Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m a recovering people pleaser. I do not want to let you down. I will jump through all the hoops to make sure you like me and think I’m nice. Disappointing you makes me physically uncomfortable.
The temptation is strong
Last year, I was approached by two moms at my kids’ school. I know them fairly well because we hang out and chat for twenty minutes every day before school while our kids run laps around the blacktop as part of the “Run for Life” program. Since I’m already there, I grab a sharpie and help mark laps on the kids’ cards as they come around. But the two moms who approached me that day are the ones who are in charge of the program. They get to school 45 minutes early to set up the table and set up the cones.
They asked me if I would be willing to take charge of the “Run for Life” program next year. I was flattered that they asked, but immediately felt torn. They told me to think about it, but instead, I agonized about it.
Although my boys participate in the program, the difference between getting to school 20 minutes early versus 45 minutes early is no small difference when it comes to the daily morning rush.
“What are you going to tell them?” my husband asked me. “I mean, do you want to do it?”
There was lots of wringing of hands on my part. “Not really,” I admitted, “but what if they can’t find anyone else and the whole program shuts down?”
My supportive husband told me to do whatever I thought was best. So I thought about it some more.
It wasn’t until I brought it up with a friend that I decided what to do. She heard me out, discerned how I felt, and without hesitation, she encouraged me to say no. Somehow, I needed to know that other people wouldn’t think I was an awful person for turning down a volunteer opportunity.
The difference between pleasing people and pleasing God
“I know I’m caught in the rip current of people pleasing when I dread saying yes but feel powerless to say no.”Lysa TerKeurst, from “The Best Yes”
I wish I wasn’t the kind of person who was prone to drown in the rip current of people pleasing, but I am. If only I was more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing others, my faith would be in better shape. Paul says “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10) but more often than not, the decisions we make aren’t so clear cut. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about volunteering at my kids’ school, after all.
But there is a difference between serving others out of love and serving others to make ourselves look good. One way comes from the overflow of a grateful heart, and one way leads to exhaustion and resentment. One way is born from the desire to please God, and one way is motivated by the approval and acceptance of others.
I knew if I said yes to take charge of the “Run for Life” program, it would be to avoid disappointing others. I knew it would lead to exhaustion and resentment because it made me tired just thinking about it. And above all, I knew I wouldn’t be able to love my family well by adding extra pressure to get out the door in the morning.
Sometimes, our decisions are clear cut. Is this decision pleasing to God, yes or no? We know from the Bible what is pleasing to God:
God is pleased when we hope in His unfailing love. (Psalm 147:10-11)
God is pleased when we have faith and when we seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
God is pleased when we bear fruit in every good work. (Colossians 1:10)
God is pleased when we worship Him. (Romans 12:1)
God is pleased when we walk in goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Ephesians 5:8-10)
But when our decisions aren’t so obvious, we must reflect on the motives of our heart. Here are five questions you should ask yourself to discern if you are pleasing people or pleasing God:
Who will I disappoint if I say no?
Who will I please if I say yes?
Who am I trying to impress?
Will saying yes distract me from my calling or enable me in my calling?
Am I choosing out of love or out of fear?
As the world around us takes steps to reopen, and as we establish a new (more cautious) normal, let’s be sure that what we add to our calendars is pleasing to God. Let’s filter our “yeses” through a sense of love and not obligation. Because when we are confident of our responsibilities, we can take to heart the words of Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”