Approval Addiction

So, my life fell apart when I was nine years old. I’ve often wondered why my experience was so different from that of my four sisters when we all walked through the same series of events. I guess you never really have the same experience as another person, though, do you? We all filter moments through our worldview. We see different images within the same picture.

We all also cope with pain differently.

Some of us hide.

Some run.

Me? I found my peace in pleasing people. Perhaps it was the stage of life I was in, or it could be a natural inclination. Whatever caused my approval-addiction is hard-wired into my brain, and I still fight it to this day. As a pliable 6th-grader who wasn’t having much luck making friends at yet another new school, I found my drug in an environment created to breed conformation: a tiny local church.

The new pastor and his wife were eager for the help. Their teenage daughter had two children, and my babysitting skills were quickly discovered and put to good use. The only pastor I’d ever known was my father, and he had always been a trustworthy man (until his addiction took over…). Even though it became quickly clear that this family was not what I’d expected, I didn’t know how to tell them, “No.” The arrangement became abusive, and I dreaded being around them. Still, I didn’t know who to reach out to or how to even begin doing so.

This situation – this cycle – continued until my college years. Honestly, I can’t remember a time that I didn’t crave the approval of others. I think back to the little girl I was, and I wonder how different my life would have been had I been blessed with just one person to tell me I was worth more than that.

I can remember every adult who spoke into my life as a teenager, because it meant so much to me.

The high school counselor who showed me that my depression was caused by my obsession with organization and my inability to say, “no” when I needed to.

The teacher who noted my excessive absences (depression) by saying he missed me and he knew I could do better.

The most pivotal point came in my junior year (which, years later, I referred to as my year in hell). I walked into the school assembly and realized that I didn’t have one friend to sit with. Thankfully, an old grade-school boyfriend said I could sit by him, landing me on the second row. When the special speaker chose me to come onstage I thought he was pointing behind me. I realized then that I truly felt invisible to the world.

I don’t remember this man’s name, but if I could find him, I would. He did the typical little skits to entertain the high-schoolers, and then he asked me- looking into my eyes as I felt no one had in months- if I was being the best “me” I could be. I had to be honest. I had NO idea who in the world I was supposed to be, but I knew I wasn’t doing a good job at anything in my life. He challenged me to change, and something in his eyes said he truly believed in me. This man who had no idea who I was, how hellish my year had been, how I had no friends and how hard I worked to put up a front about my home life- he believed in me. Something in me felt a tiny glimmer of hope.

Maybe I could really be more.

Maybe my worth didn’t derive from my friendships.

Maybe my pursuit of being physically perfect was futile.

Maybe I was meant for more than what I could see in my little high school world.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I had those people in my life. I’m also thankful for the real, true, deep friendships I built later that year. All of these people combined to tell me an eternal message: I didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. I didn’t have to perform to matter.

Do you know these truths? Know them deep in your soul? If not, let me tell you: this can change your life.

Do you have people like this who speak into your life? If not, seek them out. Leave me a comment, and I’ll join you in praying for these encouragers to come alongside you.

Are you one of these people, speaking eternal truth into the lives of others? If not, when you walk through your day today, do me a favor: look for young Sara’s walking around. They need you, and they deserve to hear the truth.

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