OK, yes. I’ll admit it. I just saw The Greatest Showman in the theater for the third time. I watched it the first time with my family, and then I sacrificed greatly and took my third-grade son and six of his friends to see it for his birthday party (the things we must do as parents). Round three was this past weekend with my in-laws. They hadn’t seen it, so we took them to experience it on the big screen.
And, like many of you, I loved it. My third viewing allowed me to catch some scenes I missed the first two times. In particular, one scene between P.T. Barnum and his wife Charity caught my attention. Barnum grew up in abject poverty and was determined to not let his kids grow up like he did. As a result, he went through life with a blinding ambition that at times caused him to place the approval of others over time with his own family. Right before he got in a horse-pulled carriage to go on a concert tour with opera sensation Jenny Lind, his wife Charity said to him:
“You don’t need everyone to love you, just a few good people.”
In spite of his wife’s wise words, Barnum still chose to leave his family to garner more affection from people he didn’t know.
The scene caught my attention because I can struggle with this same battle. While I’m not getting on a horse-drawn carriage to go on a cross-country concert tour, I do at times seek the love and approval of the masses. It might look like:
- Placing too much value in people laughing at the jokes I share when I speak at a marriage event.
- Staying late at work so I can get the praise of my boss and co-workers for working hard.
- Not having a hard conversation with friends or family because I don’t want them to not like me or think less highly of me.
Or, it might look like this:
- You don’t like it when others are mad at you. Nobody really does, but it especially bothers and consumes you.
- Never saying “no” to others because you don’t want to let them down or disappoint them.
- You often apologize, especially when it’s not your fault and you have no reason to apologize.
- You can’t make a decision. And you know if you choose, you’re going to let someone down, so you wait it out or just choose to be neutral so you don’t upset anyone.
We all battle people-pleasing at different times and in different ways. It’s a universal constant among human beings.
In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The challenge for most of us is that people-pleasing does not often co-exist with pleasing God. Fortunately for the follower of Christ, God is already pleased with us because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. The Father views us as forgiven, redeemed, and good enough not because of anything we’ve done or can do, but because of what Jesus already did.
People-pleasers Unite! What do we do?
So what do we do to battle people-pleasing? Below I suggest nine ways you can address your people-pleasing ways.
1. Ask God to help you see where you might struggle with people-pleasing (Psalm 139:23-24). We often have blind spots in areas where we fall short, so ask God to help you see when the approval of others reigns supreme in your life.
2. When you say yes to one thing, you say no to something or someone else. When you say yes to the extra work assignment, you say no to friends and family. It helps me to remember that I’m always cheating someone when I say yes to something else.
3. Pray you’d see yourself the same way God sees you. He loves you. He sent His Son Jesus to die for you. You’re good enough because of Christ. Rest in this truth instead of trying to find your worth and value in the approval of others.
4. Ask others to help you. I’ve asked the guys in our community group to help me make decisions about my schedule. Over the years, these men have taught me how to say “no” to others. It’s been an invaluable part of my spiritual growth the past few years.
5. Today say “no” to something. Don’t tell your boss you’re not going to do your job, but when a peer or friend asks you to do something you don’t want to do or have time to do, politely decline the opportunity.
6. Remember you can say “no” to someone or something and still do it agreeably. You can still be kind and gentle even when you say no. In fact, as followers of Christ, we should always be kind and gentle whether we say yes or no (see Galatians 5:22-23).
7. Memorize scripture related to people-pleasing. You can start with Galatians 1:10 (see above) and Proverbs 29:25 (Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.). Hide God’s Word in your heart and allow it to transform you. Right actions come from right thinking.
8. Check out Ed Welch’s powerful book, When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man. Welch addresses how so many of us miss out on serving God and loving others well because we’re more concerned of what others think about us.
9. Last, know that sometimes people-pleasing is not a bad thing. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says that he’s become all things to all people. Paul was willing to please the people if it promoted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean you willingly choose to sin, but rather there are times when you choose to please others for the sake of a spiritual conversation for the advancement of the Gospel.
I’m trying to rest in the love of God and the wisdom of Charity Barnum: “You don’t need everyone to love you, just a few good people.” I don’t want to lose the love of my family and close friends (the few good people) because I give in too easily to the demands and requests of others.
1. Do you struggle with people-pleasing? Yes or no, and why did you answer the way you did?
2. What else would you suggest to others who struggle with people-pleasing?
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