How to Stop Striving for Straight A’s: Acceptance, Achievement, and Approval

a group of three Christian women with one reaching out her hand to stop striving for approval

By Margaret Kemp

Acceptance by the world isn’t automatic. You have to earn it, and—spoiler alert—the world grades on a curve.

I was five years old when I came face-to-face with this unpleasant reality.

I’d just started school, and a classmate invited me to her birthday party. 

I stared wide-eyed as my classmate opened each beautifully wrapped present. 

I wondered if my gift was adequate.

Games, party favors, a bakery-made cake–these were all new to me. But the crowning touch was a carousel parked in the driveway.

My young brain made a quick comparison.

In my family, we didn’t have a carousel or get gifts. 

On my birthday, I’d get money for my piggy bank to be transferred to a savings account at the “big” bank. 

If I was lucky, my cousins came over for ice cream and homemade cake.

My five-year-old self learned having an affluent family brought acknowledgment and acclaim (not to mention presents!).

In school, I discovered an outgoing personality also brought attention. 

When I was in second grade, three of my classmates stood in front of the class to sing. 

The teacher loved their performance, but she rarely acknowledged the shy kid in the back of the room.

Then in fourth grade, I found the key to success. 

I got all A’s on my report card.

I stumbled on a new identity; I might not be rich or popular, but I could be the smart girl.

Even after I completed my academic career, I continued to strive for those A’s—acceptance, achievement, and approval.

I thought if I could succeed in my career and become an accomplished teacher, I’d gain a sense of achievement.

If I followed the advice from interior decorating magazines, fashion magazines, and Pinterest, I’d earn the admiration of others.

And if I could be nice enough, I’d earn the approval I wanted.

a Christian woman kneeling beside her bed in prayer to stop striving

The Problem With Pursuing Straight A’s

Have you ever felt this way? 

Like if you could just win the prize, bring home the trophy, or see your name in lights, you’d be worthy of attention.

We have to strive, study, and compete for those A’s because they’re never freely given.

And usually, in the world’s grading system, only the best of the best get straight A’s. 

Maybe you’ve experienced this, too. 

Do you ever wish you could stop striving?

No matter how well you perform, someone else can outdo you. Or you end up with a B or C—or worse. 

Yet we think if we just try a little harder, we’ll succeed.

Aiming for excellence is a worthwhile endeavor. 

But when we chase after achievement and attention instead of pursuing God, these things become idols.

In her book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, Ann Voskamp wrote, “You know you have an idol when you have to perform.”

a Christian woman holding a blue hello nametag with "child of God" written on it

We Can Stop Striving Because of Jesus

Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 NIV

We don’t have to stay on this hamster wheel of striving. 

We can stop striving.

When we chase after the idols of applause and accomplishment, we’re bound to fail.  

But if God’s approval is our goal, we’ve already arrived. 

Jesus Christ, the epitome of sinless perfection, has done the work, endured the agony, passed the test, and accomplished what we could not do for ourselves.

He bought salvation for all of us—the acceptance from God we need and crave. 

Now He offers to pass it around as a free gift.

We can relax because in Christ, we have all we need:

  • Approval of God
  • Affection from God
  • Atonement for sin
  • Adoption into God’s family
  • Access to the Father
  • Abundant life
A page in a Bible with the verse "I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made"

7 Bible Verses to Help You Stop Striving

When we find ourselves working for all those A’s and berating ourselves because we fall short, it helps to speak God’s truth to ourselves. 

We can stop striving when we proclaim, meditate, and memorize God’s Word.

Meditate on the corresponding verses, allowing them to seep deep into your heart. 

Proclaim these truths out loud. Then, memorize the verses while saturating your mind with God’s Word.

1 – You are wonderfully made. 

I will give thanks to You, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:14 NASB

2 – You are God’s child, adopted into His family.  

    He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. – Ephesians 1:5 NASB

3 – Jesus made atonement for all your sins.

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NIV

A text message from God that says I love you

4 – You possess abundant life in Christ. 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  – John 10:10 NASB

5 – You have God’s attention and can boldly approach His throne of grace.

Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” – Hebrews 4:16 NASB

6 – Nothing can separate you from God’s love and affection.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NIV

7 – You are uniquely gifted to fulfill your purpose. 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

We can let go of forever-striving-but-never-arriving because God has already provided us with all the A’s we need.

Father, help us remember we don’t need to compete for Your attention or beg for Your approval. You already love us more than we can imagine. Help us to stop seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places and find peace and joy in You. Amen.

Margaret Kemp

Margaret Kemp is a teacher and writer who is passionate about studying God’s Word. She’s attracted to the printed word, the fragrance of vanilla, and all things blue and white. She loves spending time with her husband and family, singing, and traveling. Her heart desires to help others to know God better and to find delight in Him. Read more of her writing at The Glorious Table, on her blog, and on Instagram.

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