I think it's those earliest, childhood vices that are the hardest to rid ourselves of. They become such comfortable friends that we barely even notice them, and when we do it takes some real persuading to become convinced that they're no good for us.
For me, it's craving the applause of others that somehow always worms its way back into my motives. I am a quieter sort of person ... not quite introverted, but definitely not the star of the show. At least not the star of an actual, on an honest-to-goodness stage sort of show. But in my own mind? According to the script I have secretly been writing for as long as I can remember? Oh, I'm the headliner. No doubt about it. In my mind I’m ever the heroine because it has always come so easily to me - earning applause, that is.
You get good grades! (clap, clap, clap!)
You are responsible and follow the rules! (clap, clap, clap!)
You work hard and are ambitious! (clap, clap, clap!)
You love Jesus & lead Bible studies/ministries/go on mission trips! (clap, clap, clap!)
The trinkets stack up, little imaginary trophies won for my own performances. The shelves in my mind become crowded with medals representing the little compliments received here and there, with the occasional golden cup or winged woman for larger accomplishments. It can look like a shrine in there if I’m not careful – a cheap, brassy shrine that bows to my own ego.
Two things become really tricky when applause is your kryptonite:
Firstly, people tend to take it less seriously than more noticeable sins. “Oh you’ve never struggled with pre/extra-marital sex/alcohol/an eating disorder/etc, so you wouldn’t understand.” I may not know what it is to be controlled by any of those behaviors, but I do know what it is like to constantly second-guess myself in an effort to not do right things with wrong motives. I know what it is like to feel like I’m spinning my wheels because I find myself daily seeking that which I know won’t satisfy. I know what it is like to consider my own sin and to see in it the very same glory-seeking desire that forever ended Lucifer’s fellowship with God. Please don’t tell me I’ve always been such a good person.
Secondly, the things I’m normally seeking applause in are the things I’m supposed to be doing anyway. So, going cold turkey? Not really an option. I cannot just quit doing anything I ever get a pat on the back as a result of: “Thanks for helping out in the preschool class!” “We really appreciated that meal you brought by!” “I’m so glad you love teaching our kids about Jesus!” See what I mean? I can’t quit telling my kids about Jesus just because I sometimes feel prideful when a family member says I’m doing a great job or when my 3-year-old says something sweetly profound. As a result, I often find myself in a weird advance-retreat-advance-retreat sort of loop. I see an opportunity to use a gifting God has given me and I begin to pursue utilizing said gift in that arena. Someone says something kind. I feel good, maybe I feel proud. Wait … maybe I’m utilizing this gift just for the sake of my own pride? Now I can’t tell. I retreat.
I don’t yet know if there is a way to kill off the egomaniac inside, or if her presence is just part of my faith journey, like Jacob’s limp or Paul’s thorn. Let me tell you what I do know … Matthew 6:5 warns against applause-seeking acts of righteousness, saying that those who engage in those behaviors, “have their reward,” in the earthly applause they are given. I am determined to seek a greater reward. It is so hard sometimes. SO hard. You may laugh, but there are times I have to whisper to myself, “His applause is better,” over and over again in order to rein myself in from performance Christianity.
I also know that it is all grace. It is all grace that I was born to parents who raised me in a way that encouraged me to love Jesus. It is all grace that God has preserved me from some of the sinful behaviors that have more crippling consequences in this life. It is all grace I have some gifts that some people choose to rejoice in with me. It is all grace that I know Him. It is all grace, and it is not for my sake. It is for the sake of the hurting that He wants to love through me. Of course He loves me, but what He gives to me is for them, whomever “they” may be, so that they can see Him.
Tear down that brassy shrine to myself, Jesus, and may I embody the words of the prayer, written by Amy Carmichael:
“Love through me, Love of God,Make me like Thy clear air,Through which, unhindered, colors pass,As though it were not there.”