Friday, December 12, 2008

Thirty So-ME-thing

I was having a good chat yesterday with my buddy Brody on ichat. Somehow the subject of fame and approval came up and he said, "yeah, I suppose they (people) just want to be liked, just like we do."

It is always a shocker when that little realization hits me. You know, you go through years and years of getting over that crap. You think you are all grown up and doing your thing, only to find that phrase knocking you in the gut like it did in Jr. High.

The want to be validated is dangerous business.

The desperate need to be liked, acknowledged and validated, or to "make our mark" is so easily substituted for the true and right yearning of our hearts: to love and to be loved and appreciated. The society in which we live doesn't help much. You are only "something" if you've played with your band on Conan O'Brien, or have had a big record deal, or a big Broadway show, or a big film break... And you'd think that only the non-famous struggle with this. Nay, it this little disease goes from the bottom to the middle, all the way to the top. World famous singers leave their careers as recording artists to be in films and fail miserably, followed by a giant leap into depression.

Recent studies have shown that if people today were given the choice of fame, health, intelligence, looks, good family and healthy marriage - they would choose fame, overwhelmingly. Not surprising. It is the original sin; we want to be god. We want worship, adoration, acknowledgement, and success that stomps the competition into the dirt. Like an addict yearns for that next hit, our ego yearns for the next and bigger recognition.

The odd thing is, that when your heart is right, and you are acknowledged, you are humbled rather than puffed up.

Wanting the world's approval is a weird, nasty thing. It makes you push your way to the front. I makes you brag on your charity. It makes parents say nasty things about other kids so that their kid will be first. It makes artists steal, lie and cheat. Basically, it brings out the absolute WORST in us, even in the most selfless acts. Like a drip of dye, the tiniest boast can taint the best and kindest acts of charity. That's why the Lord said to drop your gift at the door with no return address.

Then the time factor sets in and makes the whole situation worse. I'm about in my mid-thirties and some new and unique feelings have sprouted their ugly heads. In your twenties you feel like you've got all the time in the world. Shoot, you could even still be a pro-baseball player if you want! But you soon find that you can't just go out and run a mile and lose 11 pounds like you used to. Your body has started to keep its own council on personal growth. You look down in the shower to see hair accumulating in the drain and hair growing on every other part of your body that shouldn't be hairy. You check to see if you accidentally used Nair hair removal instead of conditioner on your head. Then, slowly but surely, your nose begins its slow offensive to take over your face.

I talk to a lot of guys these days and they struggle with this question: "What have I done? Why am I not great? I should be well-known by now." Especially here in NYC. (It is everywhere, its just that NYC - and I imagine Nashville and L.A.- inherently attracts the fame-thirsty.) I am NO stranger to these thoughts myself. It is an everyday battle. I am here to tell you, my friends, wherever you are, if you let this self-pity settle-in, these questions are not just bad, they are deadly. They can kill the heart of an artist/father/husband or artist/mother/wife faster than you can scratch your underwear rash.

The questions should be: "Why have I done for others with the gifts I've been given? Why am I not the great man/husband/father/mother/artist God has made me and commanded me to be? Am I doing my best in all that I do? Am I being obedient? I need God above all things, and I need to love and be loved."

I help lead worship now for the Redeemer Recovery Group for Redeemer Pres. and I'm finding that the need for control and the need to be acknowledged are probably the leading cause every kind of addiction there is today and probably the leading cause of broken-marriages as well. These thoughts turned inward to self-pity can empty every bit of God's life and joy for life out of you, leaving you with a vacuum - a vacuum that sucks all affirmations into its event horizon. And what do you find when you finally get the approval that you think you need? You find that you simply need more approval. And the people from whom you were seeking the approval seem to only want more out of you. Nothing is ever enough for those folks, nor is it enough for you.

There are many things that make us want that approval, and there isn't time or space to go into all of them, but let's just say that the power of our parent's words of affirmation or lack thereof is astounding. But even with the best and most encouraging parents (like mine!) we can easily find ourselves never satisfied and wanting more.

Jesus said that all the law could be summed up in two commandments: "Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to Love your neighbor as yourself." Good grief, how easy it is to turn that into "Try to gain fame and notoriety with all your mind soul and strength" and "Love making your neighbor notice you as you love being noticed."

All that to say, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness..."

It isn't the solution that we want to hear because it means a total submission of self to something else altogether and infinitely more than us. It means hard work. When I'm at my worst, I hear that, and it just makes me mad. I want to take a whack at whoever is preaching that old tired sermon to me. But that is probably one of the signs that it is so very right. A submission of your will is the only way to experience real peace, joy, freedom and the abundant life the Good Lord has for us. When you do, your talents and gifts come alive in way that they never have. They become the blessing they were meant to be rather than the curses that we have made them.

And how does one do all that? I'm still learning.


Amy said...

I'm struggling to know what to say in response to this. I don't want to give you any praise for how well written it is and thus sort of feed into the idea of it. :)

So I'll just say thanks for was like a taking a peek into the ugly parts of my soul...and I was challenged. Thanks.

Seth Ward said...

Yeeeah. I had more to say but the blog was just so enormous already...

Hopefully, people won't take this as an anti-affirmation blog altogether. I think done in the right spirit, affirmation is great. (Especially if you are affirming me.)

It's all about motives. Why do we set out to do the things we do? Is it to be noticed or is it because we are passionate about what we do and because that is the desire God has put inside of us?

There was this famous opera singer who gave a masterclass to a bunch of students and took questions afterwards. One of the students raised their hand and said, "So, what does it feel like?... that moment when everyone is just screaming your name?... does it make it all worth it? ... is it everything you dreamed it would be?"

The opera singer glared at her pianist and back to the student and said, "You know, I'm going to go easy on you because you've got a lot to learn... but, I sing because I love it. Period. I could seriously get about as much joy singing in the woods or in the shower as I do singing at the Met. That is what makes it all worth it. If I did it for praise, I would be miserable, and so will you."

Thank you, btw for your kind words! ;^)

majorsteve said...

For most of us real fame is so absurdly out of reach that the notion doesn't cause emotional distress. I can imagine though, that for actors, musicians and other artists with serious talent and comittment living in New York or LA, that it becomes so tantalizingly close that it could very easily evolve into an obsession, especially if you have friends or neighbors who have some fame. I'm trying to imagine what it would feel like to be out in public and have people come up and ask for an autograph. The effect on the ego must be enormous. If one is famous and also making lots and lots of money, well how sweet must that be.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Once again, you've nailed it brilliantly, Seth.

In so many ways and on so many levels, I'm glad and grateful that I'm not ever going to be big or famous. But I also realize that what you've written here is very wise and insightful, and pertains to human relationships at all levels.

I've noticed that for me, one of the hardest things to do is accept praise. For example, after I lead a small group Bible study or help somebody out who is in need, and they are thanking me and paying me generous compliments, I'm not very good at taking them. I make self-effacing statements, or try and point attention to someone or something else, and I get very uncomfortable. Even when I played in a rock band, I would basically hide behind the drum kit the whole time, and I never knew what to say to people and their compliments after the show.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to be magnificently talented, performing under a bright spotlight, doing something on a grand scale that leaves people shouting your name and treating you like some kind of demigod. Does there really come a point in that process where you start to believe what they're saying? Or perhaps you don't believe what they say, and instead feel like some sort of phony. ("If they only knew who I really am...")

And then there's the other side of it you mentioned -- people who are still on the outside looking in, and thinking those things are what they want. Such goals can definitely become idols to the seeker.

No wonder our entertainment and media culture grinds up so many people who get caught in it, and spits them out miserable and empty. I don't even know if sinful man has the capacity to absorb high levels of adulation and still retain perspective. You have to be extraordinarily grounded to survive intact.

The approach you suggest, to seek the Lord first and foremost in the midst of it all, is really the only hope for any of us.

Kelly said...


I thank God for giving you the acuity into real life experiences that we can relate. I enjoyed reading this post as all others. This struck a chord, “The odd thing is, that when your heart if right, and you are acknowledged, you are humbled rather than puffed up.” That’s exactly what I call biblical wisdom. Interestingly, the Lord was reminding me today and here’s a gist of what I jotted in my notebook prior, “With each passing moment, I keep realizing that doing all things as unto the Lord is of essence.” I wrote that down upon sitting down because I recalled just a few minutes earlier saying “Good morning!” and “Hi!” to passersby only to get a cold return of silence. I thank my God for reminding me to look to Him and be His fragrance for His glory because He does not enable me to step out of my comfort zone to share His love and warmth for me to please men but to please Him utmost. Here’s something C.H. Spurgeon from, Only A Prayer Meeting, exhorted us to do and I sincerely concur:

“Let us live in hearty love, first to our adorable Lord, and then with our fellow-servants, and so we shall become strong in the Lord, and the Lord will command his blessing to fall like dew of Hermon where he sees brotherly love abounding.”

Then you reminded me of this absolute and experiential truth:
“A submission of your will is the only way to experience real peace, joy, freedom and the abundant life that the Good Lord has for us. When you do, your talents and gifts come alive in way that they never have. They become the blessing they were meant to be rather than the curses that we have made them.”

Oh, how I love all that the Lord has led you to write. Great post and to God be the glory!!!

PS: It appears God wanted me to see this today (and I thank Him for His timing) for I cannot, for the life of me, comprehend how I had missed this post yesterday! By the way, perhaps on the same token and as He leads you, feel free to check out Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. Whoa! I was about to post this note, then I saw your comment! I pray God would set our motives right—may He align it with His which is very exhilarating!!! This song came to mind by Fernando Ortega (Give Me Jesus):

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

Proverbs 30
[7] Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die):
[8] Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me;
[9] Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.

1 Thessalonians 5
[14] Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
[15] See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
[16] Rejoice always,
[17] pray without ceasing,
[18] in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Tully said...

"The power of our parent's words of affirmation or lack thereof is astounding" - so, so, so, so true!