Hi. My name is Karen. I’m an approval addict.

Well, at least I was. I like to think I’m in recovery now. My addiction began at an early age. As the story goes, as a toddler I would begin to cry if my parents even looked at me wrong. Whether two, or twenty-two, I desperately wanted my parents’ approval and accolades (along with everyone else’s). And I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them or anyone else either.

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If you are like me, at different points in your life, you’ve tried to find self-worth in a multitude of places, all of which left you wanting. Perhaps you tried accomplishment. If I just get straight As, then I’ll have worth as a person. (Until the next assignment.) Or if I make the basketball team or be voted homecoming queen, I’ll finally feel valuable. (Until the season ends and the crown is passed to another.) If I just get that promotion, teach another Sunday school class, or head up the PTA then I’ll finally feel ok. (Except it’s never enough to make the feeling last.) I’ll be the best mom and have the best kids. (Until they become teenagers and make decisions of their own.) Maybe you’ve tried to define yourself by accumulation. If I wear the right clothes, I’ll finally feel good about myself. (Until the trend changes.) The right car or the big house will make life feel complete. (Until you meet someone who has something bigger and better.) The right number of likes on Instagram or followers on Twitter will make me feel significant. (Except it doesn’t.) Or maybe you’ve looked to others to tell you that you matter. Maybe, like me, you’ve longed to hear others affirm your value with words like “great job” and “you’re the best!”

There are many problems with seeking self-worth in accolades, or what others say about you. For one thing, the words never last. You end up needing more and more to feel secure. Seeking the approval and praises of others truly becomes an addiction when you can never have enough. Secondly, it is unrealistic to think that others will always sing your praises. You’ll likely make a bad decision and get in trouble. You’ll do poorly on a school or work project and be spoken to by your teacher or boss. You’ll let an easy grounder go right through your legs and here your teammates and coaches groan. And no matter how hard you try, there will be that one person (if not more) that just doesn’t like you for apparently no reason at all. Seeking approval and fearing disappointment or anger of others can lead to boundary problems and an inability to say no or express your own opinion.

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And finally, what happens when someone spreads a nasty rumor about you? Defining yourself by what others say really doesn’t work when what others say isn’t positive or true. Unfortunately, I think most of people have had this happen. I know I certainly have. I broken friendship led to the other person spreading horrible and untrue rumors about my character among our other friends and community. Had this happened to me in high school (thankfully it did not), I would have been absolutely devastated and would not have known how to handle it. Thankfully, when it did occur, I had a better sense of self and wise advisors to guide me in how to respond, which largely meant not responding at all and allowing my actions and character to speak for me. Yes, I was hurt, but I was devastated like I would have been in the past.

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When we search for self-worth in accomplishment, accumulation, or accolades, we are often left with regret. We are left unsatisfied and longing for more. All we can focus on is all of the ways we aren’t enough and we give power to things and people that do not really deserve to have it – like the grade on that paper or a new gadget we’ve purchased or what some peer says about us. When end up feeling insecure and acting in selfish ways. That’s the problem. Future blogs are going to focus on the solution. But tell me, does this resonate with you? How do you define yourself? Where do you look to find self-worth? Accomplishments? Accumulation? Accolades? Regrets? And when you look in those places, what do you find? Are you satisfied or left longing for more?

Nikes and Nintendos

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As children, my mom always dressed my sister and I in name brand clothes and honestly, we rarely went without any toy or treat our hearts desired. Remember the original Nintendo? It was a big day in the Cleveland household when Dad showed up after work with one! And it wasn’t even Christmas or anyone’s birthday! Now, it wasn’t that we were wealthy, but we weren’t poor either. Plus my mom worked at a department store and is a super shopper. (And bless my mother’s heart, she was somehow able to keep me looking somewhat fashionable despite the fact that I preferred jeans to dresses, sports jerseys to cute tops, and I refused to take off my Iowa Hawkeye jacket, no matter how cold or snowy it became outside.) Now, we weren’t completely spoiled and my parents did say no. There were some fads my mother allowed to pass us by. Remember hypercolor shirts? I wanted one so badly, but she just couldn’t figure out a shirt that started off ugly and only got uglier when exposed to the sun. But my parents loved giving us good gifts.

Things for my family changed when my dad unexpectedly lost his job. I’ll never forget going school shopping during that time. It was the first time my gym shoes were from WalMart instead of Nikes or Asics. I remember being so nervous that kids were going to make fun of me. They didn’t, but I still had a sense that what I had was somehow less than everyone else.

If you’ve been on this journey with me from the beginning, first, I say thank you (if you haven’t – welcome) and if you’ve been reading along, you’ve noticed a theme. I feel passionately that the biggest things that prevent us from finding worth in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter are our own accomplishments, accumulation, and chasing accolades. I think it is easy to acknowledge and own ways that our accomplishment (or lack thereof) begin to define us. I’m not so sure that it is as easy to own the other two. No one wants to be known as materialistic or as an approval addict. But I know I’ve been both.

Whether we use accumulation of things as a way to fit in, impress, or to fill some other need, it never really works well. The second you buy a new car or gadget, an even newer and better model comes out and the guy down the street has it. About the time you purchase the latest fad, the fad has passed and everyone is onto something else. In keeping up with the Jones, we really end up losing ourselves. King Solomon was the wealthiest man of his day. His net worth would have rivaled Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. And after accumulating everything his heart could desire or imagine, he concluded that it was all meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2). And even Jesus had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8).

My WalMart shoes weren’t as expensive or considered as good as my classmates’ Nikes.  And yet, my personal worth had not changed. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but how often do we allow our personal worth to be defined by things we have? For my family, money stayed tight for years to come and it was one of the best things that could have happened. Don’t get me wrong, I love nice things. And I still love shoes! My father frequently teases me about the sheer volume of my shoe collection. The important difference? I don’t need things to feel ok, or accepted, or valued. Things don’t consume me or own me or define me or cause anxiety.

What do you tend to accumulate? Maybe it isn’t anything material at all. Do you accumulate titles? Awards? Friends? Likes on Instagram? Why is it that even though we know that the stuff of this world can’t really give us personal worth (that money can’t really buy us happiness),  we tend to still hope that somehow it will?

You are Royalty!

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I can remember when I first realized that I was good at school. I knew the answers to questions the teacher asked and loved it when my name was called and I’d receive praise for responding correctly. In kindergarten, I had dreams of becoming a doctor like Doogie Howser, a TV show about a child prodigy who becomes a doctor as a teenager. (This dream quickly evaporated when I realized I was not going to be going to college by age 12.) I found affirmation in pleasing adults. It felt good to be known for being smart, being a good student, and for being “a good kid”.

But there was a problem. The grade on the paper didn’t continue to satisfy. Making sure I always earned “As” was stressful – I remember crying when I saw a “B” on my report card (as if a B was going to ruin my life somehow). Plus, my grade was often out of my control at some level. For example, once in 5th grade, I was given an F on an assignment because my teacher thought I had cheated (I hadn’t) and no amount of arguing could change her mind. Since I based my identity on being right, I felt threatened and insecure whenever I was wrong. I’d argue with anyone who challenged me, and frankly, no one likes a know-it-all. Adults didn’t always give me the affirmation I wanted or thought I needed. They couldn’t fill the emptiness I felt inside. And being known as the “goody-two-shoes” wasn’t always fun either. Sometimes I longed to know what it would be like to take on another reputation – just once. I could never do enough, have enough, or be esteemed enough to feel ok or secure or fill the emptiness inside. I don’t think I’m alone.

One of the biggest reasons we experience so much pain, insecurity, and loneliness in life is because we forget our true identity as God’s beloved. Our accomplishments, accumulation, and accolades describe us, but they should never define us. And there is another problem that chasing these things as a way to find identity causes – regret. And regret shouldn’t define you either. What defines you comes from the inside and radiates out. That which is outside of you is too untrustworthy, too likely to change, too uncontrollable. But frankly our insides can feel that way too. That is, until you join your heart to the One who made it. When you give your heart back over to Jesus, your insides become much more secure and stable. Through Jesus, you are adopted as God’s child. You become part of His family. He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of lords, and if you are His, then you are royalty. Living in that truth allows you to live with confidence, freedom and with a kind of security that no accomplishment, no amount of accumulation, and no accolade can ever provide.

Matthew West has a fabulous song that points to this truth. Perhaps you’ve heard it. If not, I hope you enjoy!

How have you tried to define yourself? Sports? Popularity? Name brand clothes? Being the class clown? Is it wrong to seek accomplishment, to accumulate things or titles, or to receive accolades? What would it look like if we lived as if we really are royalty, children of the One True King?