There are people, and this is especially common amongst controlling types, (who actually depend on this mechanism for their control), who ration their approval towards their victims.
People who look up to them try anxiously to please them, to appease them and to win their approval. But the problem is that this resource of commitment, devotion and being anxious to please is wasted on these people because they do not value it except only as a means of measuring how much those unfortunate people are trying to suck up to them. It’s like throwing your attentions into a bottomless pit. I know people like this and they use these tools deliberately as a means of control – the tacit or overt withholding or dispensing of approval – in order to make others do their bidding. Being Aspergic, of course, this sort of manipulation goes straight over my head, and it’s only by examining a situation really carefully and logically that it becomes clear to me. But it’s true nonetheless; there really are people who behave like this. No doubt you too will know someone like that.
I had been thinking along these lines for some time when, true to form, I found something where another believer echoes similar thoughts. In this case, it was the brilliant Jeff Turner, whose thoughts on this complement mine nicely – partially because they’re not identical! – recently shared a short piece which clicked with me immediately. Here it is:
“I dare say that there are thousands reading this who live for the opinions of people whose approval they will never get. When it comes to fundamentalist types, as wonderful of people as they might be, some of them just aren’t budging. They’re fearful, terrified, and have convinced themselves of the rightness of their beliefs, though they were blindly received, and remain both untested and unexamined. Maybe you’ve become a pariah to them; a heretic, unsaved, or some other epithet they render powerless through endless repetition. They may be parents, children, old friends, former pastors or leaders, or something else entirely, but whatever the case, you living your life seeking their approval, and refusing to move on until you get it, is a fruitless endeavor. Some people will never approve of you because some people refuse to think and move forward themselves. I’m not saying cut these people out of your life, but, please, for your own wellbeing, cut yourself free of them. They know that they hold you in bondage by withholding approval. Do not let such ones be in control of a life you fought very hard to have”.
This is excellent advice on all counts. I love how Jeff can so concisely express these things and yet be so easily readable. I do tend to ramble, myself 😉
It also occurred to me that people who ration their approval, like those we have talked about above, are usually those who also believe that God is impossible to please in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons. They believe (although they would not describe it in so mamy words) that god holds them too on the whim of his own approval. And they project that on to their congregations and that’s how they control them. As Jeff says in his book, ‘Saints in the arms of a Happy God‘, “…In our Western traditions God is often presented as being cold, austere, distant and judgmental. We imagine Him surrounded by dark clouds, with a scowl sprawled across his angry mug…He’s very eager to be pleased, but, unfortunately, extremely difficult to please….the God that a large percentage of us imagine and pay homage to is disgruntled, disappointed, and disapproving”. And this is spot on. Many, many believers have been taught that this is the normal way of things, and that this is the way God is.
But He’s really not. The Kingdom of God is supposed to reflect the character of its King, and if the Kingdom of God is supposed to be ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17), then it follows that these will be at least some of the attributes of God’s character too. If that’s the case, then those who lead by the underhand techniques we have been talking about here are not really displaying many of those attributes, if we’re honest! And as I have said before, these people do not represent God, nor do they carry His authority.
No, God is full of joy, laughter and goodness, whereas Religion is full of grey people who think everything has to be really serious all the time. They think you can’t have any fun in case you fall into ‘sin’.
Maybe it’s like in Job 1:5, where the old guy makes a sacrifice for his children after they have been partying, ‘just in case’ they have ‘sinned’:
“When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom”.
But God isn’t all serious like this. God Himself laughs for the sheer joy of all He has created, and all He has planned, and is supremely happy and joyful. He loves to delight and surprise us, and He rejoices with us when we too are delighted. God likes you, just as you are.
And therefore I believe in a happy God. Do you?