Hi, my name is Wendy and I am a recovering people pleaser. I do not mean any disrespect to people in recovery by writing that. It is a part of my story. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to please people who were in my life--that included family, teachers, friends, and church family. What I remember most from those years of people pleasing was a terrible angst that I experienced when what I believed would please the Lord would in someway displease some of the people in my life and the angst I experienced when a decision made pleased one person and upset another. I remember at those times crying out to the Lord, saying, "Lord, there is no right choice for me to make." When I did make decisions during those times, those choices most often carried a heavy burden of guilt and shame and a belief that I had somehow failed and second guessed decisions that were godly.
Some things have happened over the years that have helped reshape my views of people pleasing. First, during a difficult season of decision making I mentioned to a friend that there seemed to be no right decision to make. He looked at me puzzled by my statement and said, "There is always a right decision to be made." We didn't have time to process what I meant by my statement or what he meant by his statement. But, I began to think something was amiss in how I was approaching decision making in my life. Sometime later I was seeking the advice from a pastor on a ministry decision and he laid out the possible options. All of them good and godly, but not all of the options would please everyone involved. I pointed that out, and he gently pointed out my people pleasing ways. At the time I carried a lot of shame and even though the pastor was a good man who did not mean to heap shame on me, I felt a deep shame envelop me when he said those words. From that time on I assumed the desire to please was something shameful which I needed to correct.
Recently I was listening to Dr. Henry Cloud, on a call in program and he addressed the problem of people pleasing for one of his callers. One of the first things he stated was that the desire to please is written on our hearts by the creator and that the desire to please was not an evil thing. He pointed us to Matthew 25:21, "His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." I realized when Cloud shared those verses that hearing those words from Jesus as I enter into His joy forever is one of my strongest desires. It was so freeing to realize that the desire to please is a good desire, not something about which to be ashamed.
As I processed the idea of people pleasing through the lens of this truth, I became excited. I realized that when I experience the desire to please whether it be God or others, I don't have to take on that old yoke of shame I once wore. I can simply acknowledge the desires to please and prayerfully research and set some parameters around it to help me discern the choices I have ahead of me that may or may not please others. I identified a couple of things that could help me in this.
First, I can seek God's wisdom through His Word and through prayer. I know both His will and His design for my life are perfect and never wrong. If my desire to please God is at the center of my decision making process I will seldom make wrong choices. That means when I make a decision that pleases God and displeases a person I have not done anything wrong and a person's displeasure with me is not something I have to own. I can make myself available to have a conversation with them, but at the end of the day, their displeasure with me will not be a deterrent to choosing to please the Lord. Nor, am I responsible for fixing that their feelings as their feelings are about their hearts. I have had a couple of great leaders from our ministry come to me and tell me God was calling them to do something different. I initially felt some grief at the loss our ministry would experience when they left, but I did not feel displeasure or disappointment towards them. I experienced deep joy that they were recognizing God's callings on their lives and were moving a head in faith and confidence to impact women in ways I had never even dreamed of doing. They had in fact grown and matured enough to see more clearly the path God had for them. Their decisions impacted me and the ministry, but God will provide what we need as He moves them. I would have hated it if they were so afraid of disappointing me that they didn't obey God's calling. And it would have been wrong of me to guilt them into staying.
Second, there are times that I have had to choose between two good choices. Maybe it is a choice of having to choose with whom I will spend time, knowing I would leave the other person disappointed. Maybe it is a choice of choosing which short term missionary trip I will participate in, causing an organization to feel disappointed that I won't be on their team. Maybe, it is choosing which project I will finish first, leaving the recipient of the work not yet done displeased that they have to wait a bit longer. Looking back I see that when I worried about those kinds of things, the mature people graciously accepted the decisions I made without questions or shaming statements. There were times less mature people expressed displeasure over my choices. Sometimes they simply stated their feelings and graciously accepted my explanation that my intention was not to hurt them and things were quickly resolved. There were also times when people became angry, demanding, or judgmental and tried to manipulate me through guilt and shame evoking statements. I have had to learn that their reactions are more about them than me.
I have worked hard to learn to rest in my prayerful decisions, understanding my limitations are sometimes going to expose other's impatience and inappropriate tendency to place expectations and demands on others. By being gracious in hearing, but kindly firm in boundary setting, others are given the opportunity to grow and become more patient and gracious as well. In learning these lessons it has also helped me to not take others' decisions personally, allowing them the same freedom to seek God in their decision making processes.
I want to be a person who strives to please the Lord in all things. While I want to be a blessing to all the people in my life, I realize that I have had to take a look at what blessings really are. Sometimes they occur when I make a choice that pleases them. But sometimes the bigger blessing comes from the growth of allowing someone to sit in the disappointment caused by a decision I have made. The codependent in me wants others to always feel good, but that is not in their best interest anymore than it is in mine. To please or not to please...that is a fair question. But we won't go wrong if we seek to please the Lord first and utilize His wisdom when our choices impact others.
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