The desire to be liked and approved of by others runs deep in most of us. Maybe all of us. We are wired for connection to other humans. We are made to be in meaningful relationships. And when we know or sense that someone in our sphere of influence doesn’t like us, it hurts.
From the time we start school as young children, we do whatever we can to gain the acceptance and approval of others.
If we’re nerdy, we play the smart card.
If we’re goofy, we play the fun card.
If we’re athletic, we play the jock card.
If we’re musical, we just play something, anything (even a trumpet) to fit in with others who are like us. Hoping beyond hope that others will embrace us as valuable.
As we enter our teen years, we might feign apathy and act as if we don’t care about being liked.
But we do care. A lot.
Over time, after a broken heart or two or twenty, and after rejection after rejection, we typically start to withdraw in an act of self-preservation. However, our retreat from people doesn’t stop our deep-seated need to be recognized and accepted.
Of course, there are some who seem to be liked by everyone, but even those chosen few wrestle with a latent fear of falling out of grace with their peers. These gods among us know how fickle fame can be, and they are painfully aware of the unpredictable nature of mere humans.
We all long for love.
We all want to be valued.
We all desire to be desired.
We all check the number of Facebook likes on our latest post.
For me, I am keenly aware that people are visiting our church every Sunday and that they evaluate me on a regular basis.
Every time I speak, people are appraising me and my abilities.
Is he funny? Is he practical? Is he inspiring? Is he biblical and sound? Is he too old or too young?
Do I like his style? Do I like the way he dresses? Do I relate to him? Do I understand him?
Those questions and many others are running through the hearts and minds of the new folks.
Of course, the old-timers are asking different questions.
Have I heard this talk before? Is that message going to help me grow? Why does he care so much about this topic? Why should I care? Does Kurt care about me?
Trust me; I know what’s going on. I’ve been at this a long time.
When I write, either a blog or a book, the tape playing in the background of my mind is often asking, Will this resonate with the reader?
Like you, I want to be liked. I want to be accepted. I want to be approved of rather than rejected.
But here are some realities I wish I would have learned decades ago:
Everything you do is a bridge to some and abarrier to others. Some will be drawn to you, your style, and your personality. Others, not so much, and it’s okay.
If you are always striving for the approval of people, you will find it difficult, maybe impossible, to be consistently faithful to God and His call. You simply won’t be esteemed by everyone, and attempting to be is an effort in futility. It’s okay that not everyone likes you. Really.
Because you failed to meet expectations (reasonable or not), early fans sometimes become later critics, and that’s okay too. You’re never going to keep everybody happy all of the time.
So what can you do?
In the words of Brennan Manning, “Be who you is or you is who you ain’t!” Today, to the fullest extent possible, be who God created you to be. Be in Christ. Be real. Be true to yourself if you want to be true to others.
Of course we need to grow. Without a doubt, there are plenty of character issues that need to be addressed. I’m not suggesting that you or I just wallow in the wastelands of idiocy.
But if you are not comfortable in your own skin and accepting of who you are today, right now, then you’re destined to be a grumpy, bitter, and depressed soul.
For some, my current mental, physical, or spiritual condition may be intolerable, and they don’t like me.
It’s okay. It is what it is. I am what I am.
I’m no Jesus, and even He was despised and rejected. Why should you or I expect to be loved, accepted, or liked by everyone?
Bottom line: to live uncontrolled by the need to be liked by all is liberating and the path to abiding joy.
I was downtown last week, and to avoid the cold, I went through our local bus transit center on my way to get a cup of hot coffee. Many cities have stations like this, and they often are filled with the poor, the homeless, and lots of street kids.
Apparently, the loitering laws aren’t enforced in a public place designed for people supposedly waiting for a bus.
I’ll be honest; my first thought was, “Wow. This place is just a little bit scary.” On a bench an older guy was sitting by himself and having a conversation—with himself. There was a scraggy-looking woman with a cart full of who-knows-what, and she smelled so bad I choked.
Several rough-looking teens were glued to their cell phones listening to something, and when one of them looked up at me, I could see the hopelessness in his eyes. Another emaciated young woman, probably a meth-addict, stood staring out a window.
That’s when another thought hit me, and this one was far godlier, “I’m pretty sure Jesus would hang out here, a lot, and He wouldn’t be scared or put off by anyone.”
Those I labeled losers, Jesus labeled love.
It’s funny how a change in my perspective brought about a significant change in my attitude. And attitude is one of the most important choices any of us can make.
In an instant I switched from concern for myself to compassion for others. The people in that transit building didn’t change, but I did.
Because I started to see the poor and the disenfranchised there as humans who are profoundly loved by the Father. Interestingly, these were the people Jesus felt the most comfortable with, and the lowly and impoverished always felt accepted by Him.
Of course, I know what the Word says about the poor. I understand our call to be generous, kind, and Christ-like. Good grief, I’ve taught about compassion for the marginalized many times.
But there’s nothing quite like a walk through a bus station, on my way to spend nearly four bucks on a cup of coffee, to force me to a profound realization.
Jesus didn’t just talk about the poor—He talked tothem.
Jesus didn’t just teach about love—He loved theunlovely.
Recently, in my new favorite book, People of the Second Chance, I read this quote by the author and monk Thomas Merton, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love.”
Obviously, I still have a long way to go.
Maybe I should go on a bus.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled,