On Learning to Live For An Audience of One
I feel an old anxiety rising up in me, as I tap at these computer keys.
Maybe this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel if she walked into a dimly lit tavern, where ice cubes clink against glass and the bartender counts out the glug-glug-glugs from a tipped bottle.
Someone else will have to tell me if I’m right—if this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel in a bar. (And maybe it all depends on the day.)
I can’t say for sure, because booze isn’t my vice.
Your approval is.
Let me tell what I’m feeling as I step inside, leaning my back against a wood-paneled wall illuminated by a collage of neon signs. I can already taste it, how badly I want it: Your approval and acceptance. I know how it feels on the way down—like a familiar, comfortable burn to appease my inner addict, my inner pain.
I have a two-faced heart: I both want what I want, and yet I don’t want it at all.
All the world’s a tavern, it seems, and maybe we’re all thirsty for something that we know won’t do us any good.
Let’s say this blog is a bar today. I don’t belly up to this bar for a whiskey. I don’t pay much attention to whether they’re serving IPAs or Pabst. I’m paying attention to the faces. Your faces. Who’s in this room today? And does what I have to say make me worth listening to?
I’m not proud to admit how often I have wanted to make a good impression, especially around smart folks like you.
I’ve been coming clean from that, and God knows it hasn’t been easy. Dying daily never is. Maybe it’s the way someone comes clean from alcohol dependency, one day at a time. It’s both painful and exhilarating—like you’re breathing air into your lungs for the first time in your life.
It’s how a daily death makes you more alive.
My friend, Seth Haines, and I have talked about that quite a bit over the years—about how recovery is universal. He wrote a book called Coming Clean. It is a raw account of his first 90 days of sobriety. “I suppose we’re all drunk on something,” he writes. Because recovery isn’t just for the drinkers and the users.
It’s for all of us.
Let me tell you what I’ve been recovering from for the last few years:
Let’s say my heart was a beer stein or a wine glass. I’ve spent a lot of my life holding the heart-cup out to people like you, hoping you’d fill it by telling me that I’m kind, that I’m smart, that I’ve got something important to say. That I matter.
I want you to say good things about me when the saloon doors swing closed behind me after I leave. (But I assume the worst.)
I have figured your good words would save me from my inner addict—the one who has feared rejection, of being “found out,” and of assuming that I don’t really belong in whatever room I’ve been invited into. I’ve struggled with “imposter syndrome.”
After years of imposter living, a person can barely tell where the mask stops and the skin starts. And it can take a good long while to find the “real you” again.
I’m in the middle of finding me.
I wrote a book about all that, but I’m still in recovery. I’m still in the middle of my do-over.
This morning, I thought about Easter. It’s only 33 days away. But in so many ways, Easter is already here.
Because every morning is Easter morning where I live. Easter is how I live in the tavern of this world, and still function without asking for another glass of whatever I think will numb the ache.
I don’t need to numb the ache. I need to understand the ache. I need to feel the ache, and then ask God to help me deal with it. Every day, I ask myself hard questions, like the ones the Apostle Paul asked: “Am I now trying to win the approval of man, or of God? Or am I still trying to please man?”
I used to think that I’d wake up some day and then it would be gone. Poof! I wouldn’t want your approval anymore.
But my recovery? It’s ongoing. I have learned that I am in the constant process of coming clean. I am caught between who I once was, and who I will be. And every day, I get closer to truly living for an audience of One.
I’m learning not to resent the process, because my recovery makes me needy for Jesus, needy for Easter.
In my childhood church, we sang this song throughout the Lenten season: “Every morning is Easter morning from now. Every day’s Resurrection Day the past is over and gone.”
I want to live every morning like it’s Easter morning, like a fresh coming-alive. I also want to live like it’s Good Friday, because I have to die to live.
The world has never known another god like this—a God who loves sinners, who says, “I’m giving you a do-over.”
The same God will say the very same thing tomorrow. Isn’t that something?
In my recovery, I need a God like that.
And thanks be to Jesus, I have one.
YOUR TURN: What are you recovering from?
RELATED: My first book, Love Idol.Done with striving.
Done with people-pleasing.
Done with impressing.
Done with performing.
Done with approval-seeking.
Done with trying to manage others’ impressions of me.
Done with masks and facades and the wearying work of trying to prove myself.
I wrote Love Idol in 2014, but I will still need to live its message every day of 2017 because I have had enough of the “not enoughs.” Let’s live preapproved … and live free.
Love Idol chronicles my own story of recovery. The book helps people dismantle what’s separating them from true connection with God and experience the freedom of a life lived in authentic love.
Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!
Our featured writer this week is Gretchen Fleming. Have you ever thought to yourself (or maybe wondered out loud), “What is my purpose? Why am I here?” If so, I think you’ll learn from Gretchen’s insight, encouragement, and story. (P.S. You might not look at your favorite necklace the same again!) Find Gretchen here.
To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer
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Photo credit: Love Idol and journal photo by @bookstrustandpixiedust on Instagram.
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“All the world’s a tavern….” Those words are going to stay with me. You are spot on and I’ve never looked at it in quite that way. But, yes, we all have our favorite elixir. It’s why we die daily and desperately need daily manna instead. Good words, Jennifer.
Thanks, Lisa! Seth helped me see the connection. His book is terrific; if you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.
Amen and amen. Same struggle. Varying degrees of recovery, but then recovery that depends on the day isn’t really recovery at all, is it? Unless, of course, it’s Easter day.
Amen, Nataliee. Thank you.
Wow! We are all in recovery for something aren’t we? Thank you for your transparency. You have given me reason to pause and reflect on my own recovery from not always believing in myself. That I am capable, I am worthy and I am loved.
Thank you!! Thank you so much for sharing this. Now, I no longer feel alone. I realize people with the courage, and who’ve excelled on their path like you, also feel this. This article is another catalyst in renewing my courage, to continue with my own path from God. This article felt Heaven sent.
Felt my heart stop a few times as I read and nodded. We need words like this in our lives, every so often, just to affirm – or reaffirm – why we’re doing what we do.
One of my most favorite things about your words is that you are real, you write from a place we can identify with. And your book, it has met my heart in ways that words may not adequately affirm. And I love that you are honest about living life each day, not that you feel you are still recovering… but you are right that we are all in a place of recovery. This world is a state of constant spinning and chaos blending into some pattern of organization and we all need Jesus. Some of us have a better handle on it, or a few of us are more honest…like you are here, now. Thanks friend. You bless me each time I stop.
Thank you for this. I don’t have anything wise to say except I think this is a very wise and vulnerable and well written post.
All of those listed at the bottom, yes. The main one that jumped out was the managing other’s opinions of me. AMEN!! It is so freeing to finally be able to be myself without apologizing a trillion times or trying to explain myself etc. I loved your book The Love Idol but in all honesty, at the time I read it it wasn’t on my radar. It was only a year or more later that I understood the importance of its message. It’s funny how God works, and you are one of those people He uses a lot to help me see I am not alone! I have always admired your vulnerability and always will. We don’t all have to agree on everything as you said once before, but that is the beauty of the church that God has showed me through the writing communities. I am so glad I started blogging…I feel like I would have missed out big time on a whole bunch of blessings if not! Praying for you friend. Keep up the faith and good work. xoxoxo
So can relate! Thanks for hosting!
Jennifer, one thing I sometimes struggle with is reconciling an unhealthy need for approval with the love language of “words of affirmation.” How do you keep the latter from veering off into the former? It’s something I’ve pondered but never fully figured out! I appreciated “Love Idol” very much and can relate to the process of finding the “real me.” 🙂
Oh so true. We never fully arrive in this life at total recovery. We are always fighting our addictions and recovering from something. I think the thing I am still trying to recover from is pleasing others.
I almost cried reading this. I so desperately want approval especially with my art. I always wonder if it’s good enough – IF I’m good enough. It’s a struggle to not seek it out. It’s a slow process of weaning one’s self away from approval seeking. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who struggles in this area. Thank you for sharing.
Well. This is being bookmarked and shared and even on a second reading I’m equal parts so relieved, yet also squirming in my chair. I feel like this battle for finding my real worth veers back and forth… God takes me to school on it, and then it’s only so long before I forget everything He teaches me on the subject.
Thinking I needed your visual of the bar to suddenly take this from abstract to so very real. Many thank yous for giving this topic real words. xxoo
Excellent post, Jennifer ❤️
Jennifer, I’ve been swinging those tavern doors a lot longer than you have. Maybe not as often as I used to but they are still there – beckoning me, teasing me to “come in.” And, you are right…as followers and disciples of Christ we must live Good Friday and Resurrection Morning every.single.day. We do what we do because we must – it is our love language – our gift HE has given us and as The Word says, “His gifts are without apology.” So if He gives them freely because He trusts us to use them rightly – why do we strive so hard to be approved? HE already approves of us! And, don’t forget, YOU wrote that book – remember? It was my first intro to YOU…I had the printables taped all over my office and your words convinced me – I WAS PREAPPROVED. Now, I am reminding YOU…you are too. Don’t let the devil have one inch of an open door – GOD IS PLEASED WITH YOU and YOU ARE STILL HELPING OTHERS WITH YOUR WORDS. (this got longer than intended!!!) (((xo)))
Excellent post and analogy. We all are truly recovering, and will be till the Lord calls us home. Grateful for this encouraging post today.
I completely relate, as I often do to your words! Paul has much to teach us, and I feel that we all “do what we hate.” But what we hate is different for all of us. As I grow in God’s Word, I am sometimes surprised by how much I still struggle with my struggle. I’m reminded of Paul’s thorn a lot, and how he was never healed of it …and how it kept Him close to God.
My dysfunction is part of who I am. Whether as a consequence to sin or generational sin or just living in a world of sin as an imperfect human …I’m not sure I”ll ever grow out of it. And, as I come to terms with who I imperfectly am …still loved, called worthy, and still called … I start to let go of the “I’ll never make that mistake again,” and embrace the fact that I probably will! Over and over! And that’s the deep realization of big GRACE is.
I keep trying to be better, chasing after Him, and holding on tight. But, when I trip and fall, I have to remember He’s still there …hand out-stretched. I have to get back up and make myself forgive myself as He does. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part.
Thank you so much Jennifer for the special surprise of seeing my name featured:) What a blessing this morning! Blessings to you my friend for your family and ministry!
I also loved your post, as I can well relate to this addiction. I was examining why I am so quick to think when someone doesn’t respond to me as expected that I am in trouble with them somehow. Just yesterday God was showing me my insecurities and how they reveal a brokenness that I did not realize I had. Thanks for your honesty. It is a blessing to know that we don’t walk this path alone.
Oh my goodness…YES! All the yeses!!!
I’m recovering from high expectations. Believing that relationships have to look a certain way to be valid and if the don’t then I’m not seen or valued…or approved I suppose. And as often as I try to lay it down, it sort of like an alcoholic choosing smoking instead. One vice in exchange for another. I’ve battled pride and envy too. But, like you, I’m grateful that every day affords the opportunity to come before a God of grace and pray, “make me new.”
I love this. It makes me feel less alone. And it brings gentle conviction about all I’m really doing in my life. I long for that approval and fear being alone. Yet I also fear being less than authentic. But God knows. And God loves. And God heals.
I can relate so much with this, Jennifer, that I want to cry. It can still be so hard to switch off my autopilot of wanting approval and acceptance. It’s so true how it becomes an addiction. And that imposter syndrome… Guilty… Thank you so much for your transparency. That even though you’ve written such a great book about the need to be approved, that doesn’t mean it’s gone. You still struggle. It’s still a process. It makes me feel less alone. I, too, long to live and breathe for the audience of One! Thank you for all your encouragement! Love and hugs to you!
Jennifer- this was such a great post! Yes on so many levels. I felt rejection growing up so I needed to control everything to make others want me and love me. It’s exhausting to try and be someone I’m not. I will be recovering forever I’m afraid, but I’m glad God is walking with me.
Wow… well said! 🙂
I’ve been right there with you, Jennifer, desiring people to fill up my self-worth tank. I knew that tank was superfluous, but couldn’t seem to let it go, in spite of efforts to ignore it and prayers to remove it. Slowly but surely (yes, it is definitely a process) God is helping me to be less concerned about what people say or think. About a decade or so ago, a popular song played on the radio, “An Audience of One.” It’s an important truth to keep front and center. Thank you, Jennifer!
You are loved and Jesus approves of you and He is really the “ONE” that matters.
Jesus approves of you. He’s the only one whose approval matters. Set your gaze on him and him alone. No one else.