For most of my life I have struggled with pleasing. So much so that I would have reckoned “people-pleasing” was a for real spiritual gift from the Bible. And if a real thing, then I had been “gifted” with an overdose of the “pleasing” ability and talent.
It started as early as I can think back. In fact there are very few moments I can remember prior to the age of 30 that I lived free of what others thought of or were thinking of me. From the way I acted at the grocery store to the car I drove, how I dressed, what technology I used, where I spent my free time, the house I owned, and even down to the lunch I ate–all of it was controlled by what another person thought of me. I was so enslaved to receiving the approval of others that I would actually spin the events of my life (stretch the truth, so to speak), because the real story seemed to lack enough interest and flavor to intrigue anyone long enough to listen.
At the age of 18 I went to church camp. While there, a well-meaning counselor diagnosed me as being a people-pleaser. She was right. But in the same diagnosis she offered me a dose of very bad medicine.
First, the counselor spoke this verse over me:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
Then, she told me that I needed to stop focusing on how to get the approval of man and start focusing on how to get the approval of God. She sent me on my way with a new Bible-reading plan, a challenge to pray and journal every morning for 1 hour, and a list of service-oriented activities that I should be involved in through my local church.
I was thrilled. This was a language that I understood and spoke well.
I could follow the rules and a “to-do” list like a boss. And so, I did exactly what she said to do. I pumped up my obedience level even more-so and upon returning home, I went hard after the approval of God.
In the years that followed something happened that I did not expect.
Instead of feeling more free, I gradually felt more enslaved. Five years into pleasing God, I fell in love with and married a man because his reputation seemed good for my image. Six years into pleasing God, I went back to my old, comfy idols of self-harm, depression, and the abuse of prescription medications. Seven years into pleasing God I committed adultery. Eight to ten years into pleasing God I lied to my closest friends and family about who I really was. And twelve years into pleasing God I attempted to take my life via overdose.
At the bottom of all my seeking and all of your seeking is one, singular fear. It is the fear that drives us so often into the most dumb and dysfunctional places of our life. If you don’t realize that you personally struggle each day with this fear than you have suppressed this fear so deeply that your heart has become numb to it, and you are simply living a mediocre, auto-pilot existence as a slave. The most liberated people are those people who are deeply familiar with this fear and their great desire to pick it up and play with it each and every day.
The fear of being unknown is at the bottom of all our doubt, depression, disorder, and desperation. This fear alone cripples our culture.
It starts with the fear of not being known by other people. We spend so much time here because the approval of another human being is theoretically possible. It is possible for people to approve of us. And so, once we taste it, we become addicts. The approval of man becomes our cocaine.
But despite the “high” we may feel in the moment of acceptance, here are the facts:
•Human approval is shallow. No human can know the deep places of our heart. If they did, would they still want to know us?
•Human approval is shifty. Some people will like us and some people will not.
•Human approval is skewed. Your friends will overlook many of your failures that need to be addressed. And your enemies will overlook many of the good things we do that leaves us to address them by working harder for their acknowledgement.
But there is a slavery deeper than seeking the approval of man. And that is seeking the approval of God.
While living to gain the approval of man is possible, gaining the approval of God is impossible.
“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7)
When we are drowning the answer is not to kick harder, but to grab onto the only life-vest available–Jesus. And the best response is here in Romans 7: “WRETCHED MAN THAT I AM!”
I shout–YES! I AM FREE!!! There is no amount of working or earning or seeking left to do. There is no amount of being good or moral, not enough time reading the Bible or praying, no amount of journal-writing or acts of service or ministry or legacy-leaving left for us who are in Christ Jesus!
And THIS sets us free to live and love without receiving anything in return.
Our helplessness before God is the space for true faith and freedom to be ignited in our life and for our pleasing of man and God to die.
What foolish slaves we are when we attempt to be something…anything, in the place of grace. We offer nothing to a holy, self-sustaining, sovereign Creator. And it is the being satisfied in this place that busts open our chains and liberates us to live.
Know your stuff > We fear not being known every day.
Believe the truth > The approval of man isn’t worth it. The approval of God is impossible to earn.
Live in Freedom > Through Jesus Christ you have been approved. God is pleased in you because of Jesus. It is finished.
Let Grace Change Your Heart > I don’t have to do anything. I get to serve God and love others.
It is finished, my love.
Kasey is a cancer survivor, a licensed professional counselor who has earned degrees in psychology, public speaking, counseling, and biblical studies. In 2014, Kasey was named ‘most inspiring woman of the year’ by Houston, TX and Buffalo, NY radio affiliates. She and her husband of 13 years, Justin, live in Bryan, Texas with their two children. She is the President of True Mission – a not for profit residential safe-home for minor girls rescued out of human trafficking within the US. She is also co-founder of Raven’s Way, Inc. – a not for profit online community of women who are learning to know and speak their life-story together (launching August 2015).
Kasey’s 2014 book and Bible study, Raw Faith—What Happens When God Picks a Fight, has been hailed as one of the most daring and vulnerable ‘cancer narratives,’ to hit Christian literature. You can find out more about her on her website: KaseyVanNorman.org or follow her on Twitter @KaseyVanNorman.