The Devastating Effects of People-Pleasing
“Sure, I can be there.”
Ugh, I did it again. With my undiagnosed-people-pleasing nod, I agreed to help with another event on campus. It’s not that the outreach was wrong but the screams of an overbooked schedule reminded me of my limitations.
Although college was three decades ago, I still recall how time ranked as my most precious commodity. A heavy course load, lab work, ministry involvement, and additional campus life clubs filled every minute of the day. Life careened from class to meetings to social events to more meetings. The conversations and interactions fulfilled my desire to contribute.
Yet, a still quiet voice in my soul remained unsatisfied. Although my juggling act kept me active, purposeful activity felt elusive. Things would be different next week, I would tell myself.
I stepped, however, into too many Mondays only to discover commitments had once again assumed full ownership of the week. I should quit some activities, I’d think. But I didn’t want to disappoint. I wanted to please my friends.
When the pressures overwhelmed, I sought isolation. I would disappear into hidden alcoves of the library. Random desks at the ends of long book stacks provided refuge. Yes, I studied but mostly I savored my place of anonymity. I would emerge from my library cave ready to resume juggling. The facade intact.
But, the quiet voice in my soul remained unattended. Lord, I did pray, guide me into Your ways. But then, I headed out to the next thing on the calendar. Needs never ceased: An outreach for vulnerable children, a new campaign to raise funds for clean water wells, an initiative to welcome new students, etc.
The pace continued into graduate school, work, and marriage. I continued to embrace invitations to join, participate, or lead.
The still quiet voice in my soul continued it’s vigil.
Then it happened. My moment of truth struck unexpectedly.
“You have another meeting tonight?” My young son looked up from his homework as I gathered my purse and keys. The sadness in his eyes sliced through my heart. How could I disappoint my family? I wanted to please them more than anyone else.
It took the birth and raising of my children to expose the motivations to my over-committed life. Although I believed in the ministries and the activities, I realized many of my commitments had resulted from desires to please others. The formula included: one part wanting to be liked, one part not wanting to disappoint, and one part wanting to support a friend.
As I rushed off to support another committee, I began to realize the toll my people-pleasing was taking. My good intentions were crushing my soul. Instead of feeling purposeful, the ever-expanding juggling act stole my joy along with the hours on my calendar. Not only had I been leaving little room for God’s leading, I was now letting down my own family. Something had to change.
The pattern, however, had deep roots in my life. I planted them decades ago when I first yielded to my people-pleasing tendencies in college. Nevertheless, I was determined to alter its influence.
If I could return to my 20-something collegiate self, I would tell me to focus on God alone. The passions and abilities He gave, along with the Holy Spirit promptings, would best guide my choices. The passions of others may unite with my calling at times but their calling is not my calling. The needs to which I am called are finite and specific.
After my son’s question that Winter evening, I became more attentive to the quiet voice of the Lord within my soul. I now pause to hear His guidance before adding more to my calendar. The flattery of invitations holds less weight when I seek the Lord and His will for the minutes and hours of my day.
My desire to please others has tempered. I believe, however, it will always be present. The decades of people-pleasing left its mark on my soul. I will probably always struggle to separate that voice from the voice of the Lord. And yet, through the mess of it all, God’s patience remains. I am becoming, at long last, more attentive to His still quiet voice.
I met Sharon in Alaska, of all places, last year during a writing workshop. She was one of those peaceful people you just feel drawn to, and she is also a wonderful writer. I am so thankful she was able to kick off our Notes to Your Younger Self series. My college experience was very similar, always feeling the tension of wanting to do and please and do but also wanting to simply rest in God. Oh, thank you Sharon for your words today. More info about Sharon is below. Be sure to check out her blog today where she is hosting a giveaway for English Lessons!
Sharon R. Hoover is the Director of Missions at Centreville Presbyterian Church (Virginia). She equips the local church to connect with ministry partners worldwide. She also writes and speaks to encourage people in their faith journey. Connect with Sharon on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/
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