This was the question posed by my writing prompt this morning. It immediately made me think of this past Thanksgiving. After starting a new health regime in September, I had lost a bit of weight. I was feeling pretty good about myself and bought a new outfit to wear for Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. I played the scene out in my head. I would enter the house, take off my coat, and everyone would be amazed at how great I looked. I would be showered with compliments and admiration. It was going to be a great holiday.
Imagine my surprise when no one seemed to notice at all.
It was a humbling lesson in pride and vanity. If I had kept my focus on either the real meaning of Thanksgiving—being thankful for my loved ones and all our good fortune—or the true benefits of losing weight—improved long term health—I would have felt incredibly blessed that day instead of vaguely disappointed.
I won’t beat myself up about it. It’s perfectly human to want praise and compliments. I don’t believe it’s a sin to want people to think well of you. But it’s a slippery slope when it comes to motivation. In the wise words of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation— “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”
When I first started giving spiritual retreats I was desperate for positive affirmation. Like Sally Field at the Oscar’s (“They like me! They really like me!”) I drank up praise like it was the most addictive drug on the market. I told myself it was affirmation from God I was searching for. If people keep telling me how good I am, then I know this is what God wants me to be doing.
I’m not sure how sound my reasoning was. The truth is, I just liked the feeling.
Again, it’s not the worst thing in the world to enjoy some praise, as long as I didn’t lose sight of the reasons I was doing this in the first place. My desire to please God by helping others had to trump my desire to please myself by helping others. Fine line of distinction but it feels important.
It’s a good idea once in a while to examine why we do the things we do. Are there motives that are preventing us from living in a real and authentic way? Is it more important for me to get a hundred “likes” on this post than to reach one person who really needs to hear God’s message, even if I never know about it? Social media leads us down this path to “madness” like nothing else. It’s all about the numbers. Followers…hits…page views…likes…friends. Everyone wants to be “famous” or “popular” in whatever platform they can. For the most part, this can be harmless fun (and I’m not suggesting that everyone uses social media in this way!) but chasing applause is a race we’ll never win, because we’ll always want more. If we measure our success by the numbers, we’ll always be left feeling dissatisfied.
What do you place at your center? Validation from outside forces? Or the love and adoration of the God who created you? “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b). I can think of no better audience that that, and God is always going to be our biggest fan. The One who knows us best. The One who sees us for who we are and still loves us.
In the words of songwriter Francesca Battistelli, “I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.”