By Tara Johnson
Approval and love are not the same thing. It’s taken me a lifetime to figure that out.
I desperately want people to like me. The thought of someone being displeased with me in any way causes my stomach to curdle.
What’s one way to shake that cold feeling of dread? Work harder. Be more agreeable, more likeable. Fit in and never let them see the real you. After all, if they know what you’re really like, the acceptance will disappear. Right?
That’s what I told myself, anyway.
All of that changed one night in 2002. My physical body reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage. I crawled on to the bathroom floor and curled myself into a ball on the bathmat while I sobbed into the wee hours of the night. I was overwhelmed and completely exhausted. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.
I remember curling the long soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists, clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.
God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, I would have joy. This is not the victorious life You promised.
Somewhere along the way, I took my eyes off Jesus and began living for the applause of people. Men and women just like me. Sinners and failures, just like me. People who have made a mess of their own lives, just like me. People who didn’t die for me, yet I esteemed their opinion as if they did. And I lost sight of my Savior in the process. I gave away freedom and unconditional love and traded them for conditions, hopelessness and chains.
In my new novel All Through the Night, Cadence Piper struggles with her father’s expectations. When a phrenologist tells her family her stuttering is a result of a mental deficiency, Cadence works to prove the charlatan wrong by applying to be a nurse. When Dorothea Dix turns her away because of her youth and pretty face, she finds another way to serve…singing to the wounded soldiers at the hospital.
As her fame grows throughout Washington D.C., she finally receives the approval from her father she has always longed for…until one disastrous performance brings her reputation crashing down. It isn’t until Cadence meets a surgeon named Joshua Ivy, and unearths the secrets he’s hiding, that she understands approval and love are not the same thing.
Approval is a stamp that says, “You meet my expectations.” Love says, “You are a mess but I’m crazy about you anyway.” The former reeks of self-righteousness. The latter is freedom and grace.
So often writers say we’re writing for an audience of One, but we let our moods and fears rest on reviews, book sales, and making best-seller lists. Those are all external metrics that have nothing to do with the heart of God or our own motivations. Just like Cadence, we can chase applause but it drowns out the sound of His still, small voice.
I’m learning to release my need for approval. Whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst, God’s love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.
Tara Johnson is an author and speaker, and loves to write stories that help people break free from the lies they believe about themselves. Tara’s debut novel Engraved on the Heart (Tyndale) earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and finaled in the Carol and Christy awards. She’s a history nerd and adores making people laugh.