Approval or Acceptance

I recently came across a discussion on acceptance in relationships. The premise was being made that what we want from people is approval, but what we really need is acceptance. At first I balked at this statement.

I like approval.

I think we all do on some level. Getting those “atta’ girl” and “way to go champ” pats on the back give us a thrill. We want people to like us and think we are awesome. Why is that so wrong?

It is difficult for me to let go of my desire for approval, after all it means I have been judged and found to be good, decent, and superior. But that is where the weakness of approval lies. It requires one to sit in judgement of another. In order to approve, I have to examine and consider everything about you and decide whether or not it is good, or bad. It makes me the judge of you, and it makes you the judge of me. Approval must be won, earned and kept. It gives the one offering approval great power over your life.

If you doubt, just think of how great it feels when people “like” or “favorite” or “retweet” your posts. Think of how anxiety-ridden you are when you share something vulnerable or possibly life-changing with someone new. Will they approve, or will they find you wanting?

Acceptance, on the other hand, trades judgement for even ground. When we accept others it is not because they meet our standards or because we agree about everything. Rather, we accept others based on the fact that we hold equal worth. When I accept you, I see that you are inherently valuable. You do not have to earn my acceptance.

This is a distinction that has been lost in our culture as a whole. It is difficult to find acceptance anywhere. In families? In churches? In the political sphere? Certainly not.

Losing the ability to accept others based on their inherent value means that we give ourselves power to sit in judgement over everyone else. It gives us the power to reject others based on differences of opinion or different values. It allows us to not only set aside individuals, but entire groups of people. And then, once we have rejected them, we don’t have to listen to anything they have to say. We get to toss aside everyone and everything that does not fall into our “approved” categories.

Living in a culture of approval divides us. It makes us into insecure yes-men who will do or say anything to stay in the “in” group. It keeps us from genuine discussion, deep connection, and it kills trust.

If I am worried that my standing is in jeopardy, I will never admit that I sometimes yell at my children. I can never tell you that my house is a mess, most of the time. I will never let you into the broken places in my life, because you will judge and reject me.

We hear a lot about finding the common ground, and seeking to be more tolerant. I believe this goes way beyond tolerance. Tolerance seems more and more like grudging acknowledgement of others. We give them space to exist.

Acceptance means embrace.

Acceptance is me seeing you in the middle of your biggest mess and loving you. Acceptance is you disagreeing with what I write on my blog and not un-friending me on Facebook. Acceptance is the love that drives out fear, because what we fear is retribution when our thoughts, actions, and values don’t line up.

To me, acceptance is a picture of grace. It is what I really long for. It is what I long to extend to others.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that approval-seeking is really tense, whereas  being completely accepted is refreshing.

So may you embrace acceptance as one key to your refreshing life.



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