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Confessions of a Recovering People-Pleaser*

I hope I don’t step on anyone’s toes here.

As a recovering people-pleaser, stepping on toes is something I tend to avoid like the plague. Growing up, I learned early on that popularity was easier to attain if you were, well, nice. The church seemed to reinforce the pursuit of bending over backwards for the needs of your fellow man: God first, others second, self third. Anytime I heard this popular mantra, I internally gave myself a high-five. I had that down pat! Well, maybe not the God first part. My own formula went something like this:

I hope I don’t step on anyone’s toes here.

As a recovering people-pleaser, stepping on toes is something I tend to avoid like the plague. Growing up, I learned early on that popularity was easier to attain if you were, well, nice. The church seemed to reinforce the pursuit of bending over backwards for the needs of your fellow man: God first, others second, self third. Anytime I heard this popular mantra, I internally gave myself a high-five. I had that down pat! Well, maybe not the God first part. My own formula went something like this:

Being “yes” girl (in the name of Christian service, of course) + telling people what they want to hear (after all, who doesn’t need encouragement??) = Accolades, reward, and friends for life!!

The praise I received from brothers who appreciated my never-ending supply of coke floats, friends who shared their hearts with me while I patiently listened yet offered little of myself in return, and teachers who thought I was the most dependable thing since chalk was enough to turn the godly virtue of service into the idolatrous vice of a mistaken identity. Who does this particular person need me to be? I’ll adjust and make it happen. As for God, surely my growing list of ministry involvement was pleasing him, too.

Then I hit 30, and I began discovering that the ways I had made life “work” for me in the past were no longer working. Burned out and, to be honest, a little bitter, my people-pleasing habits had landed me in a treadmill-like state consisting of shallow relationships and a lack of attentiveness to my own soul.

Thankfully, God’s gracious concern to conform me to the image of His Son is greater than my attempts to be all things to all people.

I’m certainly not one who has arrived. If you ask me if Mexican food is okay for lunch and I have a hankering for Chinese, there’s a good chance we’ll be eating chips and salsa. But I have learned a few lessons in the journey of transferring my worth from that of the praise of others to resting in the fact that I’m God’s beloved child:

• “No, I can’t do that” is not a four-letter phrase.
• Rest is a good thing.
• Harmony at the expense of authenticity is subtly destructive.
• Offering my true self in relationships is risky, but worth it.
• Busyness does not equal value.
• Displeasing others and even being disliked (GASP!) really isn’t the worst thing in the world.
• God’s love for me is not contingent upon my service for Him.
• Attending to my own soul and the Presence of God in my life is one of the best things I can do for myself and others.

Anyone up for some Chinese?

 

*An oldie but a goodie, I originally wrote this post in 2011. However, I continually have to remind myself of these lessons and figured some of you out there might need the reminder, too.

Michelle Pokorny

Dr. Michelle Pokorny serves as an Adjunct Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, teaching D.Min classes on Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, and Soul Care. Michelle developed a passion for women’s ministry during her college years while serving as a counselor at Pine Cove Christian Camps. Her desire to see women thrive in their gifting led her to DTS to gain a solid biblical and theological foundation. After receiving her MACE in Women’s Ministry, Dr. Pokorny began working with East-West Ministries, International, where she served in Human Resources and on the International Women’s Ministries Training Team. Michelle's doctoral work focused on burnout and soul-care among Christian leaders. Michelle is married to Mark and their favorite hobbies include traveling, exercising, and enjoying food and laughter with friends and family. They have one active toddler, Alexander.

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