle self-approval, because ultimately, God approves of us. I said earlier that we want people to want us. Well God, the creator and upholder of the universe, wants you so badly that he died to bring you back into relationship with him. God has given you his approval- sprinkling you with the blood of Christ is his act of eternal affirmation and acceptance, and he has adopted you forever into his family as a child and heir. Galatians 4 tells us, ‘you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God’ (Galatians 4:7). We no longer need to enslave ourselves to the approval of others, to be subject to the shifting tides of popularity and personal opinions, nor to our own skewed ideas of self-worth and value. In those moments when we doubt ourselves or our value we can look to external truth of scripture to see who we truly are. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father speaks over the Son, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). Well now that we are in in Christ and adopted into his family, what the Father speaks over Jesus is also true of us- we are God’s beloved children, with whom he is well pleased. So why should I give a damn about whether that girl likes me? Or what people will think of my CV? The most supreme being in the universe has spoken love and approval over me, and he has given me his written word to affirm that every day. And if you are a Christian today, he speaks that over you too. So let’s not going chasing after the wrong thing in the wrong places- let’s instead take comfort and satisfaction in knowing we are loved and desired by God, and that will never change.
About the Author
Jon is a member of the City Students team and currently an intern on the Intentional Discipleship (ID) course at City. Originally from Sheffield, Jon studied Military History at the University of Kent in Canterbury for the past 4 years.