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How people pleasing distorts the Jesus in me

After world war II my german grandparents rented out rooms in their house for extra income. This meant their four boys grew up sleeping in the unfinished attic, spider webs and all. Sometimes it was baking hot and sometimes way chilly. At least a thousand times I have heard my dad say: “When I was a kid, we didn’t have….”

Dad was raised in an environment where other people’s needs are more important than your own family. I don’t believe my grandparents ever said: “You are not important.” But like most beliefs and attitudes, they were simply acted out. My grandparents were financially dependent on other people living in their home, short and long term and so they lived to please, serve and prioritize the needs of strangers. Some guests were fickle and high maintenance. But once you agree to make them king, you become their slave. And they were slaves to fear, living out of a place of scarcity. If visitors leave, then we won’t have income and what will happen then. They never had empty rooms but did leave a full legacy of people pleasing. Always be on the lookout for others. Others perceptions and desires trump you own. When in doubt, bow to others. Being other-centered is certainly not the worst way you could live but it does come with it’s own set of issues. And it’s a tiring way to live.

Growing up, I intuitively knew the value of others and their needs and what could best be done to please them. But now we were Christians which meant additional incentives for being nice, doing the right thing, serving others. And we did. My childhood home was a place of connection for friends and strangers alike. There was a coming and going. It was part of life and ministry and it was important to dad that we made a good impression. And, wired to please, we did.

Growing up as Christians in East Germany we also knew we were being watched. No part of our lives was immune to prying from the state. Volunteer spies were assigned to our family and kept track of our coming and going, checked our mail, tapped our phone. Because of our faith and lifestyle we were of particular interest to the East German government which was paranoid about any kind of opposition. We rarely talked about the ongoing surveillance, nor did we fear it. We sometimes joked about it when we thought we were safe. But you never knew who could trust completely so it was best to keep your thoughts on the down low.

Like most people, my faith has been deeply shaped by my upbringings. My family valued people and lived to serve and lead them to Jesus. That’s a wonderful thing which I am truly grateful for. People are blessed when we live outside of ourselves. But sometimes, and I am embarrassed to even say this, for me, I get this sense that my faith, or the Jesus that lives in me, is primarily for YOUR benefit. I am hardwired to please, serve and be aware of what others might think of the Jesus in me. My oldest, most well rehearsed role is that of a witness. There is pressure in that. If I am a poster child for Jesus, then I best pull myself together so others won’t be repelled. But God is big enough to fill his own poster and defend his own stuff.

So I am learning, and I am not the fastest at that, to release my need to please and step down from whatever witness podium I placed myself on. And most of all, I am learning, and this is truly a wonderful thing that as much as I believe the Jesus that lives in me is for YOU, he most profoundly and passionately lives there for ME.

“My beloved is mine and I am his.” Songs of Salomon 2:16


16 Replies

  1. Astrid, I love the wisdom and vulnerability in this post. It’s thought provoking and I hear you. When we start to live for Jesus and it’s personal, then it naturally draws others to Him. Our reactions and responses aren’t to please others, but born out of His leading and sincerity. Beautiful post. Thank you for linking up with me today on #livefreeThursday.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, Suzie. I was almost embarrassed to write this because I was not sure if anyone could relate or understand this perspective. Seems like it’s old news that Jesus came for me and my benefit but in my most honest moments I still see myself more as a witness and rep for Jesus v/s someone who simply consumes him for my benefit. I think our deepest witnessing flows from that place though. Thanks for your encouragement, I truly appreciate it.

  2. Astrid, what a family background you have! And how interesting that it started a bent towards “people-pleasing.” I have that bent inside of me too, but for other reasons, perhaps. Thank you for your insight and honesty here. So good.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. It’s fascinating what stories shape our families and sometimes a whole generation.

  3. Tara

    Oh this resonates. You are certainly not alone in this.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Oh- good. I feel less like a freak already- xoxo

  4. debbie jenne

    Dear Astrid, I can sure identify with this as my childhood was very similar. Favorite words of my dad were “never say no when others need you”. I know now how important it is to first “be in me”, connected to Jesus and then others. But its a journey that never ends and its good to know that we’re not alone. Be blessed. Right now I’m in Leipzig and sleeping in the same bed as u did days ago. 😉 😉 Many HUGS

    1. Astrid Melton

      How funny we just missed each other. It would have been nice to see you. Yes-it takes a while to figure out to apply your own oxygen mask first before effectively helping others.

  5. What an interesting, well told story! I learned early to people please but for entirely different reasons. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to live a life for the audience of One. It’s very comforting to know I’m not alone and I’m grateful that you shared this!! Have a wonderful weekend:)

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks Meg. I guess it’s never too late to learn a new way to live. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. What an amazing journey! I am a people pleaser by nature as well so I can relate. So true that God is big enough to fill His own poster and defend His own stuff! I’m slow in learning that it’s ALL about pleasing Him and others thoughts are of less importance too! But through His grace we will get there! Your neighbor at #RaRaLinkup

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- and I think it pleases him when we allow him to minister to our needs first.

  7. Hi Astrid! What a fascinating life experience you have had, both in your own, and through your father. I think hardships, like growing up being watched, can turn people away just as easily as help them hold on to faith. It’s a wonder that you are so faith-filled.
    I understand about being ‘hard wired’ to please. I am the oldest girl in my family, so that has it’s own leadership pressures. I’m glad you are doing what is going to bring you peace. God wants us to be peaceful people!
    From #RaRa Link-up,

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thank you, Ceil. I agree with you- hardship does not necessarily draw you closer to God- it complicates your faith and pushes it much deeper- I have always wrestled with God but somehow my hunger for him has outweighed my pain and confusion so I remain open to his pursuit of me. I am a firstborn too- seems like many of us live up to the stereotype 🙂

  8. Sweet word. I am learning to step down too Astrid. It’s more about Jesus in me than it is about me shining. I love these words. They speak truth! Cheering on today from the #RaRalinkup on Purposeful Faith.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks Kelly.

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