Puppy-Dog Approval

Wednesday 6 February 2008

I've been thinking about people I've known in the past who have been so eager for my approval that it spills out of their eyes when I talk to them. Do you know the type of person I'm talking about? I haven't had conversation with any in real life for years (except for the homeless man I met the other day, and he was just beautiful ... and another story), but when I was younger there was quite a few of them. What surprises me is my reaction to them (and also validates a lot of the whole mimetic theory thing, but that too is another post for another day). The type of person who is so eager to please that they are puppy dog-like in their eagerness has invariably evoked a reaction that has been one of kindness the older I have got and the more God has got to soften my heart. But it's kindness that sometimes has to take a circuitous route from my first impressions. Those impressions were in force when I was younger - the overwhelming desire to get away from such a person, to sneer at them, to kick them. How black the human heart can be.

Part of the reason for the irritation was that I didn't feel like I could trust that person. How did I know what they were saying to me was what they really thought about things? How much of it was reframed to be what I wanted to hear? The person eager to please that much is a person who is unable to be themselves with me. And that feels scary, like I'm talking to a ghost. How self-centred of me to be more focussed on my discomfort than on the person who was like that for a reason and who I excluded because I didn't want to overcome my small pettinesses.

A greater part of the discomfort was the amount of power that person was placing in me. My goodness, I wasn't a good receptacle back then for a lot of power. I couldn't wield it safely. I didn't know what to do with it. I still don't. I'm not overwhelmed or overtaken enough by Christ yet to be able to wield such power.

If I'm going to be honest, there was a fair bit of pride in there too, when I judged the puppy-dog eagerness of others. I have blessed with a strong personality, passionate convictions about things, a giant wad of independence. I have confidence in my ability to make my own discoveries. But it was my tumultuous teenage years, dealing with abuse and with a father who was intent on tormenting me, that added a layer of hardening to that independent spirit, a development of a sneering contempt for people who have placed so many of their eggs in the baskets of others. What kind of ridiculous unsafety is that? Far better to be independent. Why couldn't they trust themselves enough? I managed to do it. I managed to develop my personality and identity in the face of bad shit - why couldn't they? (See what a prideful beast I was?) At least I knew I could trust myself. It fed into my pride to be able to look at people who weren't as ridiculously independent as me and loathe the power they were throwing away which belonged to them.

In some ways I think I was right to think that, but ultimately that disdain came out of fear. And maybe there was a bit of envy there too, for those who were willing to offer themselves to other people, albeit in a somewhat dysfunctional way.

And then I came across periods of depression in my own life, and lowered confidence, and then I noticed my desire for approval from others had grown stronger - just at the time when I could get it the least. It was a humbling kind of experience, and one which reinforced for me that trusting in others to give us what God can only give is a dangerous dead-end.

What a tightrope it is we walk. We have a God who shows in ourselves and in others that humans are very often not going to give us what we need. They are going to let us down, treat us badly. I do believe that my independent spirit points toward something - that God is drawing us to trust more and more in our ability to find out the answers, to sense the way forward, to stumble there in the dark. The kingdom of God within. Trusting God. To trust the ways he is showing us to walk, ways which are fundamentally and sometimes diametrically opposed to the ways we have walked before. This God calls us to love each other with the kind of heartbreaking love that cracks us open, that forces us to look at "the other" as ourselves. To acknowledge that the disdain we feel for others is very often the disdain we are feeling for ourselves, for our shadow sides, if only we will admit it. And to live with the open-handed love of God towards other human beings who are at times undependable, untrustworthy, hurtful, hateful. Like us.

Oh, the mess. The mess :)

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