“We enter the world wrinkled and flailing as if we already fear abandonment.
Someone cuts the cord and puts a striped beanie on us, as we cry out to be held.
And so begins a lifelong quest for love.
The world’s oldest liar gets us to forget that we were God’s idea in the first place. We don’t always remember that there is a very real God on a very real throne who calls us His beloved.”
– Jennifer Dukes Lee, Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval-and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes.
I’ve written about a boy I know who was born into chaos. I watched him—even as he adjusted to living in a caring home—loathe himself. He hurt himself, sat in his own defecation, refused love. He glommed on to any stranger, any risk-free lover that could fill his cavernous soul with a hit of affection, approval, love.
The most shocking thing is that he had no idea what he was doing. This brokenness and dysfunction became almost cellular, part of him, as he grew from a diaper-wearing baby to an adorable toddler.
He was God’s idea in the first place; but the enemy of our souls is so insipid, so slippery and silver-tongued that his whispered lies came not in words, not in the suggestion of doubt, but rather a silent twisting of truth into a life-or-death emotion of terror, fear. His survival was up to him. Belonging had betrayed him. Abandonment defined him.
I have grown-up friends, with grown-up secrets and addictions born from the same pulsing sensation of fear, borne in them early on in life, when there were no loving parents they could depend upon. Self-preservation has become the idol they worship.
And there are others, like me, and like Jennifer Lee, who grew up and strayed from security on our own volition. We felt the resonating doubts and responded to the siren song of Satan, the voice that said: are you sure that this is enough? That you’re enough? Self-sufficiency became our drug.
Satan offers up a buffet of options that we can choose from in order to feel qualified, approved, special, important, worthwhile, acceptable, good enough.
We can be smart (that was my favorite), the smartest (that’s even better!), pretty, pretty with power, athletic, angry, independent, snarky, passive, passive aggressive, manipulative, hard-working, self-sacrificing (read, matyr-complex). We can accumulate accolades, good grades and hunky guys. We can even choose to be plain and unnoticed and meek to a fault in order to fill the empty places, those holes punched through our souls by Satan’s accusations that we, on our own, are simply not measuring up.
We are buffeted by the word “sin” as if it’s ancient, condemning hiss is too archaic for our progressive ears. No one wants to be called a sinner.
Sinners are notorious for not measuring up. And we know better. We don’t want to be the loser laughing off eternal judgment saying, “Oh Yeah, I’m going to hell all right, but all my friends will be there too! So I guess it will be one eternal part-ay!”
I don’t want to be a sinner. I want to be smart and interesting and capable. Approved.
Your poison may take on a different flavor: maybe you want to be beautiful, thin, poised. Or, independent and strong. Or, devoted and doting. Or, maybe you’ve been a good-grade-getting, promotion-seeking employee with an impeccable work ethic. Maybe being really bad keeps you safe. Maybe you hide inside your own secrets.
How is any of this sin? Is it sin to want to be lovely, strong, admired, devoted?
No. And yes.
“Our purpose is to please God, not people.” (1Thessalonians 2:4)
That, according to the Bible is why our Creator created us. If you don’t believe in a creator, then, all of this is a moot point. Walk away, now, while you can.
But if you’ve had a nagging feeling that living for the temporal, for the applause of the crowd, even according to your own evolving ideals leaves you unsatisfied, stirring discontent within you, then you will have to confront the idea of sin.
Sin is falling short, an arrow missing its mark. Sin is the perpetual state of not-measuring up.
Then why is it so surprising that we all want to break free from the persistent thought, running like a scratched record that tells us we need approval, we need to work harder, do the dance, sing the songs, write the stories of our lives better in order to be accepted?
Our enemy is tricky that way. He uses the great, foundational truth of our lost perfection (completion) in order to entice us to turn any which way, but to God, in our search for approval.
We don’t measure up! We aren’t enough! That’s gospel truth! But Satan perverts all truth and this twisted falsehood is his specialty, the hinge-pin of his litany.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted from my own negative self-talk, plumb tired of hearing myself close doors of opportunity because I don’t believe I’m good enough, worn from the cycle of thinking that keeps me like a rodent on a wheel:
I’m not enough…I’ll try harder… I’m trying so hard, why doesn’t anyone see me…can I get a little love here? Because I can’t do this much longer… No one appreciates me, no one sees, God doesn’t see … God doesn’t care… if I was better, God would see, and I would feel better… I’ll try harder… I’m not enough….
Paul, the apostle, wrote a letter to a church in Colossi, in the first century. The Colossian believers were much like people today: trying so hard, including too many ideas in what God intended to be quite simple, combining a conflicting gospel of asceticism and Greek philosophy and the story of Jesus into a mess of a thing called church. Paul simplified things. Jesus is God supreme, his humanity never detracted from his divinity, his purpose in living and dying on earth was to provide you full access to the life you were intended to live. A life in the kingdom of God’s perfect love.
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:11-14)
Qualified. Delivered. Transferred. Redeemed. God’s word says you can jump off the wheel, you can be done trying to measure up.
Your identity and your inheritance is to be a saint in the kingdom of light.
Take that, Satan. Shut up with your murmurs that we have to stay stuck in the rut of sin, of “not-measuring up”. We are redeemed. Saints. Qualified. Pre-approved. I don’t have a sin problem anymore. It’s not my responsibility. In fact, it never was.
The subject of sin and the name of Jesus are controversial in our time. I believe they always have been. Are you tired of the try-harder wheel, the pointless path that’s led you to seek approval in all the wrong places? My farmer friend from Iowa has written a book, both challenging and vulnerable where she tells her story of overachieving and the over-arching grace that brought her to a graced surrender. A movement is stirring… a gathering of the sainted (that’s any of us!) who are agreeing that pre-approval rocks. Won’t you join us? If you like it, put this sign on it. Let’s get over the lies.
And the book: