If you live by people’s praise, you’ll die by their criticism.
My good friend Mark Hallock posted that on his Twitter feed yesterday and it got me thinking again about something that has been an issue for me for a long time–people pleasing. To varying degrees the way I live has always been formed by a desire to please others. When I receive praise or affirmation I feel good. When I am criticized or put down it can take me a while to get over it. I suppose that part is normal. The problem is that affirmation and criticism can both impact what I do and how I live–regardless of whether the approval or criticism line up with who I am called to be in Christ.
Keeping Up Appearances
In junior high I had multiple personalities. Not the psychological disorder, but depending on who I was with I acted differently. At church and at home I was a straight-laced, goofy, Jesus-following adolescent. But at school you wouldn’t hear me talk about Jesus or faith, I cared most about climbing the ladder of popularity, and my speech and actions reflected that desire. I don’t know that either one was the “real me,” I think the real me was a combination of both. The real me was the one who wanted to fit in and be liked in all situations.
Fast-forward to adulthood and I still struggle with this. I spend a disproportionate amount of time considering how what I do or say will make me look with different groups of people. I worry that my sermons, conversations, and writing will make me look too liberal–or too conservative–depending on who’s on the other end. I worry that the way I dress will be perceived as to stuffy or too sloppy, depending on the setting. I wonder what I’ve done when someone is short with me–even though it usually has nothing to do with me. Thinking about what others think of me happens without even thinking.
I’ve worked on this, but I live far too often out of an ongoing inner dialogue about what other people think of me.
The infamous villain from Batman, Two Face, actually had two faces. One was nice and attractive–representing fairness and life, the other was deformed and represented evil and death. Focusing on what others think of us can easily lead to being people with two (or more) faces. Living with two (or three, or four. or…) faces limits our true growth in godliness and sets us up for failure in all areas of life. Keeping up appearances instead of living authentically is a form of lying–lying to yourself and others.
I am not a fan of Christian cliches (and I’m not just saying that to win your approval!). One that was used a lot when I was in high school was that we should “live for an audience of One.” Though I don’t like its “cliche-i-ness,” I can’t argue with the validity of it. Two quotes from Paul come to mind.
Am I now trying t0 win the approval of human beings or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people I would not be a servant of Christ. Gal. 1:10
For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Phil. 1:21
What truly matters is that I am pleasing God through my actions whether I am in front of the small, poor, and elderly congregation at our church or in a bar having a beer and watching a football game. In every situation of life what matters is whether I am devoting myself to living a holy, loving, peacemaking, compassionate, just, joyful life that please the One who made and saved me or whether I am trying to figure out what those around me want and adjusting accordingly. I just wish it was that easy.