Living With Disapproval



I hate disapproval. I know we’re not supposed to use the word “hate” but the truth is that “dislike” just isn’t a strong enough word. Maybe “I can’t stand disapproval” is a better alternative.

Regardless of finding the exact right word for it, I know this—I do all kinds of tricks to make people like me, to keep the peace, to be approved of. As an adult child of an alcoholic and always-recovering codependent, I intuitively know how to adjust what I want and need to accommodate others. I know how to stuff down my feelings and give up what I hope for to keep others happy. I know how to play small so I don’t appear too ambitious or strong. I know how to say the right thing to make people like me. I know how to put others needs before my own and call “humility,” while at the same time resenting them.

In other words, I am a master at doing everything I can to avoid disapproval.

However, I keep learning that it’s not only a soul-sucker. It is also a way to play it safe instead of risk really truly showing up and being who I really am as a leader, pastor, wife, mother, friend.

Years ago when I first entered ministry, I brought all my tricks that I had learned in my family and faith with me. I did everything possible to play nice and not rock the boat. I was a good soldier. I rarely pushed back or disagreed.

I was the kind of leader the churches I was part of really liked.

But over time I began to realize that by playing it safe I was not being honest—to myself, to God, to others.  In my efforts to avoid disapproval, I was ignoring the stirring God put inside me to lead, to stir the pot, to use my voice, to say what I really thought, to ask questions, to call the church to more.  

So I started being honest.

I started telling my truth.

I started using my voice.

I started asking hard questions.

I started stepping into more leadership.

I started risking my heart in new ways.

I started living into who I was created to be as a pastor.

I started to lead, like really lead.

And guess what happened? People started to disapprove of me. I began to make the people I worked with at church uncomfortable.

There were questions about biblical interpretation of women in leadership.

There were concerns about what donors would think.

There were meetings I was uninvited to.

There were too many weird and awkward and painful and hurtful moments to count.

Living with all that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a leader.

Being misunderstood.
Being talked about.
Being silenced.
Being labeled as prideful.
Being disapproved of.

It about did me in. However, it also helped me grow in a way I would have never grown if I kept quiet and kept trying to keep the peace and make everyone approve of me. It hit that deep message inside of me that I would be unloved if I was really me and began to heal it. And it strengthened the call inside of me as a leader like never before.

As women, to really lead will mean we will have to live with disapproval. It’s just that simple. There’s no way around it.

We will have to go to bed at night feeling vulnerable.

We will have to live with weird feelings like people don’t like us.

We will have to stand up against resistance that questions our gifts and roles.

We will have to have hard conversations that will drain us.

We will have to have our motives and sometimes our faith be challenged.

We will have to feel awkward using our voice and living with what we say.

We will have to resist our desire to delete that facebook post or edit our blog entry because we are sure that it will make people uncomfortable.

We will have to wrestle with doubts about our abilities.

We will have to stand up and keep walking when we want to sit down or crawl again.

After all these years, it still happens to me. I leave certain situations feeling stupid. I preach a sermon at another church and wonder if they approve of me. I use my voice at a meeting and am sure that people were annoyed.

Yep, I am living with disapproval.

My guess is that a lot of us out here struggle with the same thing.  We hold back as leaders because we are afraid of being misperceived. We push down the call that God has put in us because of the hazards involved.  It makes me think of the scripture in Galatians 1:10 when the apostle Paul asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

My hope for me and for all of us here at SheLoves is that we will become more and more able to live with disapproval, whatever that looks like in our different contexts and roles.

It’s what leaders have to learn to do.


Image credit: Gisella Klein