Please don’t like this post. And definitely don’t share it. Seriously. I mean it!
At least, I think I do.
On second thought, maybe I don’t.
Earlier this week Bruce Feiler told us his social media story. It made me laugh. He was walking through the airport when he noticed a magazine cover that had an only female cast of executives. He quickly snapped a picture and blasted it to the world through Twitter saying, “Woman on the cover. Not just for girlie magazines anymore.”
He shared his experience in what I found to be a wonderfully transparent and comical paragraph. “Then I waited for the love. I checked the response before passing through security. Nothing. I glanced again while waiting for the plane. Still nothing. I looked again before we took off. Nobody cared. My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.”
My wife and I did a social experiment with a picture on Facebook a couple months ago. We both posted the same cute picture of our year and half old daughter at the same time. And the race was on! Whoever got the most likes in 24 hours would win. It was actually pretty exhilarating to check in as the hours passed. 60 likes! 93! 120 likes! People like me. They really like me!
Facebook, of course, didn’t create the need for humans to seek approval. Feiler in his article tells us that our brains are wired to seek approval. He told us about a 2012 study out of Harvard that says that humans devote up to 40% of their time to self-disclosure. That statistic blew me away! He bolstered that statistic when he told us about one study that said people would even give up financial incentives to talk about themselves and about another that said that social isolation was as painful to humans as a broken leg.
None of this surprises me about people. Some say that undercover cops and clergy are the two professions with the most cynical view of people. What surprises me is when I see it so clearly and definitively in myself. It might be one of the greatest spiritual lessons God is teaching me as I plant a church for him. I intentionally try to go to places and gatherings where I get to meet new people. I did it again last night. As I walked into this particular gathering I noticed someone I thought was new to the area. I stuck my hand out and started a conversation... turns out he wasn’t new. There was absolutely nothing malicious about what happened next, but happen it did. Three people rushed up to him and welcomed him back from his hiatus. And the circle closed in front of me. Gulp. Move on.
Now I’m not saying seeking approval is bad. I’m not sure that it is. What I am suggesting is that seeking approval in the wrong places is bad. But please don’t think of this issue in a merely self help kind of way. Wrong headed approval seeking wrecks far more than our fragile egos. It’s wrecks important relationships. Imagine a married woman who heads to a cocktail party secretly saying to herself, “I hope the men in here check me out.” She now not only has little hope for a healthy self-image, she also is halfway down the road to destroying her relationship with the man she should really hope is checking her out, her husband.
We understand that scenario. That’s why God so often compares the God/human relationship to the husband/wife one in the Scriptures. See what I mean? Seeking approval isn’t bad. Seeking approval in the wrong places is what’s damaging. And, again, this is not about our personal ego. That kind of spirituality separates us from the one being that we actually should be hoping is checking us out.
God actually made us to need that from him. It’s part of what makes him God and us his creatures. He’s our everything (or should be). That explains our need to self-disclose. It also explains our incessant need for approval, love, and accolades. We were made that way. It’s just that lately (ever since the fall into sin) we’ve been looking for it in the wrong places.
Rewind to a garden where God said to Adam and Eve. “I think the world of you. You name the animals. You rule the earth. You decide how to manage it. I’ll come by in the cool of the day and we’ll walk together.” Love. Acceptance. Accolades. It was all there. In God. In him.
Then the tragedy happened. The first human acted on a thought like this: “Maybe the importance I crave is not actually in God. Maybe it’s in eating this fruit.” She was wrong. It wasn’t. But it was too late. That nature would come down to us, which explains an awful lot of recent human behavior including my own.
So what’s the fix to this? The same message that God gave us millennia ago. God told clergy in the Old Testament to say, “The Lord bless and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
At my last church, we would close just about every worship service with those words. I can still see what one pious, Christian would do. As she was listening she would lift her face heavenward with a barely discernible tilt, close her eyes, and - I’m telling you the truth - every time whether it was the day after her mother’s funeral or not the corners of her mouth would lilt into the most serene smile you could ever see. I think I know why.
You know what Moses wrote right after he wrote that blessing? He told us that God said, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” In other words, he was saying, “I am doing and will do exactly what these words are announcing. Right here. Right now.” (BTW, that’s how it always works. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was! God announces, “You are forgiven.” And you actually are!)
Do you see why that woman smiled? She smiled because she heard God saying to her that he thought so much of her that he was going to see to it that she would be kept as his own and blessed. She smiled because she heard God saying that he had so much acclaim for her that his face was shining on her (Even if she actually deserved to have him glower at her). She smiled because he had so much affection for her that his circle would never close in front of her. It would always turn toward her, beckon her, and love her.
None of this is just Christian psycho-babble or vain happy talk. Jesus Christ’s resurrection is in the history books. He went to the grave and back to guarantee my eternal approval. That’s exactly what the resurrection means. The Christian faith says that Jesus' completed work makes God perfectly inclined toward us and busts up our personal graves with resurrection. Think it through. If Jesus' busted up grave means that my grave gets busted up too, then God likes me so much that he apparently wants to hang out with me - well - forever. I couldn’t be more loved or more affirmed or more approved than that. Neither can you.
That changes everything. Go ahead. Like this post on Facebook. Or don’t. Go ahead. Share it with someone else. Or don’t. Just promise me you won’t do it for my sake. I already have all the approval I’ll ever need and so do you.