“When we remember our identity in Christ, it changes the way we see these relationships because we no longer base our worth on the approval of others but the approval we have already received from our Father through the work of His son.” — Letting Go of Perfect: Women, Expectations, and Authenticity
One thing that I’ve struggled with and that God constantly has been working in me on is people pleasing. Growing up, I used to go above and beyond to try to please others. Even the individuals that I did not necessarily like, I would fake it ’till I made it because I was always so afraid of what people could do or what they would say to me. I know firsthand how mean people can be, especially when they don’t like you, and that fear began to sink into my everyday habits so much so I would sacrifice myself and my own well-being just to stay within someone’s good graces. I would justify these actions by saying that I was helping others by assisting them with what they needed and helping myself because I wouldn’t have to worry about people talking behind my back.
It took years and years to realize that it actually helps no one.
Yep. People-pleasing helps absolutely no one and here’s a few reasons why.
People- pleasing isn’t really about the people:
I’ll be the first to admit that growing up, people-pleasing was less about actually doing something nice for that person and more about keeping myself from being mistreated and maintaining some sort of reputation.
One of the easiest ways to decipher and discern the difference between people-pleasing and helping others is the motive. My “help” was contingent upon them returning my help with praise or with them keeping my name out of their daily roasts. That’s not genuine help. That’s perverted help. That’s not the kind of help or love God wants us to showcase because it’s inauthentic and conditional. It’s hard for us as people to showcase that kind of love, which is why we desperately (or at least me — that’s for sure) need the Lord to be able to love without impure motives. It’s impossible for us, but not impossible for Christ.
While I did and still enjoy helping people, my motives in the past weren’t always genuine. Because I was so afraid of what people would think about me, I would often say “yes” to things that I really should’ve said “no” to. I knew how mean could be and to avoid that I became a “yes” woman.
You want me to take out the trash for you? Sure!
You want me to buy you a coffee? Sure!
I do these things now, but the difference is the motive behind it. I do these things now out of love and reverence for others, with the strength of God. Before, I would do it with the expectation of something in return such as being praised or being liked. Now, with the Lord’s help, I do these things (even when I don’t necessarily feel like doing it) because I love them — not because I expect that by doing this I’ll receive some brownie points. I enjoy volunteering not because I expect God to give me a pat on the back, but because I love God and through that love, God enables me to genuinely love people.
This is why people-pleasing does NOT mean you are loving others, genuinely. Loving others genuinely also does not mean you necessarily WANT to do these things that you do for your loved-ones all of the time. I’m sure my mom didn’t like coming all the way to the west side of the city to drop off my teaching supplies, but that’s love. The difference between the two are the motives behind this. Are you doing this out of love for that person or because you expect something (whether it be praise, friendship, etc) in return?
People are going to talk about you whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing:
People are going to dislike you and talk about you whether you do something wrong or not. This I’ve learned from experience and I’m still learning through God’s instruction and guidance. You could be an active volunteer that genuinely loves people, gives selflessly, and is a pleasure to be around and someone would still dislike you and talk about how you wore your shirt backwards three days ago. Someone somewhere will find something to dislike you for — even if it’s foolish. I remember several instances where I’ve had people not like me simply because I decided not to divulge my entire life-story with them and was quiet. I’ve had people not like me because of the length of my hair. I’ve had people not like me because they thought I was too nice and because of the way that I talked.
As someone that doesn’t get attached to people easily, it’s really difficult once I do consider someone a friend or get used to being around them for things to go array or to find out they actually dislike me, but it happens and there’s normally nothing I can do about it. I remember an old friend of mine that started acting weird around me because she thought I didn’t accept her for who she was, when in reality she’d been projecting her own dislike for who I was onto me. We had different personalities and while I accepted hers, for the entire duration of our friendship she really didn’t like who I was. She even ditched me when we were supposed to go out together and tried to somehow pin it back on me the bad guy. Talk about pain.
It hurt for a while and I couldn’t understand why someone that was supposed to be my friend would do that to me and what I did wrong. I invited her over to family dinners and celebrations — clearly I was not ashamed of her. However, after many years had passed I realized that it didn’t matter what I did. She’d already made up her mind, so no people-pleasing or anything would’ve saved that friendship that just wasn’t meant to be. I still pray for her and I wish her the best, but from that experience I learned that there is nothing you can do when someone’s got their mind made up about you.
Look at the way people talked about Jesus. Jesus was the only perfect man to ever live and people still talked about Him. He walked in ways of righteousness, loved genuinely and unconditionally. Even with all of that, there were plenty of people that still mocked Him, hated Him, talked about Him, and eventually crucified Him over an actual criminal. (Mark 15:6-15 ESV)
Even now, I’m sure there’s people that talk about me. It doesn’t feel good to be talked about, but I know that people are going to say things about you when you’re doing something good and when you’re doing something not-so good. With that said, people-pleasing doesn’t do anything, but cause you to overexert your energy and for people to take advantage of you. People-pleasing won’t save a friendship or convince people to change their mind about you. People are going to continue talking about you behind your back, but will gladly take the benefits in front of your face. By people-pleasing, even in these situations, it won’t change anything. You’re just putting out all of this energy expecting to receive friendship or to be liked, but you’ll never receive what you’re looking for. Trust me. This has happened to me many times in the past. However, I won’t victimize myself for that behavior because my motives weren’t completely pure when I would aim to please people just for the sake of being liked.
If you’re looking to please people to gain more friends, that’s not going to help.
Sometimes, you can be so focused on pleasing-people that you lose sight of pleasing God:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” — Galatians 1:10 (ESV)
I’ve fallen into this trap, before. You’re doing everything you can to uphold some sort of “reputation” or you’re doing all you can to remain within everyone’s good graces, but then God ends up getting lost in the middle of that. If we’re so focused on pleasing people/the world, at what point can we focus on pleasing God and hearing from Him? What this verse is saying is that we cannot be servants of Christ if we’re too busy focusing on pleasing other people. Through Christ, He gives us the ability to serve and love others genuinely, but there’s a HUGE difference between doing that and people-pleasing for the sake of receving praise, being admired, or being liked.
It’s definitely challenging, because sometimes we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it. You may think that by doing all of these things to make someone else happy that you’re always pleasing God when you do it, but what if what that person is asking you to do goes against your beliefs? What if the person you are trying to please wants you to do something that God doesn’t want you to do?
Our primary focus in life should be keeping God at the center of it all, but sometimes we fall in that area without even realizing it. This is why people-pleasing is so dangerous. If we are so concerned with pleasing people, we may make a decision that pleases man more than it pleases God. You can listen to what someone has to say, but you don’t always have to take their advice. Go to God and ask Him what to do. Asking for advice from other people is fine, but when that becomes our primary focus over God, that’s when it can become tricky really quickly.
This goes for parents as well. I love my parents, but at the end of the day I have to answer to the Lord and I must remember that if God is telling me to do one thing and my parents are telling me to do another, I have to go with God. God knows best and as much as our parents want what’s best for us, there is no greater judge of that than God. What looks good to the human eye is bad news when it comes to God’s ultimate plan for you. As difficult as it is for all of us we have to maintain focus on what’s important. The last thing I want is for me to be so concerned with pleasing the world that I don’t do what God wants me to do. After all He’s done for me, the LEAST I can do is be obedient.
If our focus is on pleasing others, how can God be glorified?
What can I do then?
“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” — Isaiah 2:22
We cannot put our faith and hope in people. While it’s perfectly fine to love helping people, our motives are a huge factor in the authenticity of this. So, if our motive is to be liked, why are we holding people in such high regard over our life?
It’s almost as if we are saying that if we are not liked by this person, our lives our over. We’re essentially saying that this man, who breathes the same air that we breathe and is as human as we are, somehow holds the key to the success, happiness, and contentment in our lives. That if this individual doesn’t like us, it’s pretty much the end of the world because this person can destroy us. By doing that we’re almost, without meaning to, equating that person to some sort of god or leader.
Do we not remember that God is stronger than our problems? Did we forget that whether everyone claims Him or not, there is only ONE God and that each one of us will have to account for our actions one day? That each one of us will meet Him one day? With that in mind, what can mere man do to us? What can a fellow human do? By fearing these individuals that will have to account for their actions just like us, it amplifies them instead of amplifying our God. How belittling that must be to God when we do that!
I know how difficult that can be. As I said before, to be transparent it is something that God is constantly working on me with. He’s constantly reminding me that I cannot fear what people say about me or think about me because in the greater scheme of things, none of that matters and it’s not about us. Only Christ matters. God has the final say — not mere man. Relax, brothers and sisters-in-Christ.
If this is an area of people-pleasing that is challenging for you as well, pray and ask for forgiveness for any ways that you’ve chosen the world over God. Sometimes it could be a decision our parents are asking us to make that isn’t what God would want for you. Other times it’s choosing other people over God. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible through Christ. Everything is possibly through Him.
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.” — 2 Corinthians 5:9 — (ESV)