The longer and closer we walk with Jesus, the more uncomfortable we get wearing our old behaviors. They don’t seem to fit anymore. They just don’t feel right. The Holy Spirit helps us take out the trash and bring in the peace—and a whole lot more.
Last time on Choosing Peace, we began our look at The Fruit of The Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23, New Heart English Bible
In part 1, we looked at the bookends of The Fruit of The Spirit—love and self-control. Those two virtues are very closely related. More to the point—they’re intertwined (just like love and forgiving are intertwined).
People like to wax eloquently about love because it’s the highest virtue. What about the other bookend of The Fruit of The Spirit? Uhhhh, no. Self-control gets a bad rap. We remember being told as youngsters: “Get control of yourself.” In other words, no crying, no demands, no freaking out, no whining. Translation: “Knock it off; I’m sick of whatever you’re doing” or “You’re embarrassing me.” We usually hear about self-control when we’re messing up. I get that.
Today we’re going to look at a rampant malady in The Self-Control Department, better known as People-Pleasing. Even though I was quite the pro—with decades of experience being a Class-A People-Pleaser—I’ll try to show self-control and not go on and on ad nauseum. Speaking of making me sick, one of my dad’s favorite mantras was this People-Pleasing doozy: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Now I’m scowling. Sorry about that.
Here’s the 411 on this problem.
People-Pleasers say yes, even when it makes no sense.
You might want to take a seat—and get a piece of chocolate. This next part really surprised me.
I realized that People-Pleasing is a type of neglect—of ourselves and others. A failure to display the virtues of life. A failure to prioritize. A failure to admit our limitations. A failure to ask for help. A failure to stop and think.
Let’s pretend we’re watching a People-Pleasing college student at Wisdom University. We’ll call her Petunia People-Pleaser. Petunia answers every question on her college exams with one word: Yes.
Complex math problem? Petunia’s answer: Yes.
Multiple choice? Petunia’s answer: Yes.
History essay? Petunia’s answer: Yes.
Foreign language translation? Petunia’s answer: Yes.
Fill-in-the blanks? Petunia’s answer: Yes. Yes. Yes.
True or false? Petunia’s answer: Yes.
Wisdom University GPA for Petunia People-Pleaser? Zero.
Life without wisdom
I can relate to Petunia People-Pleaser. My parents raised me to say yes. Maybe you can relate to that too. I definitely would’ve flunked out of Wisdom University because I didn’t have any wisdom. At all. And that wasn’t the half of it.
The date that wasn’t
You may have some colorful examples in The People-Pleasing Department. This example from my life paints a vivid picture. Not pretty.
I accepted a date with a guy in college and then regretted it. I lied and told him I was sick, canceled the date, went with my friends to the large event he invited me to, and he saw me there. I felt like the heartless hag that I obviously was. Yep. Frankie Ann, The Mess describes many years of my life. Judgment? Virtues? Ethics? What’s that? Ugh.
Seeing ourselves wrongly
My horrible date-that-wasn’t behavior shows with painful clarity that saying yes—automatically and without thinking—ends up hurting people more than simply saying no in the first place. When we’re People-Pleasers, we think we’re such nice people—despite all the evidence to the contrary. The devil loves People-Pleasers because (1) we add frustration (and sometimes pain) to the world, (2) we’re slaves to public opinion—an ever-changing mark, and (3) we see ourselves oh-so-wrongly. For more on that, read Seeing Myself Rightly in part 1.
On a much more serious level, since we say yes without thinking, People-Pleasers are extremely vulnerable to manipulators, abusers and dangerous people with personality disorders. We don’t say no. We don’t say stop. We don’t say that’s inappropriate. We don’t say I’m not available for…. (Until we do.)
Because we’re gullible and we don’t possess the protection that wisdom gives, we have a big, red sign on our foreheads that communicates, loud and clear, “Whatever you say.” In other words, “You’re the boss of me.” Control freaks use heat-seeking missiles—their tests and shocking behavior—to locate us. They’re the hunters and we, The People-Pleasers of America, are the hunted. We’re the targets.
The next paragraph shows how I was tested in high school. And it wasn’t about geometry or history. Check out my future best friend’s one-word test.
Who did I choose for my best friend in high school? Actually, she chose me. I’ll call her Shay. The first thing Shay ever said to me was to call me an obscenity. If I had any sense, I would’ve run in the opposite direction. But I obviously didn’t have any sense. Why didn’t I have any sense? Why would I tolerate someone who cursed at me instead of saying “Hi”?
For more on Shay, The Disaster, see this post.
Growing up, it was my job to be liked—regardless of whether the other person was decent or a dangerous nightmare. Call my upbringing People-Pleasers R Us. We looked normal, but what you saw was not what you got. Wisdom, honor and truth were missing. So was respect. That young man who asked me out in college found that out the hard way. Strangely enough, even though we went to church three times a week, I didn’t have a clue what any of those virtues meant. I really didn’t. Our house was filled with lies—and two narcissists who did all the talking (I mean showboating). I had to learn about virtues after I left home. For more on my story, see this post.
If you were abused or neglected as a child, certain things weren’t discussed—like the sick thing he or she just did or said. You had a role to play in your dysfunctional family. To learn how to lay down the roles and costumes you were given, read The Big Why, part 5, one of my favorites.
Some aspects of this excerpt from the last series may feel familiar.
No one talked about the sickness in the extended family. Everyone ignored the elephant in the room—the chronic abuse and mental illness—and accepted the status quo as The Way Things Are. I understand that. Victims are trained to sit down and shut up. Been there; done that.
Let’s do a 180 and shift from missing virtues to more virtues.
The Fruit of The Spirit describes some of the beautiful ways the Holy Spirit transforms us. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. And there are more ways—more virtues.
Growing in wisdom—learning when to say no and how to speak difficult truths—requires courage, especially for those of us who were raised to be People-Pleasers. It also takes practice. I think of wisdom like a set of muscles, like our Faith Muscles, our Forgiving Muscles and our Discernment Muscles. Spiritual transformation is a workout. That’s for sure.
So, where do we get the courage to say no and to speak difficult truths—what other people definitely do not want to hear? God strengthens us through his word and directly through the Holy Spirit. He helps us become courageous. Wisdom, strength and courage are virtues; and virtues are good. If it’s good, it’s from God.
As we grow in wisdom, strength, courage, truth, honor, respect and other virtues—with the Holy Spirit’s help—we can lay down People-Pleasing. The Lord replaces our weakness with his strength.
Responding to requests
Remember these important truths from part 1 of this post.
I deeply appreciate this aspect of The Fruit of The Spirit. I’m not left out of the equation. It isn’t only about how I treat others. The Fruit of The Spirit addresses how I view and treat myself—with love, patience, kindness. And self-control. Saying yes and no wisely—to myself, first of all—allows me to say yes and no wisely to others. Right?
When an opportunity or a request comes my way and I respond appropriately—with yes, no, not now, not any more, maybe or I’ll think/pray about it—I’m showing wisdom. Obviously, I’m not the right person for every opportunity presented to me. Sometimes people just want to fill a slot with a warm body. And I may not be the right warm body for the slot. To say the least.
Sometimes, saying yes can be absolutely disastrous—for me and for others.
My automatic answer used to be yes. Then for a long time, it was no. That was actually very fun. It was a refreshing, low-stress change. Now I refuse to feel rushed when someone asks me for my time. Unless I’m absolutely sure and I say yes, I usually think about it and let them know later. That’s the way I roll, peeps.
Truth, honor and respect—or not
When I say yes and no wisely, I’m speaking the truth (about what’s best) and I’m showing myself and others honor and respect.
When I foolishly say yes, when I’m being a Class-A People-Pleaser, I’m lying and I’m stealing. I’m pretending I want to be a part of This, That and Whatever, when I don’t. And I’m stealing a spot that belongs to someone else—someone who wasn’t asked yet. Also, my brain is totally off; and to some extent, so is my heart. I’m living in a sick, formulaic, auto-pilot reality. I’m lying to myself. I’m just being helpful. I’m being a Team Player. No. I’m being a fool, a liar and a thief. Failure to display the virtues of life. Failure to prioritize. Failure to admit my limitations. Failure to ask for help. Failure to stop and think. Uh-oh. Now I need to add another point to the Failure to… list.
Failure to ask God, wait for his response and be obedient. Guilty as charged.
Unbeknownst to me, the truth will be known eventually. And painfully. What truth? The truth about me. Punctuality and/or attendance issues, dreading certain tasks, being miserable while “serving or helping others,” compromising more important priorities, doing things late or at the last minute, bad attitude, sleep problems, possible health problems, making excuses, eventually quitting—or being replaced for failure to show up or get the job done. Yikes.
During his series on The Ten Commandments, our preacher mentioned this quote from evangelist Billy Sunday, and it stuck with me. “An excuse is a skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Yes, indeed.
People-Pleasers make excuses. Instead of telling the truth—a la “I forgot,” “I was wrong,” “I changed my mind,” “I shouldn’t have said yes,” “I’m really sorry”—we make up an excuse so we don’t look bad or “hurt so-and-so’s feelings.” And we think we’re such nice people. When we’re trapped in People-Pleasing, we’re prideful (“I must appear to be good, even when I’m not”), we lie to ourselves and we lie to other people. More than we realize. Like I said, the devil loves People-Pleasers.
Enslaved by people-pleasing
Galatians 5, the chapter where we find The Fruit of The Spirit, teaches about slavery vs. freedom. I didn’t realize that People-Pleasing—with its pride, lying, stealing, disrespect, laziness and more—is slavery. But it is. It really is.
People-Pleasing is neglect—of ourselves and others;
a failure to demonstrate The Fruit of The Spirit (and other virtues).
Don’t I know it. Lies make us slaves.
Thankfully, I know the truth now.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:32, New Heart English Bible
Can and will
If our parents failed to demonstrate, teach and instill virtues in us while we were growing up, our mighty God can and will demonstrate, teach and instill virtues in us—if we’re willing to learn and receive them. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Plus… Truth. Wisdom. Courage. Strength. Honor. Respect. Forgiveness.
The Lord has taught me so much. He continues to teach, refine and transform me. Thank you, Jesus.
If you struggle with People-Pleasing, I hope this verse will be a game-changer for you.
For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God?
Or am I striving to please people? For if I were still pleasing people,
I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10, New Heart English Bible
Pray to God and ask him for wisdom, strength, courage and more virtues.
In recent weeks, I’ve stepped out of two volunteer roles. One was small. The other one was larger. My seemingly-sudden departure from the larger one surprised people. I seemed so enthusiastic about it in the past. God had called me to do it. But things had changed. There were other issues at play. Other people. My friend Charlene gave me excellent advice: “Do it now.” My departure was necessary—for my own peace and for other people’s peace. The details are unspoken, but well-known by me and by God. “Yes” may be appropriate for a season. But when the time comes to step down, do it—right away.
Buh-bye, People-Pleasing. You are history.
As we wrap up this post about The Fruit of The Spirit, there’s one more question hanging around. Here on Choosing Peace, I’ve written quite a bit about our exceedingly-difficult relatives. The word control has come up frequently. Which begs the question: What’s the relationship between self-control and control freaks? (Hint: The answer is not yes.)
After describing my in-laws, Sadistic Shelly and my sister Pam in my very first post, I wrote:
Three flavors; one addiction
Here’s the bottom line. We’re talking about three different, uniquely-distasteful flavors of the same addiction.
It’s all about control—of you, not of themselves. As a matter of fact, you’d describe each one of my seriously-messed-up relatives as lacking self-control, to extreme degrees.
And there you have it. Fruity and fruitless all at the same time.
I love The Fruit of The Spirit. I really do. If someone decides to call me “bananas”—or “fruity”—I’d actually get a good chuckle about that. Then I’d think, If you only knew….
Coming next: I’m not sure what’s coming next, but I know it’ll be full of surprises. Thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: The first verse of the chapter where we find The Fruit of The Spirit speaks powerfully to me. I hope it moves you too. Drink in Galatians 5:1.
Song for Healing: After adding the section called Enslaved by People-Pleasing the day I finished this post, I found this video—and it absolutely blew me away. “Walking Free” by Micah Tyler.