moss-1570171__340

A Clarifying Question for People-Pleasers: Who Are You Willing To Disappoint?

There are two kinds of people. Those who struggle to take no and those struggle to say no.

This post is for the second kind, for those who have a hard time saying no, the self-described “people-pleasers.”

Because, believe it or not, I’m a recovering praise-seeking, people-pleaser too.  And these days when I come to a crossroads and don’t know if I should say yes or no, I remember the Molly the dog story.

It started with a call from my friend Kelly on a sunny June morning. 

The moral of the Molly the dog story.

Hey Ab. Would you possibly be willing to watch Molly for us next weekend? We’re going up north and I know Molly had fun with you last time.

That was true. Molly had had fun. We weren’t an indoor pet family, but our big fenced-in yard and wrap-around deck made it easy to host Molly for long weekends. 

But next weekend was different. We were hosting the birthday bash for our clan’s June birthdays. These June parties were outdoor deck parties and aunts and uncles and a teetering great-grandma and toddling little cousins were coming. 

Here’s the rub: Molly was a big lively lab with a tail wag that could bowl a toddler over. With four toddlers in the invite list and two elders who disliked dogs, we’d need to crate Molly for most of Saturday. Molly didn’t much like to be crated. We’d sampled her pitiful, crated yowls last time.

But the party was only one day. And maybe we could keep the kids inside, away from Molly. 

Kelly, I want to help, but we’re having this birthday party. Can I get back to you? 

You have to disappoint someone.

I was torn. I didn’t want to disappoint my friend. But I also didn’t want to deal with Molly the dog while hosting the party. Jim didn’t mind, either way. So I tossed it around all day and I was undecided- and anguishing- that evening when my parents stopped by. 

I wasted no time. Could I ask your advice? 

It’s what Dad said, after the Molly story unfolded, that’s stuck.

Abigail, Dad said, You can’t love everyone. You’re human. You have to disappoint someone. When you say yes to one thing, it means you say no to other things and that’s okay.  As long as you’re motivated by love- throwing a peaceful party on your deck without distraction by a dog- you’re doing well. 

Being human, we can’t love everyone. Only God can do that. We can only give and love and stretch so far. And really, isn’t that freeing?

It means that we don’t have to feel guilty when we say no. In a sense, saying no is a form of humility. It means we’re accepting our limits. It’s acknowledging our finite-ness and creature-ness.

When Mom and Dad left, I called Kelly, Please ask us again. We like Molly. But for this weekend we’d better say no. 

How do you know when to say no?

Pleasing people can be a good thing. Giving joy to others is a great gift. Loving and serving and caring for others are God-ordained. But, as Tim Keller says, when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol.

And too many of us, and I include myself, have made an idol out of man’s approval and praise. 

So, how do we know when to say yes to people? Why do we spend our time doing what we do? Are you confident that you’re saying yes and no to the right things, to the right people? 

If we’re honest, we’d probably admit that many of our decisions are based on what we think others will think of us if we do or don’t do something.

For better or worse, how other people perceive us- or how we think they’ll perceive us– has a huge influence on whether we say yes or no.

The Critical Question: Who are you willing to disappoint?

In his insightful article, “You Have to Disappoint Someone: How to Say No to Good Things,” John Bloom writes,

Coming to terms with ways we seek people’s approval or fear their disapproval will force us to face humbling truths about ourselves and may require repentance and uncomfortable change.

Bloom describes a conference he attended where Christian leaders were asked how they remained focused on their core calling while inundated with demands. In response, one of the speakers posed another question: “Who are you willing to disappoint?”

That sounds a lot like my dad’s advice: You have to disappoint someone.  I disappointed Kelly. (And, for the record, we’re still friends a decade later.)

Bloom continues,

That might seem like an unloving way to decide what we should or shouldn’t do. But it really isn’t. It’s actually a clarifying question. It isn’t asking us who are the people we will choose not to love. It’s asking us what we are really pursuing in our time commitments. Whose approval are we seeking? God’s? Other people’s? Of those, which one more?

We should ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and try our thoughts (Psalm 139:23). We should ask ourselves the hard question: who are we willing to disappoint? Or who are we unwilling to disappoint? Are we unwilling to disappoint God? Or are we unwilling to disappoint others? Are we unwilling to disappoint our own selfish preferences? 

Who are you willing to disappoint?

Mary knew who to disappoint.

Let’s close with a fresh look at Mary and Martha through this new lens (Luke 10:38–42).

Martha, you recall, was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40) and “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41).

Bloom writes,

I imagine nearly everyone in her home that day thought she was doing a good thing. Martha herself thought this, which is why she requested Jesus’s support in exhorting Mary to get busy helping. She didn’t seem to be aware of her own motivations. But Jesus was. He saw the deeper motivations in both Martha and Mary.

Martha’s time commitment was being motivated by anxiety, not love. Given the context, it’s reasonable to assume her anxiety stemmed from what all her houseguests would think of her if she stopped waiting on them and did what Mary was doing.

On the surface, Mary’s actions might seem selfish and inconsiderate. Since Mary lived with Martha, she must have known how much Martha wanted her help. Yet, there she was, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him speak.

Guess what? Mary knew who to disappoint. She was more willing to disappoint Martha than *to disappoint Jesus.

And remember what Jesus said about Mary?

…Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Luke 10:42

 

*More on disappointing God and grieving the Holy Spirit in the next JoyPro Post, “Grieve is a Love Word.”

moss-1570171__340

Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

moss-1570171__340

Got a Teen? (Lean Hard)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a fifty times, probably ten in the last two weeks:

God picked Sam for us and He picked us for Sam. 

So this match is a good match. A perfect match, in fact. Even if we struggle sometimes and butt heads. Even if we wouldn’t have picked each other. 

Our family is perfectly fit together. Because God’s ways are perfect and all he does is good.  Because God is always good

Leaning Hard

I’ve never doubted that. But, boy, how I’ve had to lean into that truth a lot lately.

Because disappointment and frustration and troubles of diverse parent-child types have disturbed our peace and bad, scrambled weeks have come around more often than either one of us would wish.

Parenting keeps teaching me- driving me, really- to lean hard on my sovereign, good God.

You more experienced moms out there- I hear you.

You’re nodding, now, and saying, “Just you wait. Keep leaning, sister. Keep right on leaning on the everlasting arms.”

I know it. I’ve been mom to a teen for not quite all of one day, but already I know you are right. I need God’s help. Letting said son have the last word takes epic resurrection power.

And while physical dependence equals immaturity or weakness, dependence on God marks the strongest of saints.

To a Different Drummer

Today Sam turned 13. The “teen-scene” is new to all of us. But Sam has never been our puppet on a string.  From day one- when I first held that stoic 6-month old in the the airport terminal- Sam has always been his own man.

Way back to that furry red, Elmo-basket hat, Sam has marched to his own (thanks, Dad) bagpipes-and-drums beat.

To this prone to bossing mama, God gave a strong son, who wouldn’t be overborne.  And while I might have wished for a kid who would play the sports and read the books and make the friends that I might pick for him, that’s not Sam.

Because Sam’s my beloved son- our A#1. And training him is a big means that God is using to shape me. To train me to cry out and pray when things don’t go my way.

And, for the record, nothing that pushes us to pray is a bad thing.

Humbled And Exposed

So I refuse to write-off or ride out these teen-age years. No, I want to exploit these years.

I want to be shaped by every ounce of Christ-conforming experience that these teenage years afford.

It won’t be easy. It’s not easy. When A#1 calls me out- my motives,  my computer use, my eating habits, my tone of voice- it’s humbling. Having our selfish ways exposed is hard.

In Age of Opportunitywhich I’d highly recommend for parents of teens- Paul David Tripp, nails this truth.

The tumult of the teen years is not the only about the attitudes and actions of teens, but the thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions of parents as well. The teen years are hard for us because they tend to bring out the worst in us.

Those years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts….These years are hard for us because they rip back the curtain and expose us. This is why trials are so difficult, yet so useful in God’s hands.

We don’t radically change in a moment of trial. No, trials expose what we have always been. Trials bare things to which we would have otherwise been blind.

And seeing those things, so we can change these things, is a good thing.

Rats in the Cellar

And we rejoice in our suffering. In our exposures and in our parenting disappointments and broken dreams and let-downs.

C.S. Lewis called those things rats in the cellar. So, too, the teen years expose us. But really, so did the infant years and the toddler years. All the years are capable.

Now he catches me micromanaging his alarm clock, and arguing about video game time, and being stubborn about hoodies and tennis shoes.  These are my rats in the cellar now. Some of my rats.

Like when Sam crept out from a nap early and caught me red-handed eating a forbidden food for a 3- year old. My rats in the cellar were brownies in the pantry.

And my snacking habits were forever changed, because I’d been exposed.

That We Might Not Rely On Ourselves

So while conflict and clash in this little clan can sometimes feel like a royal battle, they’re not. Sometimes I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed, I’m praying more, leaning more and relying more on my God to bring his perfect will to pass than I did before.

And all of that is good.

Because we like to think we can pull things off- even things like raising kids- on our own. I think Apostle Paul felt like he could handle anything. He was intelligent and articulate and influential.

And, as Ray Steadman explains,

[R]epeatedly God had to break that, to put him in circumstances he could not handle, that he might learn not to rely on himself, but on God, who raises the dead. That is the major reason, I think, for suffering, which is the pressure that is designed to destroy our determined stubbornness. Paul has learned to trust God to take him through whatever life throws at him, no matter what it is.

No matter if there’s a teen-ager in the house.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8b-9

moss-1570171__340

Love’s Frets and Rubs

Woman blowing pink rose petals

Enduring loves welcome frets and rubs. They look beyond this life. That’s how they rise to heaven.

I think that’s what C.S. Lewis meant about how love becomes holy charity. About how natural love for our kids and friends and mates turns into the unnatural-supernatural-agape love. 
As in, the greatest of these is love. Charity. 

When Love Isn’t So Sweet

Lewis’ last chapter in the Four Loves is called, “Charity.” Here’s how it starts:

William Morris wrote a poem called “Love is Enough” and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly in the words “It isn’t.” Such has been the burden of this book. The natural loves [affection, friendship, eros] are not self-sufficient. Something else…must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet.  

To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns…It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it. (p. 276) 

So what is it that keeps love sweet? Not just married love, but friendship love and parent’s love too? What is it that turns it supernatural, that can transcend earth to heaven? 

It’s not a monthly date with your girlfriends or your kiddos, or speaking the language of your mate. It’s not weekends away or card and gifts every special day. It’s not these things. 

What Lets Love Rise Above 


It’s easier-and harder- than these. Easier because the way up is ever-present. Harder, because it comes at the cost of frets and rubs, of irritation and disappointment and frustration. 

It’s easier- and harder- because we need God to turn our natural loves around. 

We are, however, much helped in this necessary work by that very feature of our experience at which we most repine. The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be “enough”– unmistakable, unless we are blinded by egotism. When we are, we use them absurdly. “If only I had been more fortunate in my children (that boy gets more like his father every day) I could have loved them perfectly.” But every child is sometimes infuriating; most children are not infrequently odious. “If only my husband were more considerate, less lazy, less extravagant”…”If only my wife had fewer moods and more sense, and were less extravagant”…”If only my father wasn’t so infernally prosy and close-fisted.” 

But in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness. The necessity of practicing these virtues first sets us, forces us, upon the attempt to turn -more strictly, to let God turn- our love into Charity. These frets and rubs are beneficial. It may be that where there are fewest of them the conversion of natural love is most difficult. When they are plentiful the necessity of rising above it is obvious. To rise above it when it is as fully satisfied and as little impeded as earthly conditions allow -to see that we must rise when all seems so well already- this may require a subtler conversion and a more delicate insight. In this way also it might be hard for the “rich” to enter the kingdom. (p. 286)

-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, VI “Charity”

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  

Romans 5:3-5