A while back I was driving away from my counselors office (yes, I see a counselor, cause I got issues….) and it hit me like a 2×4 across the face, “I am such an approval junkie.”  Just like an addict has to get their next fix of their substance of choice, I realized that I often am looking for my next fix of a compliment or an accolade.  This was the topic of conversation with my counselor that day and through out the entire session internally I resisted coming to the place where I could admit it. Yet, as I was driving away I could no longer deny what I knew in my heart to be true.

In what I do as a pastor, a significant part of my time is spent with people or up in front of people.  Being around, leading and teaching people is something that I love to do, however, there is a dark side to it.  With my job comes the responsibility of participating in the shaping and molding of people’s hearts and lives.  And when they appreciate the work that you do and the way that you have impacted them, they often tell you.

For me, this gets scary when I find that I need those words and comments in order to validate who I am.  It becomes very easy to live for and be motivated by receiving them. Once those words and comments start to come in, it is as though there is this constant itch in my soul that can never be scratched enough.  With every encouraging word there is a sinking feeling, “Will that be the last? Will there ever be another?”  Every time I step off the platform there is the thought, “Will anyone tell me that my teaching was any good?”  There then develops this deep sense of anxiety that I am a nobody unless people around me tell me that I am a somebody.  There is this voice that repeats over and over in my head, “I just need people to tell me I’m okay.”

But at the root of my anxiety is unbelief.

I have come to realize that often times the last thing I need is another pat on the back, complement or “atta boy.”  Cause what I really need to believe deep in my soul that God truly does delight in me, and it’s not because of my performance, but simply because I am His.  I have been conceived by Him, made by Him, redeemed by Him and unconditionally loved by Him, just because I am His. When this reality sinks deep in my heart, when I truly believe this, it gives me a whole new capacity to love others. Because now, I am not looking to others to get my next “fix,” but I can go to people and pass along to them what has already been given to me.

Over time, the more we turn from the our need for approval from other and turn to God knowing that His love and delight is secure, and the more we rest in His love, the more our lives will be shaped  and formed into the likeness of His son Jesus.  Resting in the love of the Father is the cure for our deep-rooted anxiety.  Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


6 Responses to “confessions of an approval junkie”

  1. LeAnne Martin


    This is true of almost everyone. In the CS Lewis Fellows program (www.cslewisinstitute.org), last month we studied pride/humility extensively. This is my second time going through these readings and scriptures, and both times, the material on pride/humility has knocked me flat. Here’s what I’ve learned:

    1. If you’re breathing, you have a problem with pride. It’s very difficult to escape because of sin and our flesh nature.

    2. If you don’t think you do, then you’ve got the biggest problem of all. It’s almost impossible to see it in ourselves but it’s crystal-clear in others. (eg, that whole business with the log in your eye and the speck in someone else’s).

    3. And this one really applies to this issue of approval: A humble person thinks of God and others; he isn’t thinking of himself at all. When we become self-forgetful in our love and service of God and others, that’s when we are most humble and ultimately most Christlike. When we aren’t worried about what others think of us or winning their approval (admittedly a big problem of mine), we are freed up to focus on Him. And when we focus on Him, we can forget ourselves and what others think of us.

    It’s a daily struggle, but we have as our model the ultimate humble Servant. As you said, He formed us, delights in us, and loves us. He will help us grow to become more like Him.

  2. Sarah

    Great post Bryan…I like the part about how if you can accept and deeply believe that God loves you because you are His (and not for any other worldly reason), then you are opening your heart to share that love and belief with others. I haven’t ever thought about it that way before…if we could stop worrying about what other people think, it would free up our thoughts and emotions to make room for loving others.

  3. Melissa

    Yep, I am in with everyone else – I think we all have a little (or a LOT) of Approval Junkie in us. I know I sure do. One of my favorite things I’ve ready on being humble is this from – who else??? Donald Miller:

    “Truly humble people don’t get called humble very often. In fact, if you are consistently spoken of as humble, you might want to reflect on whether or not you are trying to project a humble identity, which is just another form of narcissism. People who are humble are too busy thinking about a project they are working on, or their family, or their friends. Their mind isn’t on their humility or their lack of humility; their mind is on something other than themselves. In doing so, they help other people focus on something other than themselves, too. And that’s true freedom. We live in a fallen world, so you and I are only going to accomplish this in shades.”

    At the risk of feeding your “Approval Junkie” – I gotta tell ya – that last paragraph, I come to it and read it every day. I need to remember it right now!

  4. Becky Terry

    Once again love your ability to communicate, your authenticity and vulnerability.

    You are learning such wonderful lessons a lot earlier than I did, and it will bode so well for you, your relationship with God, your journey, and your ministry.

    My issue is with the Women’s Retreat. In some respects (in my head/flesh) it is like producing the Academy Awards, or Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics ~ wanting to/feeling the (unholy) pressure to make the NEXT one bigger and better. But, age and God’s economy/wisdom have mellowed me (thank God….for it would be grueling and all consuming) to where…..prayer, planning, and doing my best under His power, and leaving the results to Him, have released me. They are not all going to be “home runs” (I always wanted to “hit them out of the ballpark”), and that’s the WAY HE WANTS IT. It is just me doing my part, what God has called me to do, and leave all the rest is Him…it is His business, not mine. Such a relief (Matthew 11). So, I can see where you would sort of have the same feelings/issues.

    I love the second to last paragraph.

    My favorite writing on humility is from Andrew Murray’s “Practice of God’s Presence.” I need to refer to it OFTEN, and the condition of the pages show it.

    May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you (II Cor. 13:13)….and the “atta-boys” be gravy (nice but unnecessary).


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