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2 bannerThe Struggle for Approval

How much of your life have you wasted trying to gain the approval of others? Wasting part of your life is one thing—wasting part of your 30th anniversary is another.  I wrote about it in an article to Christianity Today.  It messed up an important event - but hey, I got published.

Here is part of the article:

Bad Timing

It should have been a grand time. My wife JoLynn and I were on an Alaskan cruise for our 30th anniversary. I learned a grand lesson, but I didn’t have a grand time learning it.

There were 1200 people on the cruise, 400+ who chose this cruise to hear mega-church pastor/author Max Lucado speak. He had sold over 80 million books. I’ve sold 10k. Why is it when I meet "big name" people I make an idiot out of myself?

Before the cruise I was hoping – praying for a chance to meet Max. I’d love to write more. So some counsel, a bit of help, an endorsement was in my dreams. I got close.

After white water rafting in Juneau, we had some time left to blow money in town. I bought a hat. We then headed to a chocolate shop where I ordered a month’s worth of dark chocolate to last us through the afternoon. When I turned around, there was my wife, JoLynn, talking to Max and his wife as if they had known each other for decades. JoLynn is from Texas. Texans can do that. But there was a problem.

I’m not Texan.

I stood by stupidly with water dripping off my new made-in-China "ALASKA!" cap listening to the conversation. My mind was a 1970s Timex watch trying to run Windows 10. My screen was blue - my cursor frozen. JoLynn had this "Don’t-destroy-the-moment" look in her eyes. I did.

All I could think about was what I needed. What I wanted. I wanted him to like me, to ask about me, to be able to tell my story. So I broke into a story about our son.

"We have this boy Caleb," I blurted out, "he is 16, our youngest. All of our kids, we have four of them you see, well all four and the husband of our oldest, that makes five, well we were all plus JoLynn and I, that makes seven I guess, well we were sitting around the table one night and .. . Ugh." AWKWARD.

Not knowing what to say next I stammered around for a bit, smiled too big, tried to make small talk, felt like an idiot, saw the confused shocked look on JoLynn’s face, tried again, did worse, felt worse, smiled bigger, dug in deeper, and pretty much died in mid-sentence. I’d give more details, but pathetic reliving is painful.

JoLynn dove back in, elegantly asked about how they were doing on the cruise, and said we needed to go. I said nothing.

We walked for a long time. JoLynn broke the silence talking about something else. I said to myself, "Self," I said, "maybe it didn’t go as bad as I’d imagined." It was 24 hours before she told me it did.

"So, why do you think you get so intimidated by certain people?" JoLynn asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You know, like yesterday…"

I had really, really hoped she hadn’t noticed. More than that, I had prayed it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. She noticed. It was.

"It’s just me. I’m just that way. Sorry." I thought she would get off my case, that it wasn’t something I could do anything about. I was wrong on both accounts.

She told me to "Lean into it." And to "Figure out why you’re that way." Ugh. It still amazes me how well I married, and yet how I still hate it when she is right.

Whispers

The next day I got up early to be alone and pray. I’m an extremely non-charismatic kind of guy. When people say "God told me…" it makes me nervous. I want to ask, "Was His voice high or low? Does He still speak in Hebrew?"

But at this point I knew I needed to hear something specific from God. I threw my narrow view of how God had to work overboard, and asked God to speak to me. Then I read and prayed and prayed and read and mostly listened. Silence. Thinking I couldn’t change, and that God wouldn’t speak, I wasn’t too concerned. I should have been.

Through a combination of His Word and my silence, I believe the Spirit spoke to me. One word kept coming back to me over and over again.

Others

I would have preferred a paragraph. Job got three chapters. But there I go again, Job Envy.

Others. I couldn’t let it go. It took about 24 hours before I was convinced God was speaking to me, and I understood what He was trying to say. The two great commandments – love God and love others. Loving God? I can do that. But Others? Wanting to impress others isn’t loving them. It’s loving self.

The reason JoLynn could talk to the Lucado’s and I couldn’t – was because she cared about them. She was asking them about their kids and grandkids, about their anniversary (they have the same 30th anniversary date as we do). I tried to talk about me. She understood the cruise wasn’t a vacation for them – it couldn’t be when you are speaking twice a day, signing books over lunch and having to listen to weird ALASKA-cap-wearing pastors in the chocolate shop.

I wondered about my motivation for ministry. Why did I want our church to grow? Why did I want to see people come to Christ – for their freedom or so I could have a baptism service? Why did I want to write – to help others or to say I’d published? Sometimes the truth you need to hear to deal with your depression is depressing.

A few days later the cruise was about over and Max was signing books. JoLynn wanted to go. I didn’t embarrass her this time, and Max was gracious enough to pretend the chocolate shop never happened. Sometimes being invisible is the best you can hope for. Max even did the obligatory picture with us, which we now have plastered on our church website with the subtitle, When Out of the Pulpit, Max Lucado Worships HERE. Marketing Genius.

Am I wrong, or is Max grimacing?

Below is a response to that CT article. It felt good to know I’m not the only one who struggles for approval. This Sunday we will look at this problem, and God’s answer. Hope you can join us.

Subject: Hello from a pastor in IA

Hi Dan, 

I've never written to an author of an article before, but I just wanted to let you know I read your article in the Leadership Journal and it really struck a chord with me. I'm 26 and 1 year into my first head pastorate.

Your story about meeting Max sounds exactly like what would happen with my wife and I were I to be in the same situation. Last week our church had some "cool" visitors (for the 2nd week in a row!) that I really wanted to impress. I was so scared, I didn't even talk to them in the meet and greet time. 

By God's grace, I got up there, and after praying, "Lord, help me to just speak the truth, it's not about me, it's about you" and delivered what God wanted me to.

I struggle with joy in ministry because I'm so worried about what others think of ME, not concerned about others for God's sake.

This is me in a nutshell... I guess, reading your article has helped me to look my motivations in the eye. I really want to change this, but I'm guessing it's going to be a loooong road.

I just wanted to tell you thanks for being honest, and letting God use you.