Here are some signals we have this sinful strategy:
- If someone doesn’t like me, I wonder why and think a lot about how to correct their perception of me.
- I say, “I don’t care what others think” but I also don’t want to reach out to someone, even when God wants me to, because they haven’t been receptive to me in the past. My heart doesn’t feel caring toward them.
- I “read” the responses of other people to try to figure out what they’re thinking, especially their thinking about me.
- I feel compelled to correct any misunderstanding I sense.
- I look for affirmation or displeasure in others as I’m talking to them.
- When someone is displeased with me (or seems to be), I feel badly about myself.
- Another person’s beliefs about me are more important than who God says I am “in Christ.”
This is not a scientifically proven little quiz but as a confirmed, recovering People Pleaser, these are the elements of my own symptoms.
As a result, I often notice how the Bible refers to people pleasing. Isaiah 51 recently spoke to me about this topic, especially verses 12-13:
“I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
These verses help us to diminish our People Pleasing tendencies by making a contrast between people and God. God is saying, “I’ve come through for you but you are fearing a person who will die just like the grass, which I created. Their power will die with them. I am in power over the grass and them. I had the power to create everything but your seeming ‘oppressor’ has no power. I’m in control but your fear indicates you fear them more than me.”
We could easily discard the word “oppressor” because the person we want to please isn’t really our enemy and wanting to kill us physically. But when we are spending time, effort, energy, and feeling badly about ourselves because of the responses of others, aren’t we, in a sense, being held hostage by them? We are allowing them to seemingly oppress us. “Oppress” can be defined as subservience or being tyrannized and disheartened. If I’m spending time figuring out to how to please someone else to feel better about myself then I’m discarding God’s opinion that I’m loved unconditionally even if I make a mistake, even sin. I’m making that person more important than God.
In my book, Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory I point to a little story that personalizes this People Pleasing struggle. In Matthew 15, Jesus has a discussion with the Pharisees and they are unhappy. The disciples say to Jesus, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this [your] saying?”(vs. 12).
The disciples must have expected Jesus to exclaim, “Oh, no. Really? I didn’t expect my words would offend them. I’ll go immediately and ask their forgiveness. I’ll be more careful next time.”
Not quite. Jesus doesn’t change the Father’s plan or diminish speaking the truth because those “in power” are upset. If He did, He would have been motivated by the lack of acceptance by others. And He would actually be loving the Pharisees poorly by encouraging them to continue in their false beliefs and sin. He loved them well by challenging them and correcting them.
The Pharisees didn’t receive His correction, but Jesus didn’t feel responsible to force them to change. Neither was Jesus discontent as if they empowered His ministry’s success. Jesus didn’t have a single people- pleasing bone in His body.
I know we want to become more like Jesus and diminish more of our People Pleasing tendencies. We can do that by keeping in mind that just as God created everything, He has more power than anyone we are depending upon to feel good about ourselves.
I do want to clarify that as the Bible instructs, there are times when we know someone is at odds with us and we need to make that right. The problem is when we are discarding God’s love for us and seeing that person as holding the key to our worth and value.
This is especially important in this Christmas season when we are interacting at a stressful level with many people, some whom we don’t have the best relationships with during the year.
How are you being aware of people pleasing responses in your life (at any time in the year) and what are you doing, thinking, or believing differently to value God’s unconditional love of you more than another person’s? Please share in the comments so that all of my readers can benefit from your sharing.