“If you wanna lead the orchestra, you gotta turn your back to the crowd.”
I’m a big fan of Pete Wilson.
He pastors Cross Point Church in Nashville. He wrote a great post Friday titled “My Biggest Mistake in Ministry”. O Lord is this ever one I need to keep in perspective! Mind you, I’m no senior-pastor-of-a-megachurch (nor do I have such aspirations)… but I do believe God has given me a heart to help and serve people, build relationships and encourage community wherever He places me.
I want to remember his words. I bet you will, too.
Leading with a desire to be loved is dangerous. Parenting with a desire to be loved can be destructive. And if you spend your life trying to be loved instead of being loving,it’s going to lead you to all kinds of unhealthy extremes.
Part of learning humility for me is to understand I simply can’t please everyone. Not everyone is going to like me, love me, or think I’m great. They’re just not.
I feel like I’m growing in this area. I’m learning the freedom that comes along with seeking to love, instead of always desiring to be loved. The first leads to meaning and significance while the latter is an emotional black hole that can never be filled.
I pray you will learn to live in the Kingdom and be freed from the sheer stupidity and vanity of going through life trying to make sure other people think the right things about you. If you depend on other people loving everything you say or do, you will end up doing and saying nothing. I pray you’ll receive the fact that you are loved in the eyes of God in such a way that you can then go out to lead and live, seeking to truly love the people around you.
Wow, can I relate. Can you?
My struggle with wanting people’s approval came in utero! I love people. I’ve always gravitated towards them and certainly basked in their good graces.
Five years ago, God shone a spotlight on me in this area. He revealed that people were my idol. Ouch! But I sheepishly agreed.
He didn’t stop there. He prepared me, whispering to my heart: This is gonna be a season with just you and Me. And then months later He spoke the following: You’re about to go through something very painful.
Uh oh. God had never spoken that to my heart before.
He knows I’m wired to put people first, even above my needs (not as holy as it sounds haha), and He knew I didn’t have the strength to dethrone the place people occupied in my heart. His place.
So He did it for me.
Systematically, He removed person after person from my life. Within a span of months, 7 or 8 girl friends stopped talking to me for no apparent reason. Individually.
Okay, no big deal. There are always guys right?
Yeah, no. I had guy friends, but they don’t get us like ladies do (this is good). Add to that family misunderstandings, and you have a people-pleaser’s full-blown identity crisis!
That season in my life hurt, a ton. I tried connecting with new people, but for the first time it didn’t work! Small groups fell flat. Revisiting old places with old friends proved short and bittersweet. Relationships were suddenly hit-or-miss. It was the strangest experience. It was like I was wearing an invisible cloak — like Hosea’s wife when God hemmed her in with thorns so she had no other choice but to seek Him (a beautiful story–take a moment to read!).
God “hemmed me in” by allowing crises in every area of my life. Yes, aloneness was a major crisis, but the series of events that followed magnified my aloneness. Being alone can be stressful. Being alone while going through the ringer is another story. I wonder if anyone reading this can relate.
It started with shin splints–that hung on over 2 years. An avid runner, exercise was my release, the way I dealt with stress/anxiety, the pressure of ‘not measuring up’, and persistent body image issues (essentially everything our culture says a woman can ‘hang her hat on’). Without this to lean on, my confidence crumbled overnight (some crutch huh?).
Then the pressure to perform my job became over-the-top. I so wanted to prove my “fresh outta college” self. About this same time I started having ‘night terrors’ that lasted a few years, allowing just 2-3 hours of precious sleep and PANIC the rest of the night, while having to perform at work the next day.
This set me up for burnout. My health deteriorated, ushering in extreme fatigue, minimal energy to accomplish my daily work, and little emotional/mental capacity to handle life’s stresses. Dating disappointments and a few heartaches were no help.
My Type-A, people-pleasing self was in overdrive… but I could no longer perform. In my eyes (and theirs), I became a failure.
I lived with family then, another personal failure to me (at the time) because I wasn’t “making it on my own”. Financial obligations forced me to live there and deal with family challenges. Issues I’d never noticed came tumbling out of my family’s closet, issues I had to deal with. I tried so hard to connect with my family, but they didn’t ‘get’ me (I didn’t ‘get’ me!). This last crisis took a tremendous toll on me. I felt utterly alone and misunderstood.
In short, I went through the refiner’s fire. It was good for me, I see now, but at the time it felt like all hell broke loose in my life.
So I dove into Him. I began reading Scripture every day (following a friend’s example!), and attending home churches and worship meetings zealously. I was desperate for hope and God’s nearness.
When you don’t have people’s approval for years in a row, you learn to lean on something else. I’m very thankful God helped me choose Him. He’d been on the backburner (or not even in the kitchen!) for most of my life. It was time.
That season taught me big lessons. It took a five-year period of time for God to remove people as my focus and for me to give Him rightful place in my heart! I am thankful I walked that journey with God and realized He is my sufficiency and all I need. I’m so glad He showed me how fickle people and their affections can be and that they make a crappy leg to stand on.
Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in Him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
He wanted me to learn that people can never fill me, that I can’t live for them. I can live to love others, but not at the expense of my love for my Father. People will never sustain me–no–and I can never truly love them when I’m seeking a handout from them: their approval.
Now He’s bringing loving people back into my life, and I’m appreciating them in a new way: devoid of my need to be significant in their eyes, and instead replaced with a pure need for godly fellowship. Without losing myself. Without co-dependent, unhealthy, enmeshed relationships.
I’m free to be healthy and whole, and to bring God’s love with me. I am free to help people in ways they need most–because I don’t need to be liked by them anymore.
Have I conquered this battle? I’ve learned it’s unwise to say “I’ll never…”. Instead, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned a valuable lesson, one I’ll take with me into each new season. Lives will be richer because I’ve learned this lesson now. As God calls me into leadership, He continues to check my motives and ask Are you leading to love? Or be loved?
Should I stumble in this area, I believe the fall won’t be nearly as painful than had I never learned to live with only God’s approval!
Have you struggled with pleasing people instead of God? How have you overcome it?