Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Whose approval do I seek?

There are certain people in my life whose approval I seek.

There are some whose opinion on my writing means a tremendous amount to me. I look for their names in the comments section here on the blog. I look for their names in my inbox at I read between the lines of their remarks. I look words up in both the dictionary and the thesaurus in order to tease as much meaning as possible from their responses. I crave their affirmation for the way I express myself in words.

There are others whose opinion of my style of dress and accessorizing is paramount in my mind as I pull my outfits together. What would ----- think of this combination of colors? I often wonder what Stacy and Clinton, of What Not to Wear fame, would think of my high-waisted straight leg jeans. I have a ready explanation for them (or for those two English women whose show Stacy and Clinton have replicated) if they should appear behind me someday and take pictures of my ample behind in my jeans: "I have a 36 inch inseam, and NO women's jeans in the world have a 36 inch inseam. So I am forced to order my jeans from the men's section at LL Bean and cover the high waist with long sweaters. It's really not my fault. It's the fault of the fashion industry that doesn't cater to us tall women." That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. In fact, the inseam issue was a major contributing factor in my recent decision to wear a skirt nearly every day.

On a more serious note, when I am standing next to the pastor on the pulpit and translating his sermon from Spanish into English on Sunday mornings, there are certain people in the congregation whose nods of approval keep my spirits high. As long as those few people are smiling and nodding, I'm proud of my work. But when they turn their heads a little to the side or look away when I glance in their direction, I know I've made a mistake.

Finally, there are two or three extra special friends, the true insiders whose tone of voice, whose choice of words, whose opinions about any and every aspect of my life can either make or break my mood in an instant. To get the long-awaited phone call, to see the much anticipated email, to receive the long overdue snail mail missive --> for me, that is the stuff that causes me to stand a little taller, walk a little more proudly, and laugh a little more loudly. On the other hand, their disapproval and, even worse, their silence cause me to doubt my significance.

This past week I have spent a lot of time wondering whose approval of me ought to matter most. Whose opinion deserves to carry enough weight that I should change my behavior, my style, my reason for living as I live based on what they think? What would happen to me, to my heart, to my spirit if these all-important critics of the movie that is my life stopped sending their reivews? Who would I be if they stopped writing or calling or telling me what I mean to them? What would I be worth then?

Yesterday I smacked myself in the forehead and kicked myself in the ample behind. "Take a deep breath, Gail. You need to rethink and reconstruct this line of questioning right now!" How long will it be before I stop chasing the ultimate compliment that is never going to come? When will I step off the roller coaster ride that is so closely associated with this vain pursuit of validation? When will I remember that most people are far too busy looking out for their own welfare, hiding their own faults, and pretending that they don't need anybody else's approval to pay attention to me?

It occurred to me that I will never receive from anyone else what they do not have. For who among us feels unconditionally loved, approved, and affirmed? Who among us has enough love and encouragement to spare that we can give it freely and unexpectantly to others?

Today I was reminded over and over that there is A Friend who sticks closer than a brother. There is One whose mercies are new every morning, whose faithfulness is great, whose love is everlasting. I am grateful for the incomparable creativity and glorious love that God shows through the beauty of the leaves as they change colors and dot our thick green lawn, the sight and sounds of the geese flying overhead (I wondered if any of them had begun their journey up in Connecticut, my old stomping ground), and the undeniable love of my dear little dog, Maya, who cannot seem to stop her squirming and licking and tail wagging when she is in my presence.

Tonight as I listened to some new friends share accounts of miraculous healings, divine provision at critical moments, and unmistakable touches of grace, I was humbled by each story and grateful for each reminder of God's love for all of us. I've already been approved, affirmed, and richly blessed in ways that far exceed all I could ever have asked or imagined. Why do I keep seeking the approval of everyone but God, the only one whose approval I already have?

Good question. But still...

I have to be honest: there are times when I need friends "with skin on." There are times when I just want to be hugged, kissed, and held for a while. There are times when a well-timed joke, a well-constructed email, or a warm cup of tea at a friend's kitchen counter send me clear over the full moon itself! Can I get a witness?

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