Do you find yourself disappointed (or overly satisfied) by the number of likes and comments you get on a social post? Is your self esteem significantly affected by the words of others? Are you constantly comparing your life, finances, or virtue to those of your peers? When we gauge our success or failure based on the judgment of others, we suffer from Approval Addiction. This mental obstacle can manifest in many ways but always affects the way we feel about ourselves (and others).
Instead of finding value and meaning from within, we exhaust our friends, family, spouses, and bosses fishing for compliments. Sometimes we’re left stalled or handicapped, unable to move forward without hearing that we’ve done well. Little thumbs up and red hearts turn into measurements of self-worth… Ones that ultimately distract us from ourselves and God.
In Corinthians, Paul says of criticism, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself… It is the Lord who judges me.” Paul understands that the only true judgment that holds significance is God’s. When we constantly seek recognition and praise, we fill our hearts with hope of approval, which leaves little room for hope belonging to others. We become distracted from God’s grace. To truly live a free life is to be free from confirmation and competition. Only then can we feel complete love.
However, separation from approval is not easy. Paul is choice with his words. Notice that he refers to judgement as “a very small thing,” rather than “nothing.” We’re human, after all. While it’s in our nature to seek and thrive on approval, there are ways by which we can lessen this dependency. Ways which require us to look quietly inward.
Jesus spoke of being virtuous in secrecy, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” It’s part of human nature to try to impress others, though doing so only works to distract us from reaching spiritual maturity. We shouldn’t view our own giving as an admirable feat, but an ordinary part of our daily life.
Thankfully, God has given us the gift of discipline.
The next time you find yourself living unselfishly, tell no one. Be disciplined and refrain from sharing your good deeds. Give up trying to control the narrative others hold of you, for their opinions and judgment don’t matter in comparison to God’s. His is the only voice that matters regarding the purity, fruitfulness, or “impressiveness” of our lives. You’ll also find more fulfillment in your actions if they remain private. Requiring gratitude for our good deeds makes them seem incomplete until gratitude is given.
We’re surrounded by opportunities to practice secrecy: praying for someone without them knowing, anonymous donations, memorizing passages of Scripture to recite only to yourself, cleaning your neighbor's yard while they’re at work. Every day presents us with hundreds of opportunities to “love thy neighbor” silently.
Secrecy also brings purity to our hearts. Choosing to impress people by flaunting generosity changes the nature of our actions. They become less freeing. When we act to impress on earth, we lose the value of the deed in the Coming Kingdom.
The same can be true when we reveal our intimate conversations with God. When we boast of God speaking to us, those connections and moments are no longer sacred, but merely tools in our bag of tricks to impress.
Learning that we can make sacrifices or give gifts without saying “LOOK AT ME!” will slowly free us from the inner need for others’ approval. We’ll come to know that we can live a more liberated, fulfilling life by doing good quietly, with grace, and in ways that are meaningful to only ourselves (and the Lord).