I wear chains. You may not see them, but they are there. I desire to be a servant of Christ, but am entrapped by a cruel task master. Just when I think I have broken free from his command, I find myself, once again, submitting to his incessant decrees. I am enslaved to the approval of others.
I first recognized my bondage in Jr. High. Through wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and associating with the right people, I struggled to fit in with the fashionable few. Leaving my elementary friends, I set out in pursuit of popularity. The social barometer was the lunch table, and I would not be content until eating with the "in" crowd. In this failed attempt to find significance, my chains were clearly visible.
Bearing the burden of my bonds, I entered high school. At a youth event the summer before my sophomore year, I met a family who would change my priorities. These were a peculiar people. They didn't care about attire or outward appearance. Their language was not tattered by gossip or meaningless chatter, but was filled with gentleness, grace, and kindness. As I spent more time with them, I realized the foolishness of chasing the chaff of popularity. For a moment, it felt as if my shackles had been loosed. Yet even as the size of my audience grew smaller, I continued to perform: choosing the words my character would speak, emotions she would express, and insights she would reveal. In the midst of becoming a respectable person, I felt the cold clasp of chains.
In time, I graduated high school. The transition to college brought new people and new expectations. In an effort not to disappoint others, I worked, studied, and practiced with vigor. My performance was directly tied to how I viewed myself. When I performed well, I felt good. When I performed poorly, I felt shame. My aim was to avoid shame through the means of excellence. My bonds became a burden disguised in the cloak of discipline. However, in the midst of my chase fueled by bad motives, God continued to reveal Himself to me. As I listened to lectures, completed assigned reading, wrote papers, and studied for tests, I contacted a God of love. Growing in acceptance of His love, I learned to cast aside my chains. Yet, they lingered.
I am now a children's minister. Shortly after my first year of planning for Wednesday nights, someone came to me with criticism. After she left, I cried, and as tears streamed down my face, I felt the cold clasp of chains. Lest, you begin to feel sorry for me, I better tell you that this criticism was countered with praise as I received letters in the mail, balloons in my office, and spoken words of appreciation. Ironically, the more praise I receive, the more I crave. In my quest for one more word of approval, I trip over my chains.
"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:0). When will I find release? "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit" (Rom. 7:6). I will always be bound, but it is my choice as to who is my master. Will I serve God, or man? As Kenneth Boa writes in his book, Conformed to His Image, "The more we are concerned with what God thinks of us, the less we will be worried about what others think of us. And when we are no longer enslaved to people's opinions of us, we are free to love and serve them as Christ loves us - with no strings attached."
Lord, help me to accept your love. "Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name" (Ps. 142:7).