the captivity of praise


I never liked myself much as a kid. I thought I had to be loud and energetic to be noticed, and as an eleven year old girl being noticed was my deepest desire. Then one day I heard two girls whispering about me. Their hushed voices breathed unkind comments and words like "obnoxious" and "annoying" and "a try-hard" shot down the yellow hall like an arrow that was intended on stinging my heart. I remember walking past them and staring into their eyes, wanting them to know that I heard their thoughts, wanting them to see that I could still be brave, even though knowing they would never accept me. I looked into their eyes for a long moment, and then escaped to the bathroom, sat in a stall and cried.

Oh, the power of a few mean words.

Two years ago in my grade twelve year I was cast in a lead role in the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I loved every moment of it. I loved being on stage; loved having big, hot lights shining on me; loved learning lines, smiling big, singing loud - but the thing I loved most of all was the praise. Oh baby, did I ever love when someone would shower me with praise.

It was about a month after the musical had finished and I was at the movie theatre with my friends. I was buying my ticket, and the girl behind the counter was staring at me with a funny expression on her face. Smiling sheepishly, she asked me if I had ever been in the musical Joseph. I almost shrieked I was so excited. I practically felt like a celebrity. Someone I didn't know knew me! It was a high school play - so really it meant nothing to the rest of the world. But to me, I was really something. I walked into that movie with my head held high - a little too high, if you ask me.

Oh, the power of a few sweet words.

I realized just a few days ago that over the course of my short lifetime, I have allowed criticism and praise to hold me captive. When someone uttered something about me - whether kind or unkind - I allowed those words to define me. If it was something cruel, I felt as though I was entirely worthless. When it was lovely, I evolved into someone who believed she was better then the people who surrounded her.

Both held me captive. But Jesus sets me free.

He told me that it doesn't matter what people believe of me, as long as I believe him: the freeing truth that he loves me and cherishes me and wants me.

We can either allow ourselves to be held captive by praise and critique or we can choose to be freed by the Father.

I do believe in compliments.

I do believe in critique.

But I do believe that at the end of the day, when praise and glory have washed over our souls, when a wounding comment filled with a hurtful word has enveloped our hearts, or when no one in particular has said nothing at all, the only perspective that matters is Jesus'.

And he loves you, and he cherishes you, and he wants you. Just as you are.