"Fear of Man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe." - Proverbs 29:25 NIV
Tears lined my eyes and flowed down my cheeks. My face flush with alienation and guilt, I grabbed another tissue to blot my raw nose. I was dumbfounded. Befuddled. If God is in control, then where is He? Is He controlling all these circumstances and situations? Or just putting me in the hot seat? I thought he was my Protector… and if he was, I didn't feel very protected. Every inch of my soul was smeared with confusion towards my Creator. My Christian worldview filled with abstraction while His looming silence grew heavier.
Fear flooded my internal world, smothering the the apparatus I converse with most; my mind. Tempted, I nearly gave way for the yoke of slavery to enchain me once more. The verbal lashings; some unabashedly unleashed and some passive-aggressively implied, roused my memory.
“Your the most uninspiring person I know.”
“Your a B****.”
“You wear too much makeup”
“You call yourself a christian?”
The toxicity was beginning to saturate my being as rejection and bitterness began knocking at my door. At first glance, they both behold the character of gentlemen, dressed to impress and immensely self-soothing - but they intentionally destroy what you mean to defend. Hand them your thoughts, they will enslave your mind. Invite them in, they will burn your house down. Embrace them once, they will bury you alive. Cunning, ruthless, and seducing; deadly. Thats what they are. And just when I was about to indulge in their solicitation, He spoke.
It wasn't through a burning bush or writing in the sky. But through the simple yet tender question of “why does it matter” intentionally planted in the soil of my soul. A hard lump formed in my throat as my mind rapidly conjured the appropriate response to defend my position. Oh it matters.. believe me. I was being misinterpreted. Misjudged. Mistreated even. Was He too not on my side? Positioning myself for war, I poignantly intended to plead my case and convince Him to coddle me.
But what I’ve learned about God, is that he has a knack for asking questions - with more questions. Gently poking, prodding, and uncovering the essence of my nature; what’s really going on in there. Pushing aside the blame and justification, His gracious disposition enraptured my heart as His comfort enveloped all my defense's.
"Who do you serve?”
He wasn't hasty or angry but steadfast and kind. His truth tearing down those embittering lies. Now it was my turn to be silent. Instantly He cut through the fruit and aimed for the root. A perfect shot. His arrow of grace burst into truth as He began to unveil my sin.
Who do you serve? This one question, was a game changer for me. The pressure to apologize for how I am perceived, then back track and change so that other’s are pleased, was exhausting. It is a wearisome game of “never enough” based on controlling others and lack of trust.
It meant being multiple people; obtaining no identity, just to meet the variety of expectations set before me by others. Literally, at times (especially in my early adult years) I would subconsciously fake who I was; become a chameleon, someone unstable in all her ways. Reality is, each person is exceptionally different, so in order for me to fit in each persons mold, I’d have to change based on what they liked to be told.
In my book, that is truly the epitome of fake.
For years I entangled myself in it’s snare, disregarding my own convictions out of compliance or fear. To prove I could be approved, accepted and rise above, all in the name of “unselfishness and unconditional love.” Injecting myself with poisonous vows falsely declaring.
“Ill show you I love you, by selfishly serving you. Not for you though - for ME. Then you will accept me, the false me, and I wont be alone. And you will be stuck with someone you really don't know.”
There sure is a lot of I’s and Me’s in that statement.
So is it really about love, or is it about me? The essence of selfishness is “not thinking of others, but only of yourself.” - When I would comply or please others, I wasn't doing it for them; I was doing it for me. Being selfish. And thats just the beginning…. people pleasing masks itself in a easy to swallow pill we like to call unconditional love. But the question begs to be asked;
“Since when did unconditional love equate to unconditional mistreatment?”
Lies. All of it…. I’d realized I’d been duped. Reality is, people pleasing enables dysfunction within myself and others. It destroys our divine nature while dismantling our integrity. I found myself pleasing people who were critical, controlling, negative, irresponsible, selfish and even abusive.
I found myself a Christian, dealing with critical personalities, and not protecting myself from the harm. I discovered ignoring unhealthy behaviors and dysfunction out of fear meant I was passively joining forces with destruction. To put it bluntly: partnering with evil. 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke described this paradox best when he said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." - and I found myself doing nothing. Boundary-less.
I spent most of 2016 wrestling this atrocious beast adorned in “acceptance” to finally call it what it really is; Idolatry. Because here's the raw truth wether we like it or not:
people pleasing is idolizing mankind’s conclusions above authentic connection to God and others. Giving into others wishes out of fear and compliance, is never loving, it is slavery.
Through trial and error I realized that I was choosing to live in opposition to my convictions, because I didn't want someone to be angry or reject me. I was more afraid of their response, than my integrity towards God. I was striving to serve two masters; committing modern day idolatry.
I stumbled upon this conversation below, written by Psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book “Never Go Back." And it has impacted me more than anything else has on this subject, it goes like this.
God: “So why did you not take the opportunity I offered you? It was exactly what you wanted.”
You: “I know. I really wanted to and I knew it would be best for me and others, but you know how upset _________ would have gotten if I did. It would have been awful.
God: “You are right. ___________ would have gone through the roof and would have been really upset with you. And, I have a meeting with __________ later… in exactly three years, two months, six days, seven hours, and thirty minutes. At that time, Ill be talking to __________ about his (or her) tendency to get mad at people when they did not please him (or her). That is a streak of selfishness that he (or she) never gave up, and I will take care of it. But that is _________’s life, not yours. You were responsible for your own decisions and ____________ was responsible for how they responded to you. Don't worry, I will be bringing that up. Not your problem, then or now. But, the fact that you chose to give in to him (or her) is your problem, and now I want to show you the life that you gave up by living the life that other people wanted. Watch the screen over there….”
At the end of my days, what was God going to say? Would he be proud? Would he say “Well done!” Or would he lovingly sigh with tears in his eyes, showing me the life he set before me? A life I chose not to experience, based on pleasing others….
Convicting. So convicting.
The lesson: I will only be held responsible for my response to life, not others. My only responsibility is to live a life focused on love. Loving God, myself, and others.
Now, please here me out. This does not mean I wont be open to feedback. Feedback is essential to growth. But it does mean I will not change my convictions to comply with others negative emotions, there is a difference between constructive feedback and critical unleashing. Let me be very clear, I am not saying I don't need to grow in maturity, that I have arrived, or that I handle things perfectly. Absolutely not, I am working at growing in maturity. Thats why I need mentors to correct, counseling to grow, biblical study to reveal truth, and deep friendships to encourage. I cannot do this alone. God did not design freedom within ourselves, that is called humanism. He designed it by partnering with Jesus and connecting with people.
In the last two years, His light flooded the dark chaos within and the liberation to live freely has began to unfold. But, It has come at a high cost, a very high cost. It was not free; breakthrough never is. It was not easy and or cheap. It's required diligence and unrelenting pursuit. It's demanded biblical exegesis, meeting with mentors, and weeping at Jesus feet. It's come with condemnation, verbal lashings, lost of relationships, betrayal, separation, confusion, and many nights of warfare. It occurred with letters of anger, posts of hate, and painful opinions.
But non the less, as I embraced this truth and applied it over my wounds, I discovered how to truly be free. I am set out to love, relate, and build intimacy because it is genuine to me; because I desire to. Not guilt tripped, afraid, or controlled into. Perfect love casts out fear. The two cannot be joined together.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the most powerful people in the world, are the ones who aren't other controlled but self-controlled. One's who can empathize with another's opinions and circumstances and yet stand steadfast in their's. I want to be that person.
My response now?
Compassion... to myself and others. Believing we are all doing the best we know how. And sometimes our best, is deeply messy and painful. That is why we need a Savior.
Once again this is something I am pursing, not perfect in. A critical spirit resides deep within us all - but when my heart is overwhelmed with the temptation to internalize the heat and the pressure, I will continue to ask
"Why does it matter?"
Besides, The real question is… Who am I serving?