Living For Someone Else
“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather”
This past week I had to come to terms with a very real and constant struggle in my life. I don’t know that there is anything more difficult for me to get over than attempting to please people around me. Don’t hear me wrong in that last sentence - it’s not that I’m around a lot of demanding people…it’s that I care so much about what others think of me that I often bend at the quickest hint of displeasure.
My own desire to have people like me has developed from years of feeling like I need to prove that I’m worth liking. At it’s core, people pleasing is a struggle of worth. If I think differently than you - am I still worth being friends with? If I don’t do what you ask me to do - will you still want to be around me? If I disagree with you or confront you - will you respect me?
In an effort to prepare ourselves for the worst, we often assume our fears are most likely what is really happening. When I interact with someone and they express some disagreement or displeasure at what I’m saying, what do I automatically start to think? I’m not really like this...I explained that wrong...if you knew me better you’d see that I’m actually way smarter...they probably won't be calling me again...I want to win them over because the discomfort of not being liked triggers my brain to think I’m in crisis mode. Modern psychology has shown that our brains need stories to make sense of stimuli - if we don’t have a story, we’ll make one up! Unfortunately, the stories I tell myself often involve a need to show that I am worth being thought well of and liked.
It’s a weird sort of inwardness. I mask it under the guise of trying to keep harmony and peace - if I can make these people happy then I can feel like I’ve done something good for them. But the sickness of sin is that I’m really doing this because I want to feel ok. I want to feel as if I have not given you any reason to dislike me. I want to feel as if my world is ok.
What would it look like if I were really interacting with others in a way that seeks their pleasure, instead of mine? I would be concerned with what they thought of me because I know I do not have the most accurate mirror in my mind. I would welcome their thoughts of me because I would trust that they are showing me something important, something meaningful. I would not be controlled by these moments. I would not take what is being said to me and consume it wholeheartedly as my identity. I would rest in my identity in Christ, knowing that at the end of the day, another person's opinion of me cannot change that truth.
It is a delicate balance. We may think of Paul’s call to us in Philippians 2:4 to look out for the interest of others before our own - and this is a good reminder! But I’m thinking more about what it looks like to interact with another person - authentically - while not letting their words change who I am. I may have their interest in mind...I may even go out of my way to make sure their interest is taken care of...But is it right of me to do this at the sacrifice of my identity? Is it ok that I understand myself less after doing this? Is it holy if at the end of it they think more of me rather than Christ?
I have had many uncomfortable conversations, challenging people in ways that could lead to their disapproval of me. What shocks me each time is that the pain of their disapproval does not sting any less than I expected it to...in fact sometimes it’s even worse. But more often than not their response after the conversation is one of gratitude - “Thanks for being real with me…” “I really appreciate you caring enough to talk to me about this…” "I know that wasn't easy to say to me but I'm glad you did..."
Our propensity for all or nothing thinking typically shifts this conversation to one of cynicism - we run to extremes of sharing too much (and doing so out of hurt) or sharing nothing at all (out of fear). Let us temper these extremes with a willingness to work together on pleasing God alone. May we shift our desires from peace and harmony for our own sake, to authentic connection for the sake of the Kingdom. May we challenge each other to a deeper connection with the pleasure of God, and in that, find that we don't have to worry so much about what the other thinks of us.
What does it look like to interact with others without depending on their approval?