I climbed steps and joined the ranks of parents pretending to be comfortable as they perched gingerly on the hard bleachers and breathed in the humid, chlorine-infused air.
We sat with bags at our feet, filled with towels and kid-sized flip-flops.
We were at swimming lessons, and we flanked the pool like an army of adoring supporters, eager to see our precious children perform and progress.
The kids, of course, were well aware of their prime position on center stage. At first they dutifully followed their assigned instructors to their respective lanes and slowly lowered themselves into the pool, some more gracefully than others.
My attention was divided as two of my kids remained on one end of the pool, while the third was led to the far side. My focus shifted from left to right as I tried to pay equal amounts of attentiveness to each child.
Initial instructions were doled out, and the little swimmers-to-be did their best to copy the demonstrated actions of their teachers.
Then, inevitably, there was a shift in the water’s current. Without fail, one by one, the gaze of the children started to waft toward the bleachers. Some were subtle, giving quick glances in the general direction of mom or dad, just long enough to ensure they were met with the proper smiles of encouragement. Others were wildly obvious, jumping up and down and shouting at the top of their lungs, “Mooo-oomm!! Mo-oomm!” while flailing their skinny, dripping arms in the air.
My kids tended to fall in the middle ground, locking eye contact on a regular basis and waving with moderate force until I rewarded them with a thumbs-up and a wide grin of approval.
From my side, my husband scolded me for feeding their desire for attention and praise. “Don’t encourage them!” he remarked.
The mama pride in me was deflated, but I realized his point.
I was teaching them to look for approval from men.
The verse came to mind, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servantof Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Deep down, I am exactly like each one of those kids.
My focus is so easily shifted from my Teacher to the bleachers. I’m constantly diverting my gaze to the stands, subconsciously checking to see how many nods of approval I can rack up from any who might be watching.
My aim is not to learn as much as possible so that I might be able to emulate my Heavenly Instructor, but to do as well as possible to gain a social smile and thumb-up sign.
Feeding the Hunger for Approval
By feeding the approval-seeking nature of my children, I am encouraging them to do the same. Instead, I should re-direct their attention back to their ultimate teacher, the Lord. I should be teaching them that it’s possible for them to swim to the glory of God. I should remind them that “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Outwardly, it doesn’t matter which kids in the pool are progressing the fastest or improving the most dramatically. What matters is their heart — and as I’m learning, both the swimming pool and the bleachers are fantastic breeding grounds for pride.
There is a time and a place for people in the bleachers to applaud good work — but the glory belongs to God alone. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV). The Bible doesn’t say that we should let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and applaud us and our efforts. It doesn’t even say we should do our best so our parents will be proud. Instead, it says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV).
Yes, we are to strive to do our best, to learn to exhale underwater, to swim with proper strokes — but not for the praise of those in the stands. It’s all for the glory of God.
That Saturday morning at swimming lessons, I realized that my focus has not been fixed on the glory of God. Not only that, but I’ve been subtly teaching my children to seek the approval of men, over and above their desire to please God. As a parent and as an individual, I need His divine assistance in turning my heart away from the temptation to seek (and give) approval from the stands, and toward the “praise of His glorious grace.” Only the Lord can help me to keep my eyes away from the bleachers and fixed firmly on His face. Praise from the bleachers means nothing to Him. “So let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith …” (Hebrews 12:2).
What about you? How are you seeking waves of approval from the bleachers? How might you be teaching others to do the same?
Kate Motaung is the wife of a South African pastor and homeschooling mom of three. She has contributed to Ungrind, Radiant Magazine, (in)Courage, StartMarriageRight.com, Thriving Family, MOPS and Young Disciple magazine. You can read more from Kate at her blog, Heading Home or on Twitter @k8motaung.