Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Looking for Applause

I have been really struggling with my need for approval and recognition. As I've been processing through my talk at the retreat this past weekend, I keep getting stuck on my need to be told that my words were powerful, that my story touched someone, that my presence on the weekend was valuable and even, perhaps, necessary.

Yesterday, I was talking with a trusted friend. I shared some of the positive feedback I had gotten with her, and she congratulated me on doing a good job. But I went a step further with her. I trusted her with that place in my heart where my discontent is living. I told her the raw, ugly truth: that while everything I did and said in my talk was sincere and true, and while I did want to touch people and (hopefully) change hearts, I was also motivated -- on one level -- by the desire to give a stronger, more powerful, more life-changing witness than one other woman on the retreat. Yes, she and I are quietly competitive with each other. But, deep inside me, I wanted to best her... to leave a more lasting impact than she did.

I was not at all like this on the other retreats; I was definitely not competitive with any of the other speakers on this weekend. It is just this particular woman, who annoys me in so many little ways, and always seems to find some way of diminishing or belittling me (most likely subconsciously, I don't believe she sets out to do that to me). And, truth be told, I think what I am most looking for is her approval. I didn't get it last weekend. When everyone else used words like "powerful, brave, moving" to describe my talk, she said this, "That was an interesting way to approach Christian Community. I've heard lots of witnesses on this topic, and never heard one like that." Even the little note she dropped into my witness response bag didn't reward me. "I can see what you mean that you have grown a lot through these retreats. God loves you."

So, it really bothers me that I need her approval, that I so crave the applause and recognition from someone I don't even like. Although, I do admire her a lot. She has gumption and self-confidence and is incredibly centered. All things I would like to see more of in myself.

My wise and trusted friend, also a homeschooling mom, pointed out that maybe my need for this recognition has its roots not just in my incredibly flawed inner person, but also in my vocation. As homeschooling, stay-at-home moms, we get very little recognition. There are so few opportunities for us to get feedback, both positive and negative. In our state, we don't have to provide test results or go through portfolio approval processes. There is no parent-teacher conference or school board auditor telling me that I am doing a good job teaching my child. I have no boss to give me an annual performance appraisal. Even just trying to keep the house reasonably straightened up with three small children around 24-7 is nearly impossible. I can't earn my applause through Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens.

Which isn't to say that I don't know that I am doing a good job. I can see the progress my children are making. They are becoming loving, caring, responsible people. BigBro is excelling at his academics. Princess is reading short CVC and CVCC words now. Even LilBro knows his letters and loves to count.

But I think I still need to hear it sometimes. I need to hear that I am valuable, and maybe in this instance, that my value is beyond that which I do for my family... that I have some value in my community, my parish. And I did get that this weekend; just not from the person I most needed to hear it. I wish I didn't need her approval... I think that most of my competitiveness with her comes from feeling that I am just not "good enough" or "strong enough" or "talented enough."

Heavenly Father, please help me to let go. Help me to concern myself with your opinion, and only your opinion. Help me to see myself as you see me, and to let that be my only gauge. Help me let go of my need for applause.

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