On Approval

MY grandmother always counted it a victory if she could purchase something ``on approval.'' Not surprisingly, she treated people much the same way. Those of whom she did not approve were treated like objects to be returned to the store. Family members, who loved her all the same, nonetheless rankled from her frequent criticism and rejections. Others may have had more grandmotherly grandmothers. Yet who has not felt the sting of being disapproved of -- if not by a family member, then by a teacher or boss or friend? Sometimes it can almost be as damaging to our self-respect to feel the threat of disapproval, which can haunt us like some tenacious ghost.

Yes, each of us needs someone to look to for guidance and support. But this is far different from desperately trying to placate and please authority figures whose opinions of us may or may not be accurate. Yet the false bravado that pretends it doesn't even care what others think is no answer either -- especially when it masks our own persistent sense of inadequacy.

This problem of feeling disapproved of plagues human life. But an answer can be found in a life that was extraordinarily lived -- a life that didn't fall into the expected pattern of fear of judgment and condemnation. Christ Jesus lived completely in terms of his relation to God, and in his example we find a new basis for thinking and acting. The Gospels show this spiritual basis stemming from his recognition of his sonship with God and of his Father's approval. As he was being baptized by John, the Bible records, there was ``a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.''1

Jesus' whole ministry was undergirded by this assurance that as the Son of God he was approved of by the Father. As he said later with utter candor and simplicity, ``I do always those things that please him.''2 And Jesus' ministry included the calling of disciples, entrusting them to perpetuate the good news he brought: that we are not, in our actual being, sinning, dying mortals but beloved children of God.

The call of Christianity is the call to accept as our authentic being only the selfhood that comes from God and that God therefore dearly loves and approves of. The honest person who knows his or her human limits can never be satisfied with them. But the Gospels show us that our spiritual selfhood is outside of those limits; they bid us be disciples, living as Jesus taught on the basis of our living relation to God.

Living this way helps us lessen sin in ourselves and others. It shows us how to loosen the snarls that plague mankind. Then, instead of searching fruitlessly for human approval, we see the practical possibility of following the Bible's guidance: ``Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.''3

Gradually, fear of what others think and feelings of dissatisfaction with ourselves give way to listening for the unmistakable ways in which God directs our lives. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, assures us: ``The great truth in the Science of being, that the real man was, is, and ever shall be perfect, is incontrovertible; for if man is the image, reflection, of God, he is neither inverted nor subverted, but upright and Godlike.''4

As we understand this, our thoughts flow outward rather than backward or inward. And we find the original status of true manhood and true womanhood, which merits no disapproval, discovering ourselves anew as actually spiritual.

1Matthew 3:17. 2John 8:29. 3II Timothy 2:15. 4Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 200.

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