Living for Likes

"Everyone else in our group was getting great response to their messages. I started to think I didn't have anything to offer, and then suddenly I didn't have any confidence to give the gospel message."

A friend of mine was sharing a painful ministry experience. This vibrant, Jesus-loving woman who has been leading others for years suddenly had a crisis of confidence. Others she was working with had received rave reviews from fellow workers about their presentations. But few seemed to connect with what she had to say. Seemingly overnight, my friend became discouraged and struggled to carry on with the work. 

Her story isn't unusual. I've had similar conversations with other women. In fact, I've had similar conversations inside my own head!  More than once I've asked myself questions like these: "Am I making a difference at all?" "Would anyone notice or care if I stepped out of this ministry?" "Why am I even here? There are so many people more gifted for this than I am."

We all want the approval of people who matter to us. It's important to feel that what we do makes a difference. Whether in our homes, at our workplace, or in volunteer and ministry activities, we hunger to hear that we are doing well. When our actions receive no applause, we become anxious.

Thanks to social media, that once subtle phenomenon of being rated by others is now more immediate and visible. We post our opinions, selfies, and pictures of our recent activities in the hopes of attracting 'likes'. With Facebook's expanded reaction possibilities, now 'likes' aren't even enough. We need 'loves' and we crave comments. Anything to confirm that we are noticed and that other people see us as successful.

In effect, our self-images are hostage to the big thumbs-up in the blue circle. If we don't receive enough of them, we begin to question our performance. This can quickly lead to doubting our value.

The truth is, putting our identity and security in the hands of others is a no-win scenario. Our efforts may win cheers one day, but draw jeers the next. Securing the big client, putting on a successful women's event, writing the insightful piece or graduating a child with honors feels great for a day, a week, or maybe even a month. Then we realize that we are expected to produce the same results or even better the next time around to draw the same amount of praise.

The answer is not found in trying harder or doing better. I know, because I have tried.

I have also observed high profile people in business, sports, and the arts. The greater the success, the greater seems to be their fear of slipping from the top. This can be just as true in ministry as in any other field.

The cure for our performance anxiety lies with rediscovering whose Kingdom we are building, and whose approval really matters. Two men from Scripture remind us of the road to peace and release from our endless striving.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the crowds that had been flocking to John the Baptist began dwindling. John's disciples were put out by this, reporting to him that everyone was going to Jesus now. John replied that he had anticipated this change, and was full of joy because of it. With beautiful humility he stated, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

Decades later, the apostle Paul wrote from a Roman prison to his dear friend Timothy. Paul was quite aware that he was more likely to be put to death than to be released. And yet his tone was serene as he stated, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)

These two men pointed people towards Jesus, and that was enough for them.

When I was training for cross-cultural experiences, the issue of evaluating the success of our mission came up. Our mentor matter-of-factly let us know that we probably would not know the results of our labor. What we could assess, he told us, was whether we had laid everything down for the Kingdom. Did we say, 'Yes, your Majesty,' to whatever Jesus asked of us?

Many of us have been judging our work based on 'likes' - who noticed, how many came, and what they said. I think it's time we begin asking better questions.

Did I go where Jesus sent me? Did I do what he asked? Did I love who he put in front of me? These are the things that matter because, after all, his "Well done" is the only one we really need to hear.