I wanted to be good at it.
Really good at it.
And I wasn’t.
I think, in the smallest of nutshells–that could sum up my first year as a teacher.
I wanted to be great. And I wasn’t.
I don’t write that fishing for compliments. I don’t mean that I was terrible. I don’t think I merited the “World’s Worst Teacher” award.
But what I wanted and what I got were two different things.
I love the movie 500 Days of Summer. It seems to be a movie people either hate or love. I think it’s brilliant. I love the humor. The shots. The shades of blue in every scene to bring out Zooey Deschanel’s eyes. The soundtrack. The quirkiness. My crush Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In the movie, there is a scene where the shot is split into “Expectations” and “Reality.” You watch the same event occurring simultaneously on either side of the screen with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s “Expectations” of the event and the “Reality” of the event. Naturally, the reality is much more heartbreaking.
I think my split screen of teaching wouldn’t necessarily be “Expectations” and “Reality.” I honestly didn’t expect it to be great–rather “Desired” it to be great.
What I wanted. What I got.
I wanted to be great and I wasn’t. I didn’t get the applause.
I’ve been chasing applause for a long time. And teaching ended up being yet another outlet for my chasing.
I chased applause for years on stage.
I chased applause living in India.
I chased applause serving in various capacities.
I’m, apparently, really bad at learning this lesson.
It was funny realizing how much I wanted it. I would work tirelessly on lesson plans, and pour out every bit of me every single day. And there was no instant gratification. There was no long-term gratification. Comparable to those late night dress rehearsals–singing, acting, and dancing my heart out to an empty auditorium.
Or so it felt.
I joked that it was the actress in me that wanted the instant gratification of the standing ovation.
But I think it goes deeper than that.
Instead it is the sinner in me. The broken. Self-centered. Glory-hungry me.
Instead it is the me who wants a ministry of applause.
Time and time again the Lord humbles me. Lovingly and painfully working to wean me off of my cravings for this world. Of my seeking fulfillment in that which cannot fulfill. In drinking from broken cisterns.
The 22 year-old Shara who was angry and jealous that she had gotten on a plane, moved to India, and her efforts seemed fruitless. She had no stories to tell. She had no cause for fame. She wept as she confessed her chasing of applause. Her mentor asked her that day, “Shara, if you knew that no books would ever be written about you, if you would serve your whole life without seeing anything come of it, if no one would ever know who you were, or even care–would you still want to be a missionary?” The brokenness inside her wanted to answer, “No.”
I served for many years as an actress for church youth camps. By far the greatest summers of my life. I love camp–the Lord changes lives at camp. He changed mine. It is, in some ways, a hyper-version of life. A week fully submersed in a “Christian bubble” of brilliant lights, sound, hype, the gospel, service, video, bands, speakers, excitement. In a way, it was the ministry I was chasing. I would go on stage and perform. I would receive applause. Week after week I would see thousands of lives changed. Instant gratification.
And perhaps I carried some of that with me into my first year as a Bible teacher. Into my day to day exhausting, frustrating, heartbreaking ministry as a high school Bible teacher. Perhaps I carried in a somewhat warped view of ministry. Expectations versus reality. Desired versus Reality. What I wanted it to be. And what it was.
We live in a world of chasing applause. How many ‘likes’ we can get. How ‘approved of’ we can be by others.
And I chase it. I am guilty of chasing it.
I have stared in the mirror so despairingly over what reflected back. For beauty earned applause. Applause from men. Applause from women. And I wasn’t beautiful. So I chased beautiful.
The filtered “high points” of people’s lives plastered throughout social media. An exciting glamorous life earned applause. And my life wasn’t exciting or glamorous. So I chased exciting and glamorous.
Meeting cultural expectations of marriage. Having a family. Buying a house. Having a well-paying job that you love and are passionate about. These all are met with applause. I failed to achieve them. So I failed to receive the applause.
There is emptiness to applause. A temporary fix to an eternal problem. A band aid on a severed leg.
A quote from Elisabeth Elliot:
Lord, take away my longing or give me what I long for. The Lord answered, “I must teach you to long for something better.
The Lord must teach me to long for something better than the applause of men. He must teach me to long for Him instead.
The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Whether it’s to succeed in a chosen field or to have a certain relationship–we’re saying, “If I have that, if I get my deepest wish, then everything will be okay.” You’re looking to that thing to save you from oblivion, from disillusionment, from mediocrity. You’ve made that wish into your savior. You never use that term, of course–but that’s what’s happening.
I tried to build my identity on being a Bible teacher this year. A really good one. I thought–if i have that, if I’m really great–if my students love me and many come to faith in Christ because of me—then everything will be okay.
I wanted a ministry of applause. Of mountain top highs. Of filtered photographic memories. Of vast successes.
I didn’t want ordinary. I didn’t want hard. I didn’t want the every day trudge through the muck of the trenches of gospel proclamation.
And the Lord looks at me, His stubborn prideful daughter, and He tells me I must long for something better. I must want more. I must stop chasing applause.
Thankfully, the Lord is not content to give me my prideful wants, but, graciously, albeit painfully, works to rip them away. One by one. He works to teach me to long for something better–to long for someone better–to long for Him instead. To replace my idols with Him, the only One who can satisfy my deepest longings, the only One who can give me true and lasting joy.
I pray, by His grace, that He will help me continue to fight against chasing applause.
As the great theologian Ron Swanson once said, “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”
Long for something better.
Chase something better.