Your life is a lot like an iceberg. There is part of your life that is easily seen and that is the piece that gets most of our focus and attention. This is the “doing” part of your life. But beneath the waterline is a massive piece of your life that is unseen. It is the world of the soul and is the “being” part of your life. And for most of us, even as pastors, we tend to neglect the care and nurture of our soul.
But God wants to transform our behavior (above the waterline), he also wants to do a significant work in redeeming the broken places beneath the waterline.
Over the last decade God has been slowly transforming some scripts that I have carried deeply in my soul. Last week I talked about a script that is all about performance. Work hard, be responsible, achieve and that’s how you get loved. That script has been a significant driver in my life and has huge implications for my motives and for how I view God.
A second script I have carried deeply is about people pleasing. “Make sure everyone has a good opinion of you.”
This is about living for “people” and finding my entire worth, value, and identity in what others think of me. When that is true of you, criticism and praise have more weight in your life than they deserve.
It has been said that for those of us in ministry, compliments are written in sand, but criticism is written in wet cement. That has certainly been true for me. I have carried disapproval deeply, and it takes a long time to wear off. As a result, you can end up working hard at being a diplomat and constantly sharpening your people skills to minimize criticism.
Approval addiction not only will mess with your motives, it also will hijack your time and emotional energy. On one hand, I spent too much emotional energy chasing after people’s affirmation. On the other hand, I spent way too much emotional energy worrying about criticism.
So, the shadow side (sin) of this script is “image management”. This is really at the heart of hypocrisy. There is a division between what I project externally and who I really am.
I can never feel truly loved because people don’t know the “real” me. If I am projecting a hologram, I don’t really feel loved because they are loving the hologram, not the real me.
Ok, let’s get really honest for a moment. If you scratch beneath the surface of image management what you discover is a struggle with “shame”.
Lewis Smedes, in his book Shame and Grace “many of us feel shame not for our too-badness but for our not-good-enoughness.” For many Christians shame isn’t about a sordid past or dark skeletons in our closet. We live with a low-grade nagging feeling that we are never “enough”. It could come from old scripts from our family, or a constantly critical spouse, or living in a culture that markets to our never being enough. Creating discontent and exploiting “never being enough” is how we sell products in this country.
Smedes goes on to say “If we ask why shame-prone people’s bright success is seldom enough to lift their burden of shame, we get a simple answer; their search for success is spiritually misdirected. They do not seek success as a means of doing the world some good. They seek it as a proof that they are worthy persons—…But no success can satisfy the insatiable appetite of their false self; their pursuit is endless and shame is their life’s burden.”
The only antidote to this script is to separate your personhood your performance. Discover and embrace your true identity in Jesus. You are his “beloved”.
Think for a moment about the times in Jesus’ life when he heard God’s audible voice. The first time God is recorded to have spoken words out of heaven in the life of Jesus was at his baptism.
A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Notice what God said and didn’t say. His words in that sacred moment “were neither directional (go here) nor instructional (do this). They were relational: This is my Son.”
This is on the very front end of Jesus’ ministry. He hadn’t preached a sermon, cast out a demon, healed a blind man, or raised somebody from the dead. These words were spoken over his obscure and hidden years. They had nothing to do with his performance. They had to do with sonship.
Embracing our blessedness brings incredible freedom. We no longer live or die with the praise or criticism of others. We no longer have to frantically chase after significance. It takes the pressure off and delivers us from striving.
When you are a son or daughter, you can trust your good Father.
A reporter once asked an insightful question when interviewing a woman from the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra: “How does it feel to get a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of your performance and then wake up in the morning to a negative review in the newspaper?” Her response was even more insightful. She said over time she has learned not to pay attention to the applause of the crowd or the disapproval of the critics. She was only after the approval of her conductor. After all, he was the only person who really knew how she was supposed to perform.
This week may you tune out the applause and the criticism and look only to the conductor.