One of my character defects is being a people pleaser. You would think that wanting to make people happy is a good thing, and it can be if it’s done with pure motives. But so often my people-pleasing is a mask for fear and/or pride. Some deep soul-searching on this aspect of my personality has revealed the unhealthy reasons I’ve tried to please others to the point of making myself sick emotionally, physically and/or spiritually. For example, perhaps I’m trying to avoid conflict because I don’t want anyone to be angry with me or disappointed in me, or if I give of myself sacrificially people will think I’m so “nice” and such a good Christian. Maybe I just want everyone to like and approve of me, or I don’t want to be seen as selfish. And even though I may not realize it at the time, I might be expecting something in return from others or from God for my people-pleasing acts.
When I hit rock bottom with depression because I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be, I learned that this pattern of putting others’ needs above my own to my detriment needed to change. When chronic illness became my reality, it was no longer possible for me to try to please others as I had in the past. When I couldn’t or wouldn’t say no to something I really didn’t want or need to do, my body decided to say no for me! I had no choice but to take better care of myself.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (New International Version). A look at some other translations helps further clarify the meaning of this Scripture:
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. (New Living Translation)
Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. (Amplified Bible)
I interpret this Scripture to mean that I am responsible for guarding my own heart, i.e. I can’t depend on another person, the media or even the church to protect me from the negative, the impure, the unholy and the ungodly. What’s in my heart will eventually become evident in my actions, and therefore I must carefully guard what I allow to enter it. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”.
As a person with a chronic illness and a history of depression, I take this verse one step further: I must be true to my own heart, guarding it from all that is harmful to me specifically given my unique constitution and nature. For example, I’m an introvert, I like things quiet and I like connecting with people one-on-one or in small groups. This means that big parties with loud music where I have to make small talk with lots of strangers drains me of energy. Needless to say, you won’t find me at the mall on Christmas Eve!
Depleting my limited energy supply prevents me from spending it on the more meaningful and rewarding tasks the Lord gives me. These days I try to be kinder to myself by recognizing my limitations and respecting them. I no longer need to subject myself unnecessarily to uncomfortable situations in order to please others. Today I know it’s only God that I need to please. With this mindset, I am free! As Alec Hill, former President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, explained:
“I’ve been liberated…when I remember I serve one master. When criticized, I ask if he is pleased with what I’m doing. After an often uncomfortable time of self-reflection – plucking a log out of one’s eye is never pleasant – I can move on with confidence.”
“When we serve the divine Master, we are freed from meeting others’ expectations. For people pleasers like me, this is a gift”.
Beloved Warriors, I pray for protection over our hearts and minds. May the Holy Spirit guide us and our decisions that the glory and the victory would be His. The Lord will continue to change us from the inside out as we seek Him.
Christianity Today, July/August 2014, The Most Troubling Parable: Why Does Jesus Say we Are Like Slaves?, Alec Hill, pg. 79.