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Every person cries out, “Will someone please approve of me!”

Once I took a year off from ministry for a sabbatical. I worked for the YMCA as a sports class instructor for kids four and five years old, teaching beginners classes in three different sports: baseball, basketball and soccer.

Ben was five but he was enormous. He took the beginner classes for all the sports I taught but it was apparent that his sport was sumo wrestling. He was at least three times as big and weighed thrice as much as any of the others his age in all of my classes. When we played group games he would use his weight to gain advantage. We would have to instruct him to be careful with the rest of the kids. We were constantly monitoring his play in order to preserve the lives of the other participants. If he fell on one of them, his or her life could be over.

Funny thing was, though Ben was big, he was also fast. In the “High Five Drill”, in which the kids ran as fast as they could, he kept up just fine. But if any one of them bumped into Ben while reaching to slap my hand at the finish line, they would bounce off him much the same as golf balls bounce off cement.

But Ben wasn’t just big and fast. He was vivacious. He had more energy and more of an outgoing personality than most of the kids in the program. And nothing seemed to phase Ben. If we corrected him or held him back from some activity because his size might hurt some of the smaller kids, he would seem unaffected. He never cried, pouted, whined or sulked. He was just filled with size, energy, personality and smiles.

That is why it seemed so out of character the day Ben responded to me the way he did in the soccer dribbling drill.

Dribbling in soccer consists of moving the ball down the field (or in our case the gym since we were teaching the class in a gymnasium) by tapping it with the insides of the feet. To stop it we teach them to “trap it” by simply placing a foot on top of the ball.

I’m sure you understand, with four and five year old’s in the introductory sports classes at the YMCA, it’s approval, approval, approval. Everyone knows—parents, teachers and coaches—kids need approval. And the younger they are the more approval they need.

When we do the soccer dribbling drill on the Gym’s hardwood floor, it is a fiasco of failure with the little ones. Their feet are clumsy. The soccer balls are bouncy. The floor is like cement and the kids are absolutely unskilled, especially during the first few sessions of the seven-week class. The balls go everywhere.

Yet, as the balls are scattering all over the gym, I am saying,

“Good job, Sam.”

“Nice stop, Travis.”

“Excellent dribbling, Sheila.”

“Good trap Julie—awesome, great, exceptional, superb.”

It’s not lies. With each approving word I am seeing one tiny good action. But with every good task done there are probably ten done poorly.

A lap consisted of dribbling a ball from one end of the gym to the other and back. On this day, as the kids finished their last lap, I was deeply engaged in approving of the kids even though it seemed that all of their efforts to dribble their balls were futile. But in my flurry of compliments to several of them, I hadn’t included Ben. I turned around and there was Ben, standing, holding his ball, and looking up at me.

Ben said, “What about me Coach Chris? Did I do good?”

“Sure you did, Ben,” I said. He hadn’t done very well at all you understand. His ball had been all over the floor on that lap the same as it was with most of the other kids; though that wasn’t the reason I hadn’t spoken approving words to him.

Ben persisted, “Then why didn’t you say, ‘Good job, Ben?’ You told everyone else good job, but you didn’t tell me.”

I lied, “I’m sorry, Ben. You did an excellent job. I just forgot to say your name.”

The answer I gave him seemed to satisfy him, but that moment with Ben etched a memory on my heart I will never forget.

I have observed people for my whole ministry and this is my conclusion. Adults need approval just as much as kids. The critical method doesn’t work with adults any more than it does with children because from the day we are born until the day we die; we feel inadequate as a result of our sinful condition. When Adam and Eve failed we fell right along with them. The communion we forfeited with God and the resulting approval deficit we feel, has left us wanting—no, needing to hear, “Well done.”

If we took our cues from the politicians, news and sports commentators on our televisions we would all find ourselves criticizing, blaming, accusing and slamming each other for the mistakes we all make. And we all make a lot. Yet, I marvel when I think of the acceptance, approval and affirmation I feel when the God who created the universe and who knows all things I’ve done, good and bad, approves of me, in spite of the mistakes I’ve made. He does so because when he assesses my life, He considers the sacrifice His Son made on a cruel cross two thousand years ago and applies it to my account. When I said yes to Him, He wiped my slate clean and I have felt nothing but approval from Him ever since.

Can we transfer that approval to others? Can we lift people up rather than tear them down? Can we affirm people rather than condemn them? Every person cries out, “Will someone please approve of me!”

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”– Matthew 7:1-3

“Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.”  — James 4:11

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