People Pleasing Ways . . . Idol Worship and Lip Service

Massive reality check: I am a people pleaser. I do not like it when people do not like me.

My husband and kids might disagree. I mean, my kids will tell you they’re frequently displeased with me. It comes with the territory of parenting. But when it comes to saying “no” to those not closest to me (i.e. these three people I live with), I struggle greatly. It’s not that I never say no initially, but I don’t have a particularly assertive personality. If someone asks me to do or allow something that I know I can’t or shouldn’t be doing or allowing, I’ll very often start with a vague, “I/we can’t because ______”. But that often snowballs rapidly. Enter lengthy explanation and/or justification, if they push back, which people are known to do. I become very uncomfortable . . . are they mad, annoyed, upset, disappointed with me? Do they think I’m just making excuses? Do they hate me because I said no? And then one of two things happens. If the answer has to remain no because I have no choice, I start giving more and more justification as to why I cannot say yes to said “thing”. It very rapidly enters the territory of “tmi” and then some. OR more often, I say yes in stages. I give in slowly because I don’t want to upset the other person, and quite frankly, I’m fairly easily coerced. So, then I’m on the hook for something I do not want to do, and I absolutely know I shouldn’t be doing. My husband asked me just yesterday why I don’t just say, “No we’re not going to be able to do that” and leave it at that. Because that is way too simple y’all.

Now, I need to clarify, there are definitely times we need to say yes, even if it’s not something we completely want to do. Want is such a relative term because I really don’t want to do much outside my house or family ever. If it were up to my introverted self, I’d probably never say yes to anything. But there are plenty of times where I know I need to step outside my comfort zone and anxiety and say yes, and I’m (almost) always glad when I do. I’m not talking about those times here. Because those are the times, I’ll give a yes, without being coerced, or I’ll volunteer, without even being asked, even if I’m super uncomfortable.

All this to say, I don’t like other people to be unhappy with me, and I find myself giving in, in order to keep others happy, way too often. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the very long-winded explanation, of why I’m a people pleaser. Specific examples withheld because, well, see (literally, see it and read it) all of the above . . . I wouldn’t want to offend anyone . . . on the off chance that they may somehow stumble across this . . . it’s a highly improbable probability y’all, but it remains a probability none-the-less.

So, this is where I land this morning. Because it’s something God has been working on in me, the problem of people pleasing, and dare I say it, idol worship. (Insert sarcastic smirk here) I have learn to be okay with people not being okay with me. I have to be okay with the fact that sometimes they’re going to be mad, upset, annoyed, etc. with me, and that’s not on me. That’s on them. I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. (Now I’m not saying I plan on going out of my way to make others angry or hurt. I’m in no way saying that. Romans 12:18 tells us that as much as possible with us we should live at peace with others . . . paraphrased, obviously.)

An excerpt From Jess Connolly’s Go and Tell Gals email newsletter from yesterday . . . it’s funny, not haha, how God repeatedly places messages in my path when He wants me to learn something . . . the podcasts I subscribe to, the emails, newsletters, etc. seem to be hitting this topic hard in the past few weeks . . .

If you’re weighing out whether or not something needs to be a “no,” here are five GREAT reasons you should say no. Check for these in your soul + life: 

  1. You should say “no” if you’re only saying “yes” to get the approval of others.
  2. You should say “no” if you’re going to show up bitter.
  3. You should say “no” if you think saying “yes” will make God love you more. 
  4.  You should say “no” if you’d only say “yes” to prove a point. 
  5.  You should say “no” if you believe you have to because no one else will say “yes”.

And here is my number six: you should say “no” if you feel like the Holy Spirit is leading you to say “no”, even if it’s a good thing on its face. Because we are not called to do everything . . . even good things, and that can mean at church, or at our kids’ schools, or at work (when called to go beyond your actual work duties), or even holy and good volunteer opportunities . . . none of that comes before our relationship with God, serving our spouses and families, and being present where God has placed us . . . we’re called to do what God tells us to do not what others think we should do (thank you Priscilla Shirer for that lesson many years ago).

Now I’ll add this, I think the term “I just don’t feel peace about it” is way overused and a Christian cop out far too often (the only term that I think is more overused and/or manipulative is “The Holy Spirit is telling me you should do _____” . . . but that’s another post for another time). Sometimes we’re going to have anxiety and fear about moving forward with something, even if God is telling us to do it. Sometimes we’re not going to feel physically peaceful about it. If you tend to run more on the high-strung end, like myself, anxiety does not equal an automatic no. If it did, I would’ve never moved forward with some of the hardest and best “yeses” in my life. What it does tell me is I need to pray for discernment and guidance and strength to do those hard things. But there are times, when I feel an unholy discomfort, if you will, that tells me I will regret it, hugely, if I say “yes”, and that’s almost the Holy Spirit telling me to put on the brakes. That’s when I know I’ve entered the “people pleasing” territory.

Enter scriptures, because y’all should know by now, that if I feel like God is telling/showing me something, then it absolutely has to be confirmed with scripture. And I don’t mean making scriptures, taken out of context, fit my narrative. I mean digging and seeing what God has to say about the topic, and then changing my narrative if needed . . .

  1. Read the gospels. Jesus loved people, but He was not a people pleaser. He lived a sacrificial life, but so much of His ministry and teaching turned what was popular and pleasing to the “big wigs” of the day on its head. He healed, delivered, and set free, but He also called sin what it was/is, He called out the Pharisees and Sadducees for their self-serving ways, and He spoke the hard truths in the most gracious and loving way. Further, Jesus knew when to pull back. He knew when He needed to say “no” to the crowds and the people and spend time in prayer and solitude and in community with those closest to Him, in order to be His best and complete His Father’s work.
  2. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 . . . this one is commonly used to speak against people pleasing, but I had to really think about whether or not I was reworking it to fit my narrative which is what I want to avoid. In context, Paul is talking about preaching a gospel that is pleasing to men rather than God. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem now. Preaching a people pleasing gospel. Here’s the conclusion I came to, if we’re running around say “yes” to all the things to keep other people happy, then we’re not going to have the capacity to do what God is calling us to do. Seeking to “please men” is a problem no matter how you look at it, and it is a gospel of idol worship rather than trusting in God. Our lives are a testament to God one way or another. If we’re flat out frenzied, exhausted, and spent because of all the things we’re doing in our own power, that’s no testimony to the world.
  3. “A man who flatters his neighbor
    Spreads a net for his feet.”
    Proverbs 29:5
  4. “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25 . . . nothing like Proverbs to give us perspective.
  5. Ultimately, here’s the problem with people pleasing, it’s putting someone or something before God. It’s being more worried about their opinion of you, than what God is calling you to do or not to do. It’s at its root, idol worship. Because if God is telling you to do or not do something . . . because it’s wrong or unsafe or just not right for you or your family . . . if it exceeds your capacity to serve and pushes out those things that you’ve actually been called to do . . . even if what you’re called to is as simple as caring for your family . . . then you’re worshipping man and not God.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:2-6

We have this thing in the church where we think, since we’re not physically making carved images, we’re not worshipping idols. But make no mistake, we have plenty of idol worship within the church. We have plenty of “gods” before Him. They just look different than those in the Old Testament. And people pleasing, putting men or a man before God in any capacity, pretty much sums it up.

My daughter came home from school last year with a phrase her teacher, bless her heart, probably had to use way too often with my very persuasive child, “My answer is ‘no’ and no means no.” And I think we need to both employ that (maybe in slightly less blunt terms . . . maybe not) and learn to accept that. Because being a people pusher rather than pleaser, and not accepting that or punishing others for saying “no”, is no better. And y’all this goes beyond just saying “yes” or “no”. What I’ve written here, while not brief in the least, doesn’t come close to being exhaustive when you take a deep dive into people pleasing. I find myself not speaking up when I should, keeping things to myself out of fear of man’s response, and not being willing to be authentic (authentic does not equal obnoxious nor does it mean airing all your dirty laundry on social media) at times, in order to keep others happy. That is not what or how God created us to be. In the end, it all comes back to priorities. It’s great that we say our priorities are in the right place (1. God 2. Marriage . . . if married 3. Kids . . . if you have them 4. Everything else . . . ministry, church, extended family, friends, work . . .), but if it’s all just lip service, if we’re not following through with actions, then those words mean nothing.

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