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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.”

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10 Things I DON’T Do (& 1 Thing I DO)

I write on the side. For love

Three days a week, I am gainfully employed outside of the home. Another day and more is joyfully invested in ministry and treasured scheduled times with my girlfriends. And feeding and clothing and making this house in the woods a home for Jim and the two sons we’re training up to be men takes time too.  

Because I wear so many hats, now and then friends will ask, How can you do everything you do?

But what these friends might not know are all the things I DON’T do.

So if you ever feel rotten because you can’t do all the things that a friend of yours can do, this post is for you. On the gateway of the year, pause and remember: there’s a lot of things that person you’re comparing yourself to DOES NOT do.

Like these 10 things, for example, that I DON’T do🙂:

  1. Care for pets. But Dinah and Zippy were delightful parts of past seasons.
  2. Clip coupons, buy Groupon and find all the best deals. (I sometimes use Kohl’s cash, though.)
  3. Sew, knit, quilt and crochet. But I am super blessed by a mother-in-law, nephew, nieces and friends who do.
  4. Decorate my home.  Our walls are (mostly) monastery white, our sofa is 21 years old and that’s all right.
  5. Workout at the gym. In the time it would take me drive there and back, I can squeeze a jog or bike ride in.
  6. Watch TV and rarely a movie. I have never, not ever, rented from Netflix or Redbox or Vudu. Really. Truly.
  7. Make lasagna or salsa or pizza from scratch. Although, as in #3, I’m blessed by family and friends* who do.
  8. Scroll my way through Facebook. I post and run a lot, and Instagram and Pinterest are off limits for me.
  9. Pamper at the salon. A combination of Great Clips, Clairol and my friend Holly manage me swimmingly.
  10. Garden. And by extension: can, freeze and make herbal soap with lavender and thyme.  Caveat #7 applies.

That’s my list of 10 things I DON’T do.

They’re not good or bad, right or wrong. The point is not that I can’t or shouldn’t do these 10 things. It’s that, at least for now, I don’t.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It does mean we’ll all find it easier to rest content with what we don’t do when we acknowledge God made us- intentionally-  fearfully and wonderfully different. We have different and unequal sets of skills, goals, interests, abilities, and resources.

Which means our lists could stretch to 10,000 things we DON’T DO. And that’s okay. Because our limits are built-in by God. They’re good.

Here’s how Andrea Dekkar closed her “10 Things I DON’T DO”  post that prompted this post:

I think the important thing is for each of us to realize what our skills and goals and interests are, and then focus on putting our time, energy, resources towards activities that align with our skills, goals, and interests.

If we can do that on a regular basis, our lives will feel simpler, more organized, less chaotic, and less stressed!

I like that and agree. Building on strengths and using gifts- rather than wishing we could do what we don’t- tends toward growth and joy.

But I can’t leave it there. Because, while my list of 10 will no doubt change with each season of life I’m in, there’s this 1 thing I do that I pray never ends.

Seek Him.

One of the first Psalms I set (back) into song 20 years ago was Psalm 105: 1-4. We four still sing it now, ending with verse 4:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Look to the Lord and his strength and seek His face. Those might sound like three, but it boils down to  one.

  1.  Seek Him.

Bing, bang, boom- some things are that simple. God’s children seek his face. They press on, they exert effort to get to God himself.

John Piper describes this sort of seeking as,

[T]o constantly set our minds toward God in all our experiences, to direct our minds and hearts toward him through the means of his revelation…

And there are endless obstacles that we must get around in order to see him clearly, and so that we can be in the light of his presence. We must flee spiritually dulling activities. We must run from them and get around them. They are blocking our way.

These things we must move away from and go around if we would see God. That is what seeking God involves.

That’s my 1 thing. I want move away and go around- some of my DON’Ts- to seek His face because I want to know Him more.

He still speaks.

Because how can you possibly love someone you don’t know? And how can you possibly know someone if you never listen? If you don’t seek?

To know God, we must listen to his voice. His sheep listen to his voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

We must hear God speak.

The spectacular truth is we don’t have to climb a mountain or sail the sea or even rise at 5 am in the quiet, dark to hear Him speak. Because He has spoken. His words are within arm’s reach right now. “The Bible,” AW Tozer wrote, “is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.”

God wants to speak to us today through his Word. So let’s don’t say God is silent.

He wants us to seek Him and press on to know HIm.

Don’t say God is silent if your Bible is closed.

Tozer also wrote,

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him.

Spurious means false. It’s false to think that once we’ve come to faith and received Christ as Lord we’re done. As if once you’ve found a great friend you can stop seeking to know him.

No! John Piper says it like this, Go hard after the holy God. Isaiah, like this, Seek the Lord while He may be found. He may be found now in His Word.

But we silence the sound of God’s voice in our lives when we leave our Bible on the shelf (or ignore our Bible apps). As has aptly been said, Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it:

Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff, I hope, is about how God does speak. About how we find Him when we seek.  

What’s on your lists? Do you have 10 things plus 1?

My list of 10 things I DON’T do will change. There might even come a time when I make soap with thyme and crochet.

But seeking Him by grace will – I pray- be my 1 thing. To begin and end this year and all others.

How about you?  What are 10 things you don’t do?

And 1 thing, so help you God, you do?

But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13b-14