Prove...Improve...Approval...(the deadly cylce).

Let me state the obvious.  We are naturally performance-oriented creatures.  Even if there are moments where we know we are valued and loved apart from our performance, most days we feel grafted to the idea that "we are what we do".  If we don't do something good enough fast enough, the gnawing, nagging feeling of failure sucks us into a vortex of vexation.  Very quickly we begin to process what happened and how we can make adjustments to boost efficiency and effectiveness.

I've said before that a mantra bounces back and forth in my mind like a blowfly....

"More, better, different, faster."

I should have done a little more.  I could have done that a little faster.  I should have done that a little different.  I need to be a little better.  It's like a broken record skipping over and over again in my beleagured brain.  I rarely hear, "That's quite enough."  "Enough is Enough."  "You're enough."  And when I say rarely I really mean never.

I was meeting with a young man yesterday who I am discipling.  We were talking about a chapter in a book that spoke of things that "drive" us in life.  The book mentioned things like fear, materialism, and approval.  Like carrots dangled out in front of us, we keep lunging for these things only to come up short time and time again leaving us with a feeling that we need to lunge just a little harder next time.  Lurching and lunging turns into a lifestyle.  Striving, straining, and struggling toward things that we feel like we need to feel fulfilled and satisfied and to make people feel pleased and appeased around us.  Unspoken expectations come from within and without draining us dry by the day's end.

I was talking to this guy about this pesky need for approval always nipping at our heels.  I told him that I've felt it as early as I could remember.  I was always watching to see if people were watching.  I remember saying to my dad and mom, "Watch me!  Hey, dad, watch this!"  If they weren't looking or didn't respond with approval when I achieved something, I felt like I needed to try harder to get their attention or affection.  This expanded to teachers, coaches, employers, friends, fans on the sidelines, and pretty much anyone that was around me at any given time.  I was always trying to get their applause or approval.  I wanted them to like me and want to be like me.  I wanted them to think I was worth the wage they were paying me.  I wanted them to think that I should be the one to take the game winning shot.  I wanted them to call me their best friend.  I wanted more than anything to be picked because I had proven myself to them.

Life became a cycle and I was a cyclops.  I had one eye and it was one one thing...proving.  Proving in order to get approval.  If I didn't get the approval I anticipated, I would then go into a 'mode of improving' in order to course correct and hit the proving ground the next day with a leg up.  I would improve in my areas of percieved weakness until I finally got what I ultimately wanted...approval.  Once I got it in one area, the cyclops-me would turn my eye to another thing that I wanted to prove into order to receive approval.  At that time in my youth, I felt like there was a finish line where I would eventually attain all there was to prove with the proof of my performance.  But no matter how much proof I provided, it seemed that it only made me hungrier to prove more.  It also seemed to reproduce more expectations in the world around me revealing even more inadequacies in me.  Prove...Improve...Approval.  Prove...Improve...Approval.

Now, I know it's important to prove yourself faithful in order to earn respect.  It's important to strive to improve on areas of weakness that life reveals to you along the way.  And I would even say that we are created to be feel belonging and approval to some level.  But we take these natural needs and turn them into demented drugs.  Our net worth becomes our self worth.  We attach all our value on whether we succeeded or failed.  Our identity hinges on the kudos of the crowd.  It begins to feel like people's love and even God's love is conditional, totally based on the results of the "next try" or the "next test" or the "next time".  Even if we turn heads today, we are assaulted with the expectation that we must keep up the good work and even one-up the good work to maintain that acceptance and approval.  It's a war you can't win...a mechanical rabbit you're chasing like a greyhound race, the rabbit's not real and the race is a specticle.  Life begins to feel unbearable, even futile.

I told this budding young lad that we as men are particularly prone to thinking accomplishment will get us that approval.  We will work hard to earn respect and after we actually earn it, it won't feel like it.  After we accomplish so much, it will feel so paltry.  After we get the love and stuff, we still won't feel worthy of it...until.  Until what?  Unless what?  Why are we almost wired to refuse to believe and recieve that we've done and are enough?  I know comparison kills because we always see our lack instead of our blessings.  Our deficiency instead of our proficiency.  Our 1 mistake instead of our 99 successes.

I honestly have formed a bond with this bondage.  I have a living, breathing relationship with the "prove, improve, approve" way of life.  Even when I don't think I'm driven by it, I will realize in retrospect that it was there all along pushing me.  Sometimes I will start with altruistic motives only to finish in the flesh.  It's demoralizing honestly.

But I'm trying to tell myself every day what God whispered to my heart 6 months ago:

"Jason, you're my boy, and you're a good boy."  

Really? REALLY?

But what about when I fail, God?  What about when I sin or struggle?  What about when I go backwards in my walk?  What if I'm not growing or ministry isn't growing?  What if people are leaving or questioning?  What if I'm not killin' it or creating something new?  What if I'm just ordinary, normal?  Do you still want me, do you still love me even then?  


But I don't actaully like the idea that there's nothing I can do to make you love me more or love me less, God.  I want to prove to you that I'm worth it and that you make a great move when you chose me.  I want to earn your respect and approval and admiration.  I want to show you that I can do more than I did last week 'if only'...

"Just trust me. You're enough."

Why don't I feel like it?  Why do I always feel like I have to prove my worth and earn my keep?  Why do I wake up every day feeling like "I'm the screwed up son of a fed up Father"?  Why do I feel like you're about to punish me for something I did wrong?  What am I afraid of?  Why do I feel like my grade is on the line everyday, like the verdict is out and the jury is hung as it relates to my guilt or innocence?  Why am I running inside even when I'm sitting on the outside?  I want to rest in your love.  I want to be ok with a bad day.  I want to cut myself slack when I lack.  I want to trade being perfect for being present.  I want that worse than bad.

"Trust me, I love you and am proud of you.  Just relax.  Live from my approval not for my approval.  You already have it, now freely be and live."

It's so hard for me to recieve that.  So hard.  But today I will let it wash over me, drowing my performance-anxiety and washing away my approval-complex.  I have nothing to prove.  I have nothing to fear.  I have nothing to lose.  I can live with abandon in You.  In You alone.


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