The memory of climbing the steps of the school bus, looking down the aisle of seats packed with students, knowing not a soul, and hoping with every fiber of my being that someone would make room for me is still quite clear.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t continued to wake up in cold sweats over it.  Those ended last year.  Kidding aside, though, I think we can all agree that being a kid is difficult.  From the school bus to the playground to the cafeteria, challenges abound.

 

And middle school.  Oh man, middle school.  Frizzy hair, braces, uncomfortable body issues, hormones run amok.  The pressure of “dating” a boy, which really just means that when he’s around you’re super awkward and a “date” entails getting dropped off at the mall by your mom only to walk around aimlessly and semi-close to the other person who, if you’re being honest with yourself, you really don’t like that way.  But everyone else is “dating,” so I should, too.  Yeah, great logic.  Anyhow, you make about three loops around the mall before finding a payphone, calling home collect to shout, “Momit’smepickmeup” really fast into the receiver when prompted to say your name, and then hanging up and waiting.  Dear God, why?!  Why must we endure the hell on earth known as middle school?  And for those of you who liked those years, you lie.  Or there’s something wrong with you.

 

Growing up is not for the faint-of-heart.  But does it get easier once you’re an adult?

 

You know that feeling when you put your entire heart and soul into something?  When you’re entirely spent from the amount of focus it took to accomplish?  You’ve practiced.  Perfected.  Written one draft.  Then another.  And another.  Hours have been dedicated to the pursuit of getting it right.  Precise attention given to the creation of it, whatever “it” refers to in your case.

 

Then, the performance.  The presentation.  The proposal.  The exhibit.  The article.  The final product.

 

Then… nothing.  Silence.

 

Is it a blatant rejection?  Possibly.  Is it perceived as such?  Absolutely.  In those disturbingly quiet and precariously tense moments between “it” and a response, could anything be more frustrating, gut-wrenching, and crippling to an ego?  You’ve put yourself out there, knowing somewhere in the depths of your psyche that the answer may not be favorable.  The reception might not resemble what you initially pictured in your mind.  But you hope as earnestly as you can that it is.

 

That’s tough.  Really tough.  Visions of the playground, the school bus, and your entire middle school career come flooding back.

 

Does it get easier as an adult?  Not in the slightest.

 

Why is rejection so hard to deal with?  Why do we have this innate need to be welcomed and accepted, to feel like what we pour ourselves into matters?  Why is it so difficult to find intrinsic value in what we do, to be happy with ourselves just because and not care what others think?

 

Why must I constantly refresh my Facebook feed to seek out that infuriating red notification number only to be despondent when someone merely commented on a community page and not my individual status update?  That was a well-crafted, witty post.  Why don’t people like it?  Why don’t people like me?

 

The cycle of questioning, doubt, and self-loathing continues ever onward.

 

May I encourage you?  It’s OK to want approval, to seek acceptance.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be valued, welcomed, and loved.  Indeed, we are instructed to behave in such a way toward others.  In Romans 15:7, Paul tells us “to accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.”  When gaining acceptance is one’s only motivator, however, and the need for approval becomes a drug that replaces all, therein lies the problem.  The desire for acceptance becomes an issue because it is motivated by pride.

 

“I know I am good at singing, so I deserve recognition.”

 

I excel at sports, so I earned these trophies.”

 

I deserve that promotion because I work harder than anyone in this company.”

 

Are people talented and driven?  Absolutely.  Our heavenly Father delights in giving good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11).  As Paul states to the church in Corinth after being gifted with the ability to see visions, “If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth” (2 Cor. 12:6a).  It’s no lie.  You were made to be good at certain things.  Cooking, listening, running, encouraging.  Whatever it is, you have a talent.

 

“But I won’t [boast], because I don’t want anyone to give me (emphasis added) credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God” (2 Cor. 12:6b-7).  The existence of the gift isn’t the issue.  Reveling in it by finding sole value in other’s recognition of your gift is.

 

When our sense of worth comes from accolades and applause, and audience reaction is all we see, true purpose and fulfillment is muddled.  We lose sight of why we were gifted the talent in the first place.  Clarity can only come when we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).  Any earthly recognition is fleeting, so don’t look to the crowd for satisfaction.

 

The tug remains, however, to discover security and approval in others.  Considering the pull, here are a few ways to combat it.

  • Work for an audience of One.  That’s so easy to say, but much more difficult to do.  Throughout the New Testament, though, we are encouraged in this task.  Matthew 6 speaks to it saying, “Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”  Additionally, although speaking to slaves in an historical context, Paul instructs people to “work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).  Continually reminding ourselves to refocus our thoughts on why we have talents and who we are honoring with those gifts should give us motivation to press on no matter the presence of thunderous applause or deafening silence.

 

  • Find a trusted mentor, someone who has tread a similar path, can guide you from experience, and will help you stay the course even when it gets rough.  This could be a family member, but it might not.  Unfortunately, for many, it definitely will not be a blood relative, as family to you is synonymous with disappointment, neglect, or despair.  Friends are the family we choose, however, and a close confidant can fill the void.  Whatever that person or close knit group looks like to you, hold tight and allow their words of advice and inspiration to shepherd you.  We all need a Barnabas, an encourager, to come alongside us in life, so find that person and treasure him or her.

 

  • Believe in yourself and the goal you have set before you.  I enjoy writing.  Am I an author by trade?  No, but writing brings me joy.  To tell stories, impart truth, and fight for the vulnerable all by means of a pen and paper is something I feel called to do, something I derive meaning from.  Is my work published?  Am I reaching multiple continents and enacting widespread change?  Do people care or even look at what I write?  I could lie and say I’m not interested in the answers to these questions.  The truth is, I am interested.  I do care, but that should not determine the satisfaction I gain from writing or my sense of worth.  Instead, I’m attempting to follow my own advice and look to an audience of One hoping He is pleased, that I am being a good steward of the gift of writing He has entrusted me with, all while receiving encouragement from those whose opinions I value most.

 

An absent response or flat out rejection does not get any easier the more trips around the sun you take.  Childhood can be tough.  Middle school can be humiliating.  But adulthood can be brutal.  You see, I’m not supposed to care now.  I’ve grown up from that awkward, immature thirteen-year-old seeking approval from the in crowd.  In so many ways, though, I am still very much that girl–scared, discouraged, and wanting desperately to fit in–just minus the braces.  The amazing thing, though?  God loved that awkward thirteen year old just as much as he loves this messy, far from perfect, just trying to survive another day thirty three year old.

Always remember, you are desired and loved regardless of what the world does or does not say.  You were no accident, instead being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14b).  You are “accepted in the Beloved,” which at the end of the day is the only acceptance that matters at all (Ephesians 1:6b).

“Majesty enthroned in beauty,

All my life Your love pursues me,

And I’m found in You.

Holy One the King of glory,

You’re the author of my story,

And I’m found in You.

Your love is all around.”

{All Sons and Daughters}