By Tara Johnson, Crosswalk.com
With the start of another year comes the well-intended list of resolutions.
Among the most common are to exercise more, lose weight, save money, read more, quit smoking, get organized, and travel more. Most of these are external goals that have to do with some outer behavior that will eventually affect our internal and emotional health.
But how many of us take a look at our inner self? How many of us are willing to dig deep and take stock of our motivations, our heart, our wounds, and our shadowed places and say, I’m not living up to my potential in Christ.
Each of us battle with different things. Some of us find ourselves lured back into the arms of drugs or alcohol after living victoriously sober. Others think we’ve made great progress with our spouse until we found ourselves shouting and fighting over the same old argument that has plagued us from year one.
Binge eating. Codependency. Toxic relationships. Shopping sprees and money management. Victim mentality. Approval addiction. The list goes on.
I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. After years of exhaustion, of disappointment, of hiding behind my masks, of dark depression, I’ve learned that people-pleasing may always be a daily battle for me.
It’s a lie that I believed far too long—mainly, that approval and love are the same thing. However, as God has peeled back layer after layer of my masks and choices, he has helped me understand that approval and love are not the same thing at all. They are, in fact, polar opposites.
Approval is a stamp that says, “You meet my expectations.” Love says, “You’re a mess but I’m crazy about you anyway.” The two are not the same thing.
Somewhere along the way, I took my eyes off Jesus and began living for the applause of people. Men and women just like me. Sinners and failures, just like me. People who didn’t die for me, yet I esteemed their opinion as if they did. And that’s what this lie breeds... idolatry.
I lost sight of my Savior in the process. I gave away freedom and unconditional love and traded them for conditions, hopelessness, and chains.
It took a major battle with depression for me to realize I wasn’t living the life God intended and I resolved to change. But the question was how?
If you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me, here are 5 steps to kicking people-pleasing for good.
1. Imitate the Way Jesus Handled Relationships
Study the life of Jesus. Not just what he taught or what he did but the decisions he made.
How did he treat people? Was he always agreeable? Did he do what people wanted him to do? The answer is no.
He was kind, merciful, and compassionate, but he was focused on the will of the Father and only the will of the Father. He was often blunt, truthful, and refused the requests of those whose wishes weren’t in alignment with his calling.
If we want to be like Christ, we must learn to model him in our own relationships.
2. Start Asking Yourself, “What’s My Motivation?”
When presented with a request of your time or resources, stop and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it because I want to help or am I afraid they’ll be mad if I don’t? Do I fear losing their love if I decline?”
Dig deep and be honest.
3. Embrace the Fact That Not Everyone Will Like You
Many of us think if we work hard enough, smile more, go the extra mile, we will finally make everyone in our world happy. It doesn’t work that way.
People-pleasing is a moving target. And really, who are we striving to please... God or man?
“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
4. Set Boundaries
Many believers tend to think saying yes to everyone’s demands is part of servanthood. A fruit of the Spirit in its own way.
Saying yes to everyone is living in fear of their rejection.
Saying no is a major step in kicking a people-pleasing addiction. There are gentle ways to say no, like asking for time to pray about the situation, but once you’ve done so and searched your heart for your motivations, stay firm.
Never say yes if you don’t feel God’s peace. You can’t do the work he has given you to do well if you’re strung out from doing everybody else’s job too. It’s okay to say no, even if it’s something good, to wait for God’s best.
5. Remember Who Gives You Worth
The common ground sought by people pleasers the world over is this: We have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people. We crave approval, thinking we are unlovable without it.
For too long I sought my worth based on what people told me about myself. But all that matters is what God thinks—and he loved me so much, he gave his own life to redeem me from the land of darkness. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst...
His love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.
When this life is over, I won’t stand before a jury of my peers. I’ll stand before my Savior. Pleasing him is all that matters.
Despite my struggle with people-pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live.
I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom, but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in his grace.
I’m a mess but he’s crazy about me. Even better, he’s crazy about you too.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Miguel Bruna
Tara Johnson is a passionate lover of stories who uses fiction, nonfiction, song, and laughter to share her testimony of how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled to the expectations of others. Tara is the author of three novels set during the Civil War: Engraved on the Heart, Where Dandelions Bloom, and All Through the Night, which releases in January 2021. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and makes her home in Arkansas with her husband and three children. Visit her online at tarajohnsonstories.com.