I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t long for notoriety. Even if we are one of the few who have done a halfway decent job of shoving our voracious ego into hiding somewhere deep inside our soul, and even if we’ve crafted a believable veneer that has successfully disguised its looming presence from others, its still there. Our humanity, with its quirky vices and annoying flaws, has made sure of this.
A part of us – all of us – longs for a nod of approval from someone. The more someones we can get it from, the better. When we’ve finished writing our first novel, taken the bow at the end of the theater production, finally completed the grant proposal for our boss or even just put the finishing touches on the new dinner dish we were trying out on our family tonight, we long for an accolade – even if it’s just one.
. . . from our literary agent – who thinks we are brilliant and is so thrilled with our manuscript.
. . . from the drama ministry director – who thanks us for gracing the church’s Christmas play with our talent.
. . . from the toothy grin of our three year old – who, honestly, is just grateful she didn’t have to go to bed hungry.
We hear their affirmation and take a breath of fresh air because, for now, our fragile esteem has been coddled.
The monster pacified.
Ego is the scariest of monsters and, if we aren’t aware of its strength and strategy, it can eat us alive. In that dark hidden room where we assumed it to be buried and gone, one of its hairy tentacles is almost always too unruly to be tamed. So, it pokes through a tiny crevice in our soul’s lockbox creating just enough room for the whole devastating ogre to eventually get out. It lurches toward the surface and shows up in our furrowed brows and crooked, pasted on smiles when we’ve been overlooked or under appreciated.
And, if there is anything that dredges up the horrid brute; if there is one thing that makes this ego-monster more furious and overbearing than it already is, it’s the very thing we tend to think of as the solution.
“I want to be a speaker.”
“I want to be a writer.”
“I want to be a Bible teacher.”
“I want to be a minister.”
I hear varying forms of this statement numerous times every week – in face-to-face conversations, in 140 characters or less on twitter and in long, heartfelt emails. But if there is anything I’ve learned from reading and re-reading these well-intended comments, it is that very often these people actually mean:
“I want to be KNOWN as a speaker or a writer or a Bible teacher or a minister.”
The thing is, many of them think that their desire to achieve a recognizable face and celebrated gift will only be quelled by receiving the acclaim they long for. They think that their quest for success will be calmed when they get the trophy, line their shelves with plaques or read their names on the coveted “top twenty whatever list.” They truly believe that once they arrive, they will have arrived at the intersection of satisfaction and peace.
But the twisted journey will have just begun.
The ego-monster is smart. It will tell you that your new position in the spotlight is innocuous, safe and therefore to be relished. In fact, it will assure you that you’ve found the solution to your need for approval. You’ll be so settled in this new space and be so busy enjoying the false security of admiration that you’ll be completely unaware of what’s really happening.
But it is happening even if you don’t know it.
You will have gotten so used to hearing your name said in conjunction with others whom you admire, or having a particular kind of invitation find its way into your email box, or being known by more people than your father or mother or friends ever have been or will be, that you’ll be completely desensitized to the spreading cancer.
Then one night, when the phone hasn’t rung for 24 hours, nothing’s been in your email box except spam and an invitation to your uncle’s wedding, and the only good feelings you’ve gotten are from the chocolate covered pretzels you demolished to calm your nerves, you’ll realize that you are hooked . . .
. . . addicted to the lights and glamour of it all . . .
. . . and the monster will whisper: “Gotcha”.
The reality is that with a book published or a speech given, with a Bible study written or a ministry goal achieved, there may come some acknowledgment. Social media makes it so. And, to be clear, there is actually nothing wrong with that. But achievement will never be an adequate salve to cool your burning, sleep depriving, crazed passion for more success. It could actually be the antagonist that stirs the monster up for more.
With each new ladder of success climbed, ego will get its second wind. Fueled by the applause you thought it didn’t even hear, it will push you further, faster and harder. Every invitation, every news clipping, every ovation, every endorsement will have been its food – strengthening it, grooming it, growing it. And then, it will be insatiable. It will keep you up at night thumping your head with its slimy finger, beating out the staccato rhythm of fear. It will make you worry if you have enough, if you are enough. It will keep you grasping after things – intangible things – that it knows you won’t ever have enough money to buy or time on earth to acquire.
And then, it will be bigger than you. Stronger. And layer by layer, it will dismantle the veneer and come oozing out of your pores.
Everyone will see it . . . especially you. And you won’t like what you see.
Because then you’ll know – you’ll know for sure – that the monster was the one behind your pursuit in the first place. It duped you. Made you play the fool and then left you for dead, hooked on an ideal that is now the dangling carrot you keep coming after but can’t ever quite reach.
So friend, let’s – you and me – seek to be one of the very few who want to commit to our calling simply for the pleasure of having obeyed God and fulfilling her life mission. Let’s submit to the discipline of what our unique crafts require even if – especially if – we know up front there is no reward or recognition waiting at the end. No commendation. No honorarium. No trophy. No applause. Not even appreciation.
Let’s help each other to remember that applause is not the grand prize waiting at the end of our endeavors. Their nod of approval has never been a suitable replacement for His. Let our mission be to purify our motives and then deflect attention and recognition. To deliberately convert any glory that is pushed our way into a currency that the One who actually earned it can receive. God please help us do it. Let’s fight the monster instead of hiding it. Bring it out in the open where it has no choice but to sit by and watch us take the acclaim it’s craving straight to the feet of our matchless Jesus.
We won’t receive the glory even if it’s delivered to us on a silver platter. And we won’t let our egos receive it either.
‘Cause it doesn’t belong to us.