Baggage: Approval Seeking
Welcome to the second week of our homily series called baggage. We said last week that the new year brings an opportunity for letting go of the negative baggage of our past. The negative baggage we are addressing revolves around an inability to forgive.
Today we want to specifically address our negative thoughts concerning the baggage — and this is heavy baggage — over how we sometimes cannot forgive ourselves, because we don’t please others. We can’t seem to win their approval. Then we develop all sorts of worry and anxiety over how other people see us. This worry and anxiety can cause self loathing, self directed anger, and, consequently, serious depression.
The dictionary says worry means to give way to anxiety or unease, to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. So the dictionary states, and Jesus affirms in the Scriptures, that worry is ultimately a choice. We choose whether or not to worry.
So for this homily to have any affect on your life you have to believe that worry is in your control. Much of life is beyond your control, but whether you worry or not is under your control. And to not worry doesn’t mean to not care, it means to focus our attention in some different ways.
There is a scripture passage that has helped tens of thousands to shake off worry and focus their attention in a different way. We are going to look at that today.
Today the Gospel of Matthew tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist, who is out in the wilderness, and guess what he is doing? You guessed it; he is baptizing people. People come from the cities to a desolate area by the Jordan River. John is so attractive and creating such a stir people have to go see him. There are crowds and crowds of people waiting to be baptized by John. He dunks them into the river as a sign their repentance and that they are turning back to God.
Jesus comes and gets in line with the rest of the crowd to be baptized by John.
In your imagination, can you see a line of people stepping up in line to be baptized by John? And then, Jesus just steps up. John flinches or maybe he just stops, but he recognizes it is Jesus. And he says, “I need to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me?” John says, this is backwards. No offence, but it would be like Tiger Woods asking you to teach him golf. It didn’t make any sense.
But Jesus says let it go, this needs to happen. Jesus was sinless, he didn’t need to repent and ask forgiveness, but somehow he knew that his heavenly Father wanted him to be baptized. Jesus wanted to model for us what we need to do and he wanted to identify himself with each of us. He waited in the crowd like everyone else and was baptized with people who needed forgiveness because that was the whole point of Jesus’ ministry. He came for sinners, and here he identified with sinners, with us.
So John allows it. He baptizes Jesus. After being baptized, Jesus comes out of the water, and at that moment, something happens: the heavens were opened for him. Jesus personally sees the heavens open up as if this veil between heaven and earth were parted, and Jesus experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon him. Jesus sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit. He felt God giving him his strength to begin his public ministry.
And this next verse is the one that is so important for us to hear. It is the one that can help us when we start to worry about winning the approval of others. This was the voice Jesus needed to hear. Matthew tells us, “And the voice came from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Jesus needed to hear from his Father that he was well pleased with him, that he had his approval. What had Jesus accomplished at this point. Had he preached a bunch of great messages? Had he healed people of diseases? Had he multiplied the loaves and fish? Had he gathered a huge crowd of followers or started the movement of the Church?
No. No, he hadn’t done any of those things, and yet his heavenly Father says, this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Do you know why the Father said that? Because he was pleased, pleased with Jesus, and Jesus didn’t need to do anything spectacular for the Father to delight in him. He was pleased with him because he loved him.
Now, you may think that God would naturally say that of Jesus, but not of us. The truth is that Jesus came for us and as us. He died for us and as us. He received the approval of the Father for us and as us. He came to represent us.
Here’s why this event in Jesus’ life is so important. Through virtue of our baptism, we are joined to Christ, and we become adopted sons and daughters of God. If you have been baptized, you are God’s beloved daughter or son.
God is pleased with you. He is fond of you. He delights in you. And do you know what you need to do to earn that pleasure, to earn that delight, to earn that favor? Absolutely nothing.
And think about this. We worry about the approval of people at our work, at our school, approval of other moms or other dads. We worry about what we will look like to other people. We worry that we aren’t successful enough, so we work longer hours. Or we worry that others won’t perceive us as successful, so we get ourselves deep into debt to buy things to prove we are successful
Our worry about our approval before others to the point that we allow this worry to drive us into making some poor decisions or live with insecurity day in and day out. We live for the approval of other human beings, meanwhile the God who created the universe, who spoke the world into existence with his Word, the One who created the universe has already given you his approval.
Your heavenly Father loves you and delights in you, and it is not based on how much you make, or how clean your house is, or how much you have it all together, or anything you do, but who you are in Christ Jesus. Your Father is very fond of you. Psalm 18 says this, “He delivered me because he loved me.” Maybe you have heard this before, but If this could move from your heads, deep, deep into your hearts it would be so transformative. It would completely rid us of the worry that comes from what people think of us. Because I don’t have to worry about what you think about me or about your approval, when I know the all-powerful, all-knowing God loves me. You have a special place in your heavenly Father’s heart that no one else can rival. You don’t have to prove your worth or earn his love through performance or achievement or being perfect or looking good.
We have all gone searching for friends and for approval from people in high places. But God who reigns forever, you don’t have to earn his approval. Who shall you fear? God always goes before you. He always stands behind you. He is always by your side. The One who reigns forever, he is a friend of yours.
So do you worry what people think about you? That will lead you into thinking badly about yourself to the point you can not forgive yourself for things when even God forgives you, all because you worry about what other people think of you, or would think of you, if they knew this that or the other thing about you. Know that God loves you. You are his beloved.
Forgive yourself in the ways you do not meet the approval of other people which causes you worry, anxiety, self loathing, self directed anger and depression.
Do you worry that you have to be perfect or keep it all together because otherwise you won’t be acceptable? I’m not saying you don’t have to do the right thing, or do your job, and you should be lazy, or quit work, but don’t work out of a place where you are working so as to prove you are loved and beloved. For your heavenly Father delights in you.
You, like Jesus, are God’s beloved sons and daughters. If you have done wrong, ask his forgiveness. If you need to go to confession, do so. Accept his forgiveness. Stop trying to win approval. Forgive yourself, and delight in the Father’s love for you.