The Weight of Pleasing People
I am a recovering People Pleaser. Yes, those were capital “P”s. When I say that I was a people pleaser, I am not saying that I moonlighted occasionally or let it be a part time gig. No, I was a tried and true, to the core of my being, people pleaser. For the majority of my life, I have let other people’s desires, reactions, and opinions dictate the choices I made. Somehow along the way I took it upon myself to make sure that the people around me remained happy; and that is a huge responsibility. Now, caring for others and being compassionate are good things, but I tended to take it past the level that was good for me and others.
Thanks to some good counsel, honest friends, and a very supportive husband I’m working through all of this… slowly. I’m getting better, but let’s be honest, it’s a hard road. Being a people pleaser is not a healthy way to live and causes more problems than it solves (ask me one day about how it’s affected my marriage and friendships!), but it’s been a huge part of my story over the years.
Which might be why the verse in Colossians has always been so hard for me.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
It’s a great verse, I’ve heard it spoken of many, many times and read countless articles and Bible studies on it. Please hear me when I say that I like the verse. But for so much of my life, everything I heard was filtered through the lens of being a people pleaser. So those well-meaning talks started to sounds something like this…
“Hey you! (me?) Yeah, you. Are you doing something right now? (um, yeah) Are you doing your best? (I think so…) Really? Because, you know, you’re doing it for God. (I know, but…) And he’s the King. You should probably try harder (But…?). Maybe give it another go, and do better this time!”
All I heard was the message to try harder, do more, and be better at whatever it was I was doing. I looked around and compared myself and my efforts to other, more godly women, and was always lacking. I would then either work myself to exhaustion or more likely, give up before I got too far; before people became even more disappointed with what I had failed to do. I learned to except shame before it was even given. To assume I would fail before I started.
You see, as a people pleaser, I didn’t need to be told to do my best. I was already going to do my best. I needed something radically different. I needed Christ.
A Better Way
For years and years, this verse has been a weighted backpack, making each step harder. But I have to tell you, all of that has changed. A few weeks ago I took a walk and spent a really long time pouring out my heart to the Lord and listening to his gentle response; I wrote about it here. While I was talking to God, I started telling him about my fear of disappointing people, and how it was straining relationships and leaving me feeling pretty battered.
I prayed, and talked, and God answered with Colossians 3:23.
Now I need to tell you, that completely annoyed me. Why would God remind me to work harder when I was telling him how weary and run down I was from doing just that? Why point out how massively I was going to disappoint people when just the thought of that made me nauseous? It didn’t make sense.
But then God spoke again. I heard the same verse again, only this time, the emphasis wasn’t on the “…work with all your heart…”, the emphasis was on the “… for the Lord…” Do it for the Lord. For your Heavenly Father. For God. Whatever you do, do it for the God who called you. Who choose you. Who died for you. All of your work is for the God who loves you.
This means that when I work, the only one whose opinion I should care about, whose approval I need, is God’s and he has already given it to me! I don’t need to fear disappointing him because he already knows every part of me, my faults and failures, and he loves me anyways! The world is good at pointing out failures, but our Heavenly Father delights in lavishing us with his grace.
I cannot tell you how freeing that moment was for me. Not that it has solved all my problems, I still have to remind myself of this daily, but it has changed things for me. Now, rather than be a burden to me, Colossians 3:23 is a grace. It encourages my heart and whispers love when I need it most. It reminds me not to look to the world for approval, but to bask in the approval I already have from God.
If you are like me, and if people pleasing is a struggle, I hope that this is a message of hope for you too. Work hard, yes. Do your best, always. But know that who you are doing it all for is God and he loves you so, so much.
Dear friend, you already have his approval! You are loved!