Today, I believe God is asking us to examine any tendency we have toward people-pleasing.
Like many of the previous concepts we have explored in this Pruning devotional, it is important to start by defining the concept. What exactly do we mean by “people-pleasing”?
Merriam-Webster has an entry for people pleaser which says, “a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.” The Cambridge Dictionary adds these details: “someone who cares a lot about whether other people like him or her, and always wants others to approve of his or her actions.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think about people-pleasing and the definitions just quoted, I immediately think of Genesis 3. As I have said many times by now, Genesis 3 is not just about sin. The primordial narrative describes a whole set of human behaviors that rarely get classified as “sin” and yet, are outside of God’s intended design.
People-pleasing is one such example. It is driven by a fear of angering or upsetting someone and a commensurate desire to be considered positively. In short, it is one of many fig leaves we like to wear.
And like many fig leaves, it can come across as something desirable — A people pleaser is typically someone everyone considers helpful and kind. However, the motives are rarely the same.
In an ideal world, kindness springs from an inner knowledge of our own belovedness. We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19) But people-pleasing usually springs from insecurity and emotional neediness—a desire to earn acceptance, to garner praise, to make ourselves look better, to be loved. If we’re already loved, we don’t have to please others. In fact, we’ll be okay if they are displeased. Indeed, that’s a great litmus test for our behavior: Would we still act this way if we got nothing in return?
There are many negative consequences of people-pleasing: We act like the people around us instead of being who God made us to be. We need praise in order to be okay. We feel responsible for other people’s emotions even though each individual is to be in charge of their own emotions. And the gravest of all: we please people instead of acting faithfully.
When Paul confronts the Galatians about the ways they have gone astray, he has a choice to make: will I try to make sure the Galatians are still pleased with me? Or will I speak God’s truth even if it means they might be displeased with me? He chooses the latter and in his letter to them, he makes explicit mention of it: “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.” (Galatians 1:10)
TODAY’s REFLECTION: What about for you? Do you exhibit any people-pleasing behaviors? (pretending to agree with everyone, can’t say no, apologizing often, going to great lengths to avoid conflict) Does God want to prune you of any people-pleasing habits? If so, what would it look like to be so satisfied in God that you didn’t engage those behaviors? What ‘branches’ does God want to grow their place?