I have a certain longing and I’m certain you do too.
It came to light for me this past weekend when my son, Jonathan, completed his first half-marathon. It was an inspiring run. Despite minimal training he completed the 13-mile course with enthusiasm. And the crowd warmly received him at the finish line.
I was proud of him, but envious too. His accomplishment almost made me want to take up running again. Almost.
Eons ago in high-school, I was a long distance runner until pericarditis put me into early retirement. Since then, on more than one occasion I’ve attempted to take up the sport again. But it never really took. I discovered that I don’t enjoy it. I prefer the speed of cycling instead.
Joining the chorus of applause at the finish line, I grappled with this conundrum. Why my resurgence of interest in a sport I don’t enjoy? I looked around as though I might find my answer in the faces of others. And I did. It was their enthusiastic praise that I longed for.
We feel good when others applaud our efforts, especially when they’ve come at great cost. Sociologists call that “social proof.” We take our cues from others about the worth and correctness of our actions.
Standing in that crowd, I discovered I had a longing for a crowd—one that would celebrate my accomplishments. It would have been fun to have a crowd cheer for me when I arduously completed my first century (100 miles) bicycle ride. But there wasn’t one. Nor was there one at the 5-mile mark on my writing project. No crowd gathered to applaud the completion of a bathroom remodeling project that took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And no one gave their approval when I finally stopped procrastinating and finished that long overdue project.
Most accomplishments in life are done absent of a crowd. There’s no ready-made crowd to yell “Atta boy” or “Atta girl” when you choose a good habit over a bad. Or when you keep persevering to do the next right thing, even when you’d rather curl up and quit.
Somehow we console ourselves with the thought that we’re really above all that. That we don’t need others to affirm or motivate us. That we don’t need a crowd. But we’d be lying. We are social beings and we all long for social affirmation.
No. Our longing for affirmation is not the problem. We go astray when our longing directs us off our God-given course to pursue it—when we start finding ourselves doing things merely for the approval of others, rather than the pleasure of God.
Cheering Jonathan across the finish line this weekend unearthed a longing. And it nearly caused me to lace up my running shoes to chase it. Unlike my son’s, however, it would have been a futile run.
What are some of the things you’ve chased merely for the approval of others?