How often do we yearn for approval? Or confuse approval with acceptance? Whose approval matters most to us? Why?
Some days I’m so hungry for approval I can taste that hunger, bitter and urgent. I know I’m accepted, but I want approbation reinforced. I know where my heart is and how well I live my values. But like much of the rest of American society, I’ve learned to confuse approval with acceptance and thus to hunger for it. It isn’t that the hunger itself for approval would be so troubling, except for what it says about my sense of purpose and place in the world.
We aren’t hounded by that hunger when we feel securely connected to our vocations and our communities. We’re running for approval from public, family, work, and friends when we’re uneasy with that belonging and that calling from life. And that hunger for approval further can unsettle the faithfulness and honesty of our relationships with each other, with our selves, and with the holy.
Another of the desert monastics, Amma Sarah, said, ‘If I prayed God that all men should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure towards all.’
This desert mother – celebrated publicly in her own day as a probable saint – wanted the approval of others. But when she was serving that yearning, she was always on edge, because the approbation of others is the potato chip of the emotional world. One compliment is never enough.
Losing the approval of our neighbors or our family or our friends or our coworkers can keep us from acting with integrity when that means separating from the general accepted view or way of doing things. Everyone’s doing it can become our guiding star rather than love, justice, mercy, or generosity. To practice those virtues and guiding aspirations, we actively have to feel connected to them. And if we feel we live in a world where our acceptance is always being tested, it is pretty difficult to feel broadly loving, to locate and head toward justice, to practice mercy, or to live generously.
Approval and acceptance are different critters. We’ve just learned to confuse them. If you have a beating heart, you have something to offer the world that can bear towards goodness. If you’re here, you belong here. Feeling that acceptance and purpose deeply is part of our spiritual development. Practicing love, justice, mercy, and generosity is how we demonstrate acceptance.
And then when a gasp of joy or wonder does happen, we accept that as the gift it truly is, not as the social snack that leaves us hungry for more, but as an alleluia moment.
Today, may you remember that you are already accepted by life (you’re here!) and that you have much goodness to offer the world. Let’s get moving and share that goodness and draw the world closer to healing and hope today.