On the website Quora, one contributor once posed this question:

“Why am I so obsessed with earning approval from others? I don't particular care about them and they don't care about me. Yet I still try to impress everyone. Why?”

What are some possible answers to these questions?


Do you see the same impulse for earning approval and wanting to impress people within yourself?

BrenéBrown features in one of the most watched TED talks of all time. She says:

“Connection [with other people], along with love and belonging… is why we’re here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging or connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.”

Brown says these feelings of shame are universal – that, deep down, all of us fear if people knew what we were really like, we wouldn’t belong.


How does that assertion strike you?

In an early song, Coldplay compare feelings of shame to being spied upon. Here are some of their lyrics:

'Spies came out of the water
But you're feeling so bad ‘cause you know
The spies hide out in every corner
But you can't touch them, no, 

‘Cause they're all spies'

In what ways do you think being confronted by our shame is a little like feeling constantly spied upon?

In The Greatest Showman, bearded lady Lettie Lutz has been used to feeling that she doesn’t belong. She comes to ignore the voices that have silenced and shamed her. She sings:

'I am brave

I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be

This is me'

Does asserting or singing about your value and acceptance always cause you to feelvaluable and accepted by others?

Sometimes our feelings of shame come from unfair expectations that have been placed on us by others. Other times, our shame roots out of knowing we’ve objectively fallen short of what we should have been.


If we’re to experience real acceptance, what needs to happen?

In one of the accounts of Jesus’ life, Jesus comes across a man who probably felt deep shame:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.


Luke 19:1-4

Tax collectors were considered moral outcasts in Jesus’ day. Though Jewish, they collected taxes for the occupying Romans. They also added on high personal commissions. They were traitors to their people, and got rich in fleecing them.

Why might Zacchaeus have never felt welcome?

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.


Luke 19:5-6

How does Jesus honour Zacchaeus?


Do you think Zacchaeus was used to being accepted and honoured in this way?

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”


But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”


Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”


Luke 19:7-10

What are the effects of Jesus’ actions?

Some of the shame Zacchaeus probably felt – perhaps regarding his height – was unwarranted. But Zacchaeus’ shame regarding his abuse of poor people was justified. Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man and said that he’s come to ‘save’ lost people like Zacchaeus. Ultimately this would lead him to taking the penalty for Zacchaeus’ guilt upon himself at the cross.

What might be the effects on you if you knew Jesus had died to pay the price for all you feel rightly ashamed about in your life?

How might you feel differently about yourself, even when in crowds where you’re not sure you really belong?

There’s more on The Greatest Showman and themes of shame and acceptance here:


Look more closely at an eye-witness account of Jesus’ welcoming the most unlikely people:


Find out how you can meet Christians living by this story of acceptance at your university: 

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