Written by Jamie Martelle
I’m kind of in recovery in this area. I’ve always liked to have the approval of those around me, and it bothers me when I don’t. What a chasing-after-your-tail sort of business THAT is. An old joke goes like this: when you’re 20, you care what everybody thinks; when you’re 40, you stop caring about what everybody else thinks; when you’re 60, you realize nobody was thinking about you in the first place. Well, that IS kind of funny and at least partly true, but of course we know that we all think about each other. Or…is it just me? If you have also been riding on the approval-addiction train for far too long, let’s hop off together and get started on our God-ordained path.
I love this:
The moment you stop caring what other people think — is most likely when you start doing what God wants. (Ann Voskamp)
What People-Pleasing Is Not
“People-pleasing” is not the same thing as simply being kind and respectful toward one another. We are called to be mindful of others in our relationships. Jesus made it clear how important relationships are to God. The Gospel of Matthew, in Chapter 22, records this conversation: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (vv. 36-40, emphasis added). God has given us the people we have in our lives for a reason: to love them and be loved by them, which includes refining us with wise counsel and loving accountability. We need these strong, healthy relationships. Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
Getting To The Problem
“People pleasing” in its negative sense can easily get out of control and destructive. This is the experience of trying to do and be all that we can, in order to win the approval of another person, only to find out it wasn’t enough. We may feel that the other person continues to expect more from us than we are able to give – more than it’s even reasonable to expect – but we keep trying; or give up, feeling defeated. This kind of experience wears us down and makes us ineffective, weak, and worried.
There are going to be times when we will be terribly disappointed in ourselves, as well. Remember the old song, “Garden Party” by Ricky Nelson (1972)? The chorus of the song says, “ya’ can’t please everyone, so ya’ got to please yourself.” Well, sometimes that doesn’t even work out. If only life were as easy as that, right? The real problem comes when we aren’t able to climb out of that pit of disappointment – either in ourselves, or from others, and, because of our own brokenness, we have a hard time fully receiving and accepting approval from others, from ourselves, or from God.
I believe that is when, in our hurt and brokenness, we start seeking that approval we desire over and over again from people who don’t necessarily have it in themselves to give to us.
We have difficulty realizing our own value after a lifetime of feeling that we never quite measure up, either to a family member, a parent, a spouse, an intimate partner, an authority figure, or ourselves. So, let’s open our minds and hearts to hear what the Lord has to say to us on this subject, because what we need here is holy MERCY, and He is our source.
The apostle Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian church: I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5, emphasis added.)
Do you hear that? FREEDOM!!! (Insert “happy dance” HERE!)
And Paul had this to say to the church in Galatia: 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).
Paul clearly states that he doesn’t care about the approval of others. Paul had a job to do. He was following Christ, and honoring God was more important to him than pleasing men. Other people couldn’t possibly have told Paul how to do what God had called him to do. We all have misperceptions about others. You and I are not omniscient. Others have that same disadvantage when it comes to trying to understand us. You and I can’t possibly be a good judge of each other. Only God knows the motives of our hearts, and all the possible consequences of our actions. We also have limited insight into simply what is “right” with all the potential implications.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Paul also says that he does not even judge himself. We think we know ourselves better than anyone else, and would be more fair to ourselves than others would be, but most of us are usually either far too critical of ourselves, or far too easily satisfied. Therefore, the only good choice that remains for us is to please God with our words, our actions, and our lives.
There was a time in my life that I’d have groaned at that, and thought no way would God EVER be pleased with me, so why even try? I don’t think that way anymore. What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31)
I have come to know that God is for me, not against me. And He is for you, too, my friend. He made us in His image, and He is working things out in this world to reconcile all things back to Himself, to relationship with Him – EVERYTHING – and that includes us, and our relationships.
For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
Our Father’s approval is available to us; Christ made it possible for us to be at peace with God. If we seek Him, turn from our sin, and ask for His forgiveness, our Father’s approval is ours. It doesn’t really matter whether we can feel it (our feelings betray us at times), or whether others accept or approve of us. According to Romans 8:39, 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.
Once we’ve made things right with our heavenly Father, and we live in relationship with God through Christ, the other relationships in our lives will fall in line, along with our attitudes towards them. We know this, because, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He will work it out.
Our God will take care of creating healthy, loving relationships for us, with Himself and with other people. He will do this by placing His Spirit in us, so that we are gradually conformed to His image. We take on the attributes, or fruit, of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Nobody, but nobody does relationships better than our triune God.
No longer do we need to satisfy our driving need for others’ approval. As the Frozen song goes (some of you cringe), “let it go.” Some of those relationships we’ve been trying to maintain as people-pleasers may not be so healthy for us. The Lord will show us which ones, and the way to handle them. If He prunes them from our lives, we need to trust that He does so in love, with our highest good in mind. Some of them may need a little mending. Maybe our own hearts need a little mending. He is able. One day, when we’ve lived life with Christ long enough to receive His healing and strength, maybe we’ll notice that the need for the approval of others isn’t the snare it used to be; or maybe, just maybe, we won’t even think of it.
Those who seek to please God only are invincible from within. Not only that, but when we stop striving to please people, we are also unintimidated from without. -Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, 1990
I sought the Lord, and He answered me;
He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant;
Their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
He saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.