Don’t just admire Jesus, follow him

Who doesn’t want to be loved, respected and admired? We have all gone through a phase where the admiration of our family and friends was incredibly important to us. I remember as a teenager trying to “fit in” by wearing particular clothes or listening to the same kinds of music as my friends. Inside all of us, there is a desire for the approval and affirmation of our family, friends and the wider world.

Throughout our lives, we often seek validation of who we are, what we do and the choices we make. Social media platforms such as Facebook, for example, depend on our desire to be connected to others and share in their lives, expressing our appreciation and agreement by “liking” what we see online. While our culture holds up the desire to be liked and to please others, our faith calls us to something different, something bigger and better for us.

The Oxford dictionary describes the word “admire” as “regard with respect or warm approval” or to “look at (something impressive or attractive) with pleasure.” Renowned philosopher Soren Kierkaard, in his essay “Followers, Not Admirers,” reminds us that “It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for. Christ understood that being a ‘disciple’ was an innermost and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ always desires us to become his disciples. Christ is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6)”.

Jesus doesn’t just want our warm approval, he doesn’t need it. Jesus didn’t die for lukewarm approval, he died to save our souls and to bring us home to his Father, our Father. For the Christian, admiration must become emulation as we are called to give ourselves over to him. Jesus wants our hearts, our whole heart.

As we grow up, we should care more about our relationship with God and what he thinks of us than the expectations of others. There is a time to let go of things that we cannot change and stop trying to please everyone.  We surrender. We let go and we let God in. Coming out from the weight of expectations — from others and ourselves — frees us up to focus on what is important.

This growth marks leaving behind immature ways as we grow and mature. While there is nothing wrong with admiration, it can become detrimental to our growth if all we do is care about what others think of us. How many times have we asked ourselves, “I wonder what so-and-so would think of this?” Instead of, “How does this speak to my relationship with Jesus?”

While the world places a premium on what we have and what we do, Jesus calls us to cast off our immature ways and follow him. What are some of the differences between mature faith and immature admiration? Here are five to consider:

  • Immature faith is one centered on admiration. Mature faith is the path of discipleship.
  • Immature faith asks, “What can Jesus and the church do for me?” Mature faith asks, “What can I give to Jesus and his church?”
  • Immature faith is centered on our own needs and desires. Mature faith actively wrestles with the demands of the Gospel and its application to life today.
  • Immature faith is content with being dependent on activity and human works. Mature faith calls upon the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God.
  • Immature faith says, “My will be done.” Mature faith says, “Thy will be done.”

The world is changed through the witness of disciples who lay down their lives for their faith. Jesus Christ does not need admirers. He and the world can do without them — but not without disciples. How will you respond?

Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization and co-author of “The Catechist’s Backpack.”