Acceptance means to be received as adequate, valid or suitable – which is what we want. Rejection is to be dismissed as inadequate or unacceptable – which is what we fear. It is not wrong to want to share our lives with other people and be included in a group, but trouble comes when the need for acceptance takes priority over everything else.
In his Confessions, St Augustine states that ‘the essence of sin is disordered love’, meaning that we love good things, but love them in the wrong order. We may legitimately love our families, friendships, careers or hobbies; but in our list of loves these should be placed second, third or fourth. If we place them first we displace God. In placing the need for acceptance first we displace God and create an idol. This is sin.
Acceptance from whom?
When we are very young, acceptance by parents is so important that we try to live up to their (sometimes unrealistic) expectations. In our teens the acceptance of our peers holds much greater value, so we dress, act and speak in the same way as them. Those older still may appear to need no acceptance; but in reality their acts of goodness and kindness may be motivated by an unspoken desire to be ‘seen of men.’
Acceptance and media
Some of the subtlest, yet most powerful influences in our lives are the various forms of modern media.
Although celebrity magazines and reality TV shows bombard us with images of successful or ‘wannabe’ successful people, nowadays ‘social media’ is ‘king’ of the influencers. Every Facebook or Instagram post we look at provides a window into the perfectly presented lives of others. This is like gazing enviously at someone else’s ‘highlights’ while we are trapped within a mundane blooper reel. Seeing others as more beautiful and successful than we are, we fear we will never be good enough.
We are also concerned with the way we project ourselves through our social media. We therefore upload our best photos, seeking external validation from others’ ‘likes’. We try to say interesting, witty things and take delight in having ‘followers’. Conversely, a lack of ‘likes’ can leave us diminished and lacking acceptance. Recent studies indicate that poor mental health is more common in young people today than ever before. Acceptance or rejection is no longer just for the school or work place but follows us all the way home, haunting us from our own devices. Social media imprisons us on a rollercoaster of insecurity and instability.
Acceptance and the Bible
What does the Bible say to help us?
God has made us
In Psalm 139:14 we read that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. If therefore we are constantly comparing ourselves with others we should stop. Because God wonderfully made us as we are, with all the beauty, talents and possessions He chose to give us, this should be enough. Don’t let anyone tell us otherwise.
God has accepted us
This does not necessarily make it easier when we feel rejected by our peers, but consider these verses carefully – memorise and use them when rejection stings:
‘He made us accepted in the Beloved.’ (Ephesians 1:6)
Jesus said, ‘whoever comes to Me I will never cast away.’ (John 6:37)
Despite all our sin and failure, God has accepted all who trust His Son and, in grace, given us the righteousness of Christ. As a result, clothed in this righteousness, we are fully accepted in Him. This means way, way more than the fickle acceptance of our flawed fellow humans. God accepts us – that is enough.
Being a Christian is not going to make us popular
The sooner we get our heads around this the better. Christian lifestyle and values are counter-cultural, so we cannot possibly fit in. As those who follow Christ and seek to be like Him, it is inevitable that, as He did, we will experience rejection.
‘He was despised and rejected by men.’ (Isaiah 53:3)
So when we feel pushed to the edge of friendship groups, or left out of others’ plans and conversations, it is well to remember this is the path our Master walked. And that’s ok.
We are told not to conform
‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2)
We do not have to be the clones others wish us to be in dress or behaviour. We do not have to give in to peer pressure and do what others do. Instead, in the power of a Spirit-filled life, we can be transformed to be more like Jesus and less like our friends. This transformation makes us pleasing to God, which is of far greater worth than human acceptance.
Make sure our loves are in the right order
The God who is Number One commands, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Exodus 20:3)
Our need for acceptance must not become a fake god. Rather, we must put God first in the decision-making process, always checking what we do against His word.
Only when everything is in the right place will we find peace.
So, if you still feel you aren’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, you are probably right. None of us are. Nor should we be. It is time to abandon the idolatrous craving for human acceptance. It is time to be ‘transformed’ instead of being ‘conformed’. It is time to glory in God our Creator’s acceptance. Let us use social media for good without fear of sinful human judgment.
Then we will be wise – and not ‘mugs’!