Potholes on the road to affirmation

They clear the roads to a pretty high standard in southwestern Michigan, which is just as well as it means you can see the devastating potholes the recent polar vortex left behind.

There are a lot of potholes on the road to affirmation. We spend a great deal of time worrying about what others think of us. Most of us want to be well-liked. Nobody likes to be on the outside of the “in” circle. This pushes us to do all sorts of things we don’t want to do in the desperate search for approval. People become depressed and even resort to self-harm when they feel nobody likes them. We tailor our conduct and even our appearance to make ourselves more acceptable to those around us. Our lives become hostage to our perception of what someone else’s opinion may or may not be.

We are told sometimes that the solution is to spend more time concentrating on what we think of ourselves. But this approach is no better. Most of us have a nasty habit of self-analyzing, self-questioning and running ourselves down.

But God has an amazing alternative. Consider this Biblical statement: Abraham is the father of us all “in the sight of God, in whom he believed” (Romans 4:17). Abraham was a son of God because God saw him that way. Which means this: It is God’s opinion that about us that matters, not ours.

Abraham did not make himself a son. God did. God chose him as a young man and called him out of the most prosperous civilization of the ancient near east. He took him on a long pilgrimage into the desert, a pilgrimage that lasted a lifetime. He declared that he would bring descendants out of his aged body like the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. Yet Abraham did not do anything to qualify himself for this. His only contribution was to believe what God had said about him (Genesis 15:6).

We spend such a large portion of our lives trying to make ourselves acceptable. We second-guess how people look at us. In truth, most of the time they are so preoccupied with their own self-worth issues they aren’t thinking of us at all. We set up standards of achievement for our own lives, and judge ourselves harshly for not meeting them.

How foolish and destructive this is! We waste so much time and energy chaining ourselves to a fake world of perception and opinion, none of which in the end matters. Worrying about our self-image can actually be a form of idolatry in which we worry more about what others think of us than whether we are giving glory to God in our lives. This idolatry imprisons us when we have the means to freedom within our grasp.

The answer is simple. We need to look at ourselves the way God looks at us. But for that, we need a deep understanding of grace.

This understanding is grounded in two main facts. One is that we can do nothing to win God’s approval. The other is that we don’t have to do anything to win God’s approval. That is the miracle of grace. The same God who lovingly created us has not deserted us. At the very moment when we deserved his complete wrath and destruction, the moment we nailed his own Son to the cross, at that moment God chose to pour out upon us his undeserved love.

Needy people sink their straw into the finite wells of those around them to gain approval, and those wells quickly run dry. Christians who have recognized their identity have an infinite well of love and affirmation flowing into them from God, and that river flows outward through them to a needy world.

There are no potholes on the road of grace. God filled them all in with the blood of his Son.

It’s a good road to take. Don’t get diverted off it.