Wednesday, July 21, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (5) pleasing people

February 2008. It soon becomes clear that blogging is about the numbers. Every day I check my stats to make sure people are reading, agonise over a negative comment, rejoice over a good one. I want people to read, and I don't want to disappoint anyone: not the people I write for, nor the friends with high hopes for me. Over and over during the next couple of years, I will write in my journal, "I feel trapped": trapped by the expectations of others.

I get too busy when ... I try to please people and live up to their expectations.

What I'm thinking. "I can't bear people not to think well of me! I can't let them down! I can't disappoint people! I have to work hard to earn their respect!"

What I'm learning.
To fear God, not people.
Like most people-pleasers, I started young. I didn't want to disappoint parents who hoped so much for me, and I didn't want to risk the displeasure of teachers by doing the wrong thing. I was one of those kids whose good school reports and respectful demeanor said a lot about my fears. It's no different now. I fear failure; I fear disappointing people; I fear peoples' criticism. In other words, people are bigger in my mind than God. I need a bigger view of God. Slowly but surely, God is changing me so that I fear God more than I fear people.*

To please God, not people.
When I'm tempted to seek praise, or when I'm disturbed by criticism, here's what I tell myself: "It doesn't matter what people think of me". Such a simple statement! But it reminds me that nothing really hangs on people's opinion of me. Instead, I want to seek God's good opinion, and he's pleased not by popularity, but by faithfulness. I'll never be able to do enough to get the praise I seek! But God isn't impressed by my busy achievements, but by love.

All I do, I do for an audience of One.
I once read a book which asked, "Who's in your grandstand?". I know who's in mine! Mentors, parents, friends, editors, readers, those I seek to encourage: there are few sweeter things than receiving their praise, and I work hard to earn it! But there should only be one person in my grandstand: God. His applause alone matters, and he asks no more of me than he enables me to do. I can imagine few joys greater than hearing him say to me one day, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:23).

I'm justified by God not others.
Who do I try to prove myself to? There's me: my own expectations are higher than anyone else's! There's the people who love me: I'd hate to let them down! There's my readers: I used to think they expected a post every day! There's the impartial observers: they're a bit quicker with their criticism, so I work hard to avoid it. I forget that I'm already justified by God, righteous in his eyes because Jesus died for me, and I don't need to prove myself to me or anyone else.

I can make choices which feed the right attitudes.
One of the most significant steps I took, many months ago, was to stop checking my stats more than once a week. I also realised that comparing the popularity of my blog with others only fed my obsession (well, duh!). In the grace of God, I've made many small decisions so I'm not constantly feeding my hunger for people's praise. Perhaps it's a boss's demands, or your parents' hopes, or a mentor's expectations that drives you into over-busyness: ask yourself how you can stop feeding your hunger for their approval.

It's okay to say "no"
Saying "no" can be hard! For me, it's the struggle not to let opportunities slip (and to trust God's timing). For my friend, it's the struggle not to care what others think. We say "yes" when we should say "no" because we don't want to lose face. There have been times when I've had to eat humble pie and pull out of things I've said "yes" to, which is an even harder kind of wisdom. Busyness is not next to godliness, even when everyone at your church is telling you so! You don't stand and fall by their good opinion, but by God's good opinion: and Jesus won that on the cross.

Many of these insights are from chapter 8 of Tim Chesters The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness; the quote is from p. 106.
* The link between fear and people-pleasing became clear to me as I read Ed Welch's When People are Big and God is Small.

images are from Multiple fragments of tissue, chrissuderman and Samanta Decker at flickr; image of graph is from sitemeter


Sarah said...

Thanks for this series, Jean. I have both 'When People Are Big and God is Small' and 'The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness' and I'm looking forward to reading them soon.

ncmomof4 said...

Wow I needed this I have been so angry with myself latley. Why haven't I lost more of my baby weight? Why can I not get it together and keep the house cleaner? Why I am I struggling to cook meals nightly? Now I know that I am trying to please others and get praise and self glorification. God is only asking me to rest in Him and lean on Him. Thank you.

Joan said...

Hi Jean, I've been reading your blog for about 6 months. I like your focus on Christ throughout your struggles. Another book I have found encouraging and convicting is Pleasing People How not to be an "approval junkie" by Lou Priolo. It has overlap with When people are Big... but for me Pleasing People has much more practical theology. Lou's book has blessed me as well as others I have recommended it to. Maybe you already know about Lou's book.
Thank you for the truth you write.I will continue to read your words.

A sister in Christ who lives way north of you, in Canada

Jean said...

Happy reading, Sarah!

momof4 (4 kids like me! :) ) you sound a lot like me in your struggles. I'm glad God used my words to encourage me.

Joan, I do have that book on my shelf but haven't read it yet. Thanks for the recommendation and for the encouragement!