Women were born to help, nurture, love, and encourage. While these are great Godly qualities, the enemy does all he can to add large doses of fear to a girl’s innate assets. The end result of this addition is a disease that almost every woman must fight: people pleasing.
Hi. I’m Julie. I am a people pleaser.
I want everyone around me to be 100% happy 100% of the time (realistic, aren’t I?). When I think someone is upset with me, regardless of the reason or if I am innocent of any perceived wrongdoing, I hate it. As in, I can’t sleep, I constantly think about the matter, and I break my neck to fix it. In the past when conflicts have arisen, I have admitted fault knowing full well that I was essentially blameless. It was better to lie and apologize (and that’s what it was… lying) than for the fight to continue. If someone even looks at me with disapproval or disappointment, panic bursts in my belly. I have a hard time drawing and keeping boundaries because I’m anxious about even the potential of upsetting someone I love. Even if my schedule is completely full, it’s hard for me to say no when someone asks for help or wants my services. Sometimes, I serve folks not out of a holy motivation of love, but out of an unholy desire for someone to “like me more”. (Do you see how that subtle yet powerful difference makes even a good deed selfish? I served for me and my validation, not for them.) When my boss calls me into his office, my first reaction is usually fear. My internal monologue sounds something like, “Uh oh, he’s mad. What did I do wrong?” These thoughts come even if I’ve been doing great work! Meetings with any authority figure freak me out. I am compelled to give the “right answer” and hate to ruffle feathers.
It’s not fun to admit all these things. Shew, when I write it all out like this, I see what a mess I am! My desire to please others can, if I am not careful, direct my entire life. This is wrong. It is God that should be calling shots. I cannot please man and God at the same time. I just can’t!
A great Biblical example of a people pleaser was Saul. When the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel, he looked the part. The Bible says that Saul was tall and very handsome (1 Samuel 9:1). Because he was so good looking, he probably got used to hearing the praises and adoration of others. The Bible shows us that he cared more about what the people thought of him than about obeying the Lord. Saul’s ultimate downfall came when the Lord commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and to keep none of the plunder. God asked this of Saul because the Amalekites had tried to destroy Israel without provocation as they traveled in the desert after the Exodus. After the Amalekites’ initial defeat in the desert, God promised Moses that He would “blot out the memory of every Amalek under heaven”. (Exodus 17:14) The Lord was trying keep His promise to Moses through Saul, Israel’s king. However, after Saul defeated the Amalekites, he did not carry out the Lord’s orders as instructed. Instead, Saul spared the Amalekite’s king, Agag, and succumbed to the people’s wishes by letting them keep the best of the livestock. Because Saul disobeyed the Lord and listened to the people, God chose to give his kingdom to David. In addition to these short term consequences, king Saul’s disobedience spelled almost certain disaster for the Jews centuries later. A decedent of Agag, Haman, led the plot to kill all of Israel during Babylonian rule. The Lord was faithful to rescue Israel through Queen Esther’s brave obedience, but all the suffering and worry could have been prevented if Saul would have fulfilled the Lord’s command years earlier!
Do you see that if we work to please people we cannot please God? What’s worse is that we can, in our desperate and often times cowardly desire to please others instead of Jesus, thwart the purposes and plans of God in our life and in the lives of others. What a wakeup call!
The first time I went against my mother’s wishes to do what the Lord called me to do, I was in my mid-twenties, and I was terrified. I felt led to attend a different church. My mother loved that I went to the service with her, and I knew the switch would not be well received. God wouldn’t let me wimp out by avoiding the situation or by sending an immature email, but instead He insisted that I act like an adult and tell her of my plans to change churches face to face. I sat on my parents’ back porch in a plastic white lawn chair and stared trembling into my mother’s disapproving eyes. As I communicated my intentions, she reacted exactly as I knew she would. Mom was angry and hurt that I would consider going somewhere else without her. It took all my reserves and Jesus’s strength to not cave in to her wishes and to say plainly and openly, “I want to do God’s will, not yours.”
About a year later, the Lord called me back to my childhood church. While I was away, Jesus grew my faith. I learned much about life in ministry. These were great fruits gleaned from a hard decision. However, I believe the main reason Jesus asked me to leave in the first place was to test me to see who I would obey- man or God. I’m glad I passed.
The Lord wasn’t finished testing me the area of people pleasing though. This time when the trial came, it wasn’t one person I had to stand against. It was ten thousand.
When I was younger, I was a pretty girl. I was a dancer, had a cute little figure, and people complimented me frequently on my looks. The compliments felt life giving, and I blossomed under the praise. Slowly, I began to be prideful about my appearance. I enjoyed it when guys watched me walk down the hall at school. While my mother never let me get entirely out of hand with my wardrobe, I sometimes chose things that were too tight, short, or clingy to get even more attention from the opposite sex. I had so many clothes that at one point my friends dared me to try and go an entire quarter without wearing the same thing twice. I succeeded. I loved makeup, shoes, and dressing up. In college, I was on an Indiana University dance team called Redsteppers. One of the prerequisites to be on the team was not only dance ability, but also attractiveness. During home games, I used to smile with shy satisfaction when my dance team would enter the stadium. Boisterous boys in the home crowd would clap, whistle, and yell, “Red-Step-ERS! Red-Step-ERS!” Not unpredictably, over time I began to believe that my value was somehow linked to my physical appearance. Everything in America’s culture reaffirmed the lie.
During all those years I spent countless hours shopping, primping, and looking into the mirror, I gave little or no thought to developing Godly character and integrity. When I gave Jesus Lordship over my life however, He would not let this wrong focus and arrogance continue. God does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart! (1 Samuel 16:7)
After I got married and had my daughter, I began to struggle with my weight. After the birth of my son, I lost the battle completely. As the pounds came, I prayed, cried, and continually asked God to help me lose weight. I tried every diet. While I had some temporary successes, nothing worked over the long haul. Finally, the Lord unexpectantly answered my prayers for help through a Godly woman during a woman’s Bible study. His response was, “I will not help you right now, Julie.” Not the answer I was hoping for, but I knew why the Lord gave me a temporary no. Because of Bible reading I was self aware enough to know that Jesus needed to humble me in this area, and He also wanted to show me that true eternal value had absolutely nothing to do with hairstyle, lipstick color, or dress size. Scriptures I read taught me that physical beauty was vain and fleeting , but a woman who feared the Lord and of noble character was more precious than rubies or gold. (Proverbs 31). Unlike the shallow compliments I had received in my youth, women of Godly character would get deserved honor and praise in this life and in the next. As I walked with God, I was changed from the inside out. Jesus frequently whispered in low moments that I was more beautiful now than I had ever been.
You would think that after I had learned all this truth, man’s opinion wouldn’t matter. But it did! I still cared what others thought about me and was addicted to their approval! People were kinder to me as a thin person. I found that the curvier I got, the less eye contact I got in public. Instead of being noticed by strangers, I felt like others saw right through me.
I’m glad I serve a God that sees us all! Amen?
One day in the summer of 2012, I was perusing my email’s inbox when I noticed a message from the Indiana University’s Redsteppers. Upon reading, I learned that there was to be a 40th anniversary performance in the fall at a Hoosier football game, and all team alumni were invited. I didn’t even give a second thought to the invitation. I would never go. Who would want to see a chubby gal dancing on the sidelines? While seeing my old friends would be fun, it would not be worth the humiliation. No. NO THANK YOU!
A few days later, I was driving down the interstate singing praise songs when the Lord jolted me out of making more joyful noises with thoughts of the Redstepper’s 40th anniversary.
Patiently He inquired, “Did You ask me if I wanted you to go?”
“Well, no, Lord,” I conceded. Uh oh. This didn’t seem like it was going to end well.
“I want you to go.”
“But Lord! It would be so embarrassing! I would rather die!”
“I want you to go. I want you to be a living sacrifice for Me.” (Romans 12:1)
“If you want your prayers for your neighbor to be answered, you must obey. Whose opinion is more important? Mine or man’s?”
“Yours,” I sighed in surrender. “Okay, I’ll go. I’ll go for You. I’ll go for my neighbor.” I blushed at the mere thought of prancing about in front of thousands of fans on game day. This was going to take all I had to carry out the promise I had just made.
God did not give me time to back out. Less than one minute after I made the promise, my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and rolled my eyes not even surprised. Of course it was Alexis, my Redstepper friend. Alexis lived in Maine, and I hadn’t spoken to her in literally a year. I knew she was calling to see if I would be going to the 40th anniversary game.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hi Julie! It’s Lexi! I was wondering if you were going to the football game?”
“Yeah I’ll be there!” I said with feigned enthusiasm.
After we chatted awhile, I hung up the phone and groaned. She was going to book a flight to Indiana now that I had said I was going. I couldn’t change my mind. “Well played, Jesus,” I thought. “Well played.”
In the months leading up to performance day, I learned the routine by watching a video online. My body remembered how to high kick and move. I still loved to dance! However, the day my shirt size was emailed to the entire group, my stomach dropped and a dark blush colored my face. Obviously, the email wasn’t meant to shame me. Organizers simply wanted dancers to confirm orders. However, my size “L” stuck out like a sore thumb among a long list of mediums and smalls. The worst part was knowing that this small embarrassment was only a precursor to the humiliation of actual game day.
Love is an action word. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20)! God had never asked this much of me before, but I was determined to obey. I would show Jesus how much I loved Him by doing this thing. I would have obeyed for no person on earth.
Game day came. I drove to my university campus with butterflies and arrived at the practice field with great trepidation. Alexis was there and we caught up in between our old coach’s 8 counts and directives. Throughout the day, I smiled and made polite small talk. I faced over 10,000 fans in the fall sunshine and performed my turns and kicks without error. I held Alexis’s new baby. I cheered with the fans and with my supportive family after my half time routine. Predictably, the Hoosiers lost the game, but I won the war. In short, I ground my teeth and powered through.
Why did God want me at that game so badly? I can guess that it was for a couple of reasons. First of all, everyone on my Redstepper team knew how I got married: I had only known my then boyfriend now husband for a couple of months, we got hitched in the courthouse against my parents’ wishes, I dropped out of the dance team and out of college entirely, etc. Nobody, and I mean nobody expected Jason and I to still be together. Even less predicted that I would finish school. The fact that my marriage was still going and that I had graduated was a witness to the redeeming power of Jesus. I got to tell other dancers about my faith. Secondly, God asked me to go for my neighbor, “Amy”. After I had obeyed, the Lord honored this one act of obedience and began to hear my prayers for her salvation. I will write more about this in the next story.
While everyone was kind that day on the football field and no one said a negative word, I could still sense their disapproval at my fuller frame. The miracle is not as spectacular as some of the others I have described, but no less important. It is this: I lived through their disapproving stares and negative judgments with God’s strength and presence. I proved to myself and most importantly to Jesus that I would obey Him even at great personal cost to my own ego and need to please. His will was more important than man’s opinion. I wasn’t like Saul that day at IU. I was a David- a woman after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).