Empire of Acceptance

It felt like life was just beginning for Adam. His eyes alight with the colors of an oak tree. He feels his bones come alive. His nostrils fill with the smell of the lingering mist. His mouth with the flavors of beauty. He walks unhindered by shame or fear. He leans down, his fingers sweep through the flowing river. He is alive. He’s never felt more alive.

But soon.

Colors fade. Flavors plain.

There’s something missing.


Eden was a beautiful place. At least one can imagine. I’ve been thinking recently about the story of Adam and Eve. Here is Adam sitting in the middle of unknown beauty. Master of the birds of the sky and the beasts of the land. And yet God knew Adam needed something else. It’s a beautiful telling of the age of access and beauty that we live in today.

Over the past three years I’ve found myself in the middle of sceneries of unreal beauty and in the company of great people.

There I was with my family after two and a half hours of hiking and swimming, about to turn a corner, when I set my eyes on the most stunning and beautiful scene I’ve ever experienced. We balance our steps through a series of streams and smooth rocks trying not to slip … and there it is … the reward … the fourth of four falls … a 75–100 foot tall wild waterfall in the middle of the jungle in Maui. I was in awe. I hadn’t felt alive like that in a while. I sit on a rock and take it in. I snap a picture to capture the moment. And then almost an hour later begin the two hour climb back. Once back in service I share the moment across social media.

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That day is forever etched in my memory. A day I’ll never forget.

Everyday at any time we are surrounded by beautiful, albeit sometimes cliché, images and content through our devices. I can open up my phone right now and see the peak of Mt. Rainier or the falls in Iceland. It’s an unprecedented time—something that has never happened in such magnitude and access.

There’s such opportunity with social platforms. We can connect with people around the world like never before. We can share our art to people the world over. But when we try to present our most authentic selves in these digital societies, we end up finding out it’s impossible to fully express our lives as artists and humans within such extreme digital limitations. In fact while reading these words you aren’t fully capturing who I am, my tone or my heart.

...We end up finding out it’s impossible to fully express our lives as artists and humans within such extreme digital limitations.

You can’t explain the power and majesty of Niagara Falls unless you are on the boat below them. And you can’t explain the strength and courage of a breast cancer survivor until you hear the story from them. It’s impossible otherwise. Come on. Let’s be honest. Photos and captions and status updates just aren’t enough to understand the heart and soul of anything much less a human life.

Life was never meant to be lived behind a tiny backlit 4.7-inch screen. Where the faces of people are just the mixing of three colored pixels. And affirmation comes in the form of a double tap.

Life was meant to be experienced. To be felt. To be risked. To be won. To be fought for. We’ve SEEN these beautiful places and mesmerizing people with our eyes and maybe heard them with our heats, and we’ll do anything to actually SEE them. We’ll go bankrupt, get sponsored, ask friends for money (this one’s a bit tricky) or just be patient and save. We just want to touch with our own hands and smell with our own senses these majestic places. It’s a God-given desire. And one day we make it there and meet that person or take that epic hike. But we’ve come to a point where we experience and create beauty not just for the sake of beauty.

… Something has gotten crossed in the wires of motivations.

Altruism doesn’t exist. We tend to be self-seeking in nature. Any action we take isn’t done without a selfish motivation. Just ask a man who recently got married or a father of three kids. You won’t realize how much of your time has been dedicated to yourself until you have to think about the mouths you have to feed.

What motivates us? Is it love, hate, likes, fame, generosity, the approval of others … of ourselves? I love how Ryan Tedder puts it in the song “Love Runs Out”: “We all run for something. For God, for fate, for love, for hate, for gold, for rust, for diamonds for dust.”

We’ve built an empire of acceptance where rejection is king. And it’s killing us. We are cyclically serving this master who will consistently reject us because it’s not enough. It’s never enough. We try again and again, but to no avail. We pick up and move only to realize we’ve built the same kingdom elsewhere too.

We’ve built an empire of acceptance where rejection is king. And it’s killing us.

We are surrounded in a world of 7 billion people and yet we are more isolated and alone. Never known. Seeking love. But never really finding it. We spend day in and day out trying our best to look the hippest, have the best things, know the best people, get the best photo, tell better stories, have more followers. But we still end up feeling rejected whether externally because humans will be human or internally because we still feel empty.

Is this the world you want?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having nice things, having a good paying career, traveling to amazing places and creating beautiful art. By all means. But we were never made to experience such beauty alone or to solely be driven by acceptance. And in fact if our identity is found there it will be a pretty lonely place. Why else did God give Adam Eve if not to live and experience life together?

Before a few years ago, I’d found most of my motivations and, even deeper, my identity had been built upon the acceptance of others. I was a pretty lonely person. I was spiraling to a place where I didn’t even recognize myself. It’s funny how when you try to please everyone you end up losing yourself. I would rise and fall upon the opinions of others. People pleaser party of one. But then one night God spoke and everything changed. I had been loving from a place of seeking acceptance. But God said “Paul, you’ve been accepted … now go and love people!” That was the nail in the coffin of people pleasing. He reminded me that I was His Son and I have nothing to prove … that I was accepted. Just as I was right there at the very moment, I knew I was loved. And something deep within me clicked. I am a son loved by a Father!

Life was meant to be experienced. To be felt. To be risked. To be won. To be fought for.

You need to know that no matter where you’ve been, who you think you are or what you’ve done, you are loved and accepted by God. He designed you for relationship not just with people, but with Him. He loves you just as you are. No strings attached.

You know, it’s not the waterfall I remember most about that hike. It’s not the feeling of overcoming mental, physical and emotional challenges. It’s not the likes on the photo. It’s the fact that I, together with the people I care about most, accomplished something seemingly impossible. It’s the story of my parents renewing vows at a waterfall in the jungle after 30 years of marriage. It’s a beautiful memory.

Vulnerability is not about winning. It’s not about losing. It’s about showing up and being seen
— Brené Brown

Inject heart and soul into everything you do and create. Situations, events or people may criticize you, but never quit making art that you are passionate about. Be you. Be real. Have fun with it. But most of all, know you are seen and accepted by a God who loves you.

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Paul Tellefsen is a storylistener, photographer, videographer, writer and speaker. His mission is to explore and connect our world by finding spaces of solitude in otherwise busy destinations. Through the exploration of the less-exposed places, Paul's ultimate vision is to encourage a more digitally disconnected yet personally connected society.