By Jesse Jost
I love to please other people. I thrive on affirmation and will bend over backward to gain approval. And I wrestle with whether this is a positive or negative trait. Wanting to please other people is a sign of love, is it not? But when I honestly look deeper into my motives, the picture is more murky.
Why do I want to please people? Am I really just putting their desires ahead of my own? Or are there more sinister psychological forces motivating me? Am I trying to find my worth in other people’s approval? Do I have a self-centered need to be admired? Am I looking for acceptance into a group to validate my identity? Maybe my driving force in wanting to please others is not love, but pride and insecurity.
The different motivations of love or desire to please may not change my outward actions, but will have a huge effect on my soul and emotional well-being.
An unhealthy dependence on the approval or acceptance of others can become an idol that drags us around, filling our days with activities we are not called to or created for.
I think we were made with a desire to find our identity in something larger than our self. God wants us to find our sense of worth and purpose in Him and in His body, the church, doing the good works that He created for us to walk in. (Eph 2:10) If our identity is not in Christ and fulfilling our calling from Him, we will seek to find this identity and purpose in man-made social groups or organizations.
I was homeschooled growing up and felt like an outsider of the larger local community, even overhearing other kids being mocked for wanting to play with my siblings and me. Now, as an adult, I hunger for community acceptance, wanting to meet the community’s expectations for what is required to be a recognized insider – whether it be involvement in sports, or putting our kids in the school system.
I am conflicted, because I genuinely love the people of our community. I want them to thrive in life, and have their hurts and brokenness healed by Christ. I want them to know God and the abundant life Christ offers them. I want to earn their trust, showing them that my love is genuine and that my actions are not motivated by wanting them to help grow our church or join my social group. But along with the desire to love this community is a desire to be accepted and approved of by the community.
There are several problems with being motivated by desire for approval. First, we can never know what people truly think of us, or even if they actually ever do think of us. I love how one person put it: “In my twenties, I obsessed over what people thought of me. In my forties, I didn’t care what people thought of me. In my sixties, I found out that no one was thinking about me.”
The approval of other self-centered humanoids is a terrible foundation for worth. If you listen to small town conversation, you soon realize how communities tend to verbally cannibalize each other. I have heard people say very different things to someone’s face than they say behind his back. I don’t fully understand why, but we seem to have a psychological need to criticize and run down other people. Does this sound like a good pond to fish in for self-worth? If success means never have people judge you or speak disapprovingly of you, then we are all doomed failures.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. I don’t mean we shouldn’t participate in community functions or care about the things people in the community care about, because obviously we should. Christians should be known for genuine love that is proved by their servant’s heart and their ability to truly listen, two attributes that sadly rarely define modern evangelicals.
What I am talking about is the difference between the motivation to show authentic love and the motivation to be accepted. Doing and saying what is most loving can often mean rejection and persecution. We all have self-destructive tendencies and need other people who are willing to risk our approval to plead with us to turn from the harmful path and choose the healthier alternative. This life-giving warning can rarely be delivered when our primary goal is winning approval and acceptance.
In human history, Jesus is the greatest example of what it means to love. Everything Jesus did was spurred by love. But how often were his actions motivated by a desire to please or be accepted by people? Never. He knew that the most loving thing He could do was to challenge people to wake up from their self-deceptions and turn from their destructive habits toward Him. Jesus’ goal was to save, not be admired; to love, not to be liked.
Paul commands us that our motivation in all we do should be to glorify God. (1 Cor. 1031) And Jesus says, “In this is my Father is glorified: that you bear much fruit.” (John 15:8) The fruit that Jesus is talking about is the fulfilling of His two greatest and primary commands: that we love God with all that we are and love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Paul warns again the poisonous drive of living for the approval of others when he cautions us to serve “ not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” (Eph 6:6-7)
When we are living for the approval of men we can be a round peg being forced into a square hole. Not only will we be criticized for not fitting, we will be missing out on filling the round hole we were made for.
Living with an eye towards the evaluation of others is a sure-fire recipe for burn-out and discouragement. Even in the rare times that other people notice you and approve of you, it’s not likely they will let you know. People are far quicker to let you know how you failed than they are to let you know how well you’ve done.
Being fueled by others’ admiration leads to hypocrisy, because your focus is on how you appear rather than who you really are – as God sees you.
When you stop looking for approval in the eyes of men and look into the eyes of God instead, you will experience deep, soul-satisfying, abundant love and acceptance of you – apart from what you do – because you belong to Him. He always notices you and His purposes for you are always motived by genuine love.
It is from this never-ending well of love that you will find the power and the freedom to love selflessly and sincerely.
I have been seeking to be unchained from my need for affirmation and approval and instead seeking to love in the way God is calling me to. I find so much freedom living by the mantra, “My goal is not to make you like me, but to make sure you know that I love you.”
Now, I just really hope you’ll like and share this article…