Whose Approval Are We Seeking? How Staying True to Myself Brought Me Closer to God

I’ve never really been one to put much stock into what the proverbial crowd thinks or does. When it seemed that my entire elementary school played for the local soccer club, instead, I was the ultimate band geek. My Halloween costumes were never bought, but always designed and sewn at home with my mom. In fact, I once got dumped in high school for being “too weird” after I brought my tackle box and fishing rod to school with plans to go after class — but the hardest thing for me was trying to understand why he thought being weird was a negative. Clearly, I’ve never had a problem trying to impress others on their own terms.

Even now, I’m probably not living by most peoples’ standards. My cubicle has so many plants that my coworkers call it Jurassic Park. I sometimes run barefoot. I’m hand-sewing myself a new wardrobe entirely out of natural fibers, because why not?

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A while ago, I started wondering — if my life hasn’t been lived according to others’ rules, what has been my measuring stick for a life well lived?

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he asks us, “Am I trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?” (Gal 1:10). It didn’t seem to me that I had a problem with the former, but was I really trying to impress God with everything I did? I didn’t think so. I was mostly floating along doing whatever made me happy.

I decided to see what I could do to direct my activities, hobbies, and lifestyle to the service of God. Even though the school band, my crafting, and my unshod trail adventures weren’t actively luring me away from holiness, I knew they could be more aligned with my vocation as a disciple of Christ.

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The author building a gazebo for outdoor worship.

I started with music, since that seemed easy — I could share it at Sunday Masses! I became a cantor at my parish, and have loved every minute of leading our congregation in sung prayer. Music wasn’t just something I did, but it became something done with love for God.

Next on the list was my sewing and crafting — even this was redirected in my journey to “win the approval of God.” I made a matching set of liturgical vestments for my parish, recruited my dad to co-build the church a platform and gazebo for outdoor worship during the pandemic, and am in the middle of sewing new easy-care altar linens custom-fitted for our newly renovated altar. Crafting for Christ!

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Finally, I looked at my enjoyment of unusual sports. I talked to the teens at my parish about leading a sports camp for underprivileged kids in our area transitioning out of homelessness. We partnered with an awesome local organization to provide a weeklong camp, and our teens led it all — coaching, organizing, and supervising. Before we headed out each morning, we’d discuss social justice, service as an expression of our faith, a preferential option for the poor, solidarity and Catholic social teaching, and more, to give our teens context and a deeper reason for participating.

Once I opened my eyes, it seemed that everything could in some way be directed toward winning the Lord’s approval. Once I’d started, I was surprised at how much greater a sense of meaning and purpose my formerly self-oriented hobbies gave me. They weren’t just done simply to occupy my hours anymore, but on top of that to serve others and make the world a better place, and that’s really rewarding.  I suppose all that’s left is to use that “weird” fishing tackle to become a fisher of men — after all, there’d be no better way to impress God than to do what his son asked of me.

Originally published April 26, 2021.