This teaching is part of an ongoing series on approaching our fears with faith based in part on Adam Hamilton’s book, Unafraid.
Most people struggle with the fear of disappointing others. We are born to parents who we look to for love and comfort. We naturally want to please them – we can’t help it. Sometimes, however, this natural desire gets off track in one way or another. For some, disappointing others is of no concern whatsoever, to the point that they believe, say, and do whatever they want, however they want. In some cases this leads to a lot of carnage in the wake of social media rants, poor conversations, and blatant hurtful acts. For others, the fear of disappointing others pushes them in the other direction, and they become people pleasers. Take two minutes and enjoy this video by Riley Armstrong and see if it reminds you of someone you know (hint: that someone may be you!). A recent post from Psychology Today offers ten signs that identify people pleasers:
1. You pretend to agree with everyone.
2. You feel responsible for how other people feel.
3. You apologize often.
4. You feel burdened by the things you have to do.
5. You can’t say no.
6. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.
7. You act like the people around you.
8. You need praise to feel good.
9. You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
10. You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.
So, where do you and in all of this? Are you more on the sociopath end of the spectrum or the people-pleasing doormat side? Sometimes our behavior is rooted in childhood experiences, as Adam Hamilton notes (Unafraid, 94):
When the disappointment is not false… In a bit, we’ll get to some helpful stuff to help alleviate your fear of disappointing others. Right now, though, let’s be completely honest. There are times we’ve disappointed others because we have messed up. We have been perfectly imperfectly human and have disturbed the peace. We do this. We blow it. Sometimes with intent, often unwittingly. When we are guilty of disturbing shalom, this is what the Bible refers to as sin. Sometimes we sin against others. When we do, we need to address it. We need to own our behavior, sincerely apologize as quickly as possible, ask forgiveness, and do our best to move forward with that relationship restored to its appropriate place. Note: this applies to most relationships we find ourselves in. In some really awful situations, seek counsel before entering this process, because engaging the person and seeking peace in the way described might actually be unhealthy and unsafe. Most of the time, however, we need to humble ourselves as seek restoration. This is the Jesus Way to go (see Matthew 5:21-26).
Sometimes, the greatest person we have disappointed is ourselves. Most of the time, the perfect ideal we hold ourselves to (which we can never meet) results in us being disappointed with ourselves. Sometimes, however, we do things we can’t believe ourselves capable of doing. We may be able to get our brain around all of the contributing factors that led to our behavior, but we still did what we did, and we struggle to get over it. We need to forgive ourselves. God is an immediate forgiver – granting grace before we ask for forgiveness (see John 8:1-11). If God forgives you, don’t you think it’s time you forgive yourself? Grace is what you need. Perhaps you need to read philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich’s words slowly and meditate on them for a while (Unafraid, 97):
You are accepted. You may feel awful about your behavior. Grace means it need not define you. It is part of your story – no call for living in denial here – but let it teach you and propel you forward rather than simply act as weight to sink you to the depths of despair. Build your identity on these words offered by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:4-5): “God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things we did wrong. He did this because of the great love he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!” Saved literally means to be healed, to be made well and whole. By the way, this is a process that takes time and repetition.
Okay, so, what can we do to disturb shalom less? What can we learn from Jesus about disappointing others?
First, realize that Jesus seriously disappointed people. Yep. By the droves. If he was the anointed one so full of the Spirit of God and he disappointed others, just take a reality pill and realize that we will, too. It is unavoidable. But you can embrace the way of Jesus which will help you feel more okay about it.
Especially in our present context that is so heavily impacted by social media usage, we are able to offend faster than ever! Sometimes anonymously, which is even more dangerous than not. Yelp reviews, product reviews, Tweets and Facebook posts give us a platform to vomit our opinion effortlessly. As we consider how we are engaging others, however, we may need to seriously consider Hamilton’s question that he posits to seminary students learning to preach (Unafraid, 92): is our goal merely to irritate people, or is it to influence people? If we want the latter, there is some intentionality required. Hamilton offers some key texts that offer insight and advice as to how to proceed (Unafraid, 92):
Taken together, these scriptures provide some great, golden goals for how to live with the comfort of knowing we’ve been true to the Way of Jesus, which is also being true to our True Selves – who we are really created to be as individuals and in community. It’s our best hope. Adopting these behaviors and integrating them into practice might be challenging. If we’re on the sociopathic end of the spectrum, speaking truth with love will feel like a real burden: “I have to be nice?” (see Ephesians 4:14-16). If we are on the doormat end, this way may require serious courage: “I can say ‘no’ or disagree?”
Life is challenging. Not paying any attention to the Way of Jesus will result in challenges. Following the Way of Jesus will bring you face to face with challenges as well. One is tied to the source of Life itself, while the other – as it perpetuates isolation from others, our True Self, and God – will lead to greater despair. This challenging Way of Jesus is worth it, even if it does – and it does – require courage. Criticism will come, as it surely did for Jesus. As Hamilton notes, “Courage… is not the elimination of fear. Courage is doing what we know we should do in the face of rejection – choosing not to give up in the face of criticism. And grace is the truth that when others are disappointed, even when [we’ve] truly blown it, there is One whose love and acceptance remains steadfast (Unafraid, 98).”
Building on grace as our foundation – that we are inherently and unconditionally loved by God – we can live and grow as real human beings. This means we can let go of our need to be perfect, because we never will be. This does mean we strive toward Christ-likeness, where we find the greatest expression of life. It means we really, deeply own our dust-divine dance, our experience of being fully human yet infused by the Spirit of God. With this, we have the humble freedom to truly, increasingly live, sleeping well at night even as we don’t please everyone all the time, disappointing as that might be to some. That’s reality. We learn. We grow. We become. We live in grace and promote it. Real life.