I've been doing a lot of growing up lately. I know, I know...I look like a grown up woman on the outside, but so often I still feel like a little child sometimes. I get into certain situations and all of a sudden, I'm back into that 'one-down/one-up' relationship with other adults that characterizes the relationships that children under adult authority have.
We were all born as a little person in a big person's world and our job as children is to become a big person over time. This happens for some people, but not for all of us, apparently. Becoming a big person, an adult, means that the child moves out of the 'one-down/one-up' relationship role into a peer relationship to other adults. Becoming an adult is assuming the authority position of life, which is an important part of living out of the image of God.
This topic in particular really touches my heart deeply because I really relate to this...for some reason it is really hard for me to see myself as a grown up in this world...particularly in the mission community. This probably has something to do with growing up as an MK and then returning to missions, who knows. Maybe it's kind of like even though we're grown-up people with children of our own, how we still sometimes tend to fall back into our former childhood roles the minute we step through our parents' doors?
Anyway, I have struggled to feel like a grown-up in many of my relationships, particularly in this area of people-pleasing...I know this is a common struggle because I hear people around me who struggle with this, too. It's one thing to say that we should be 'God-pleasers' and stop being 'man-pleasers', but how, exactly, do I DO that? I have tried to break this cycle, but it's hard and so often I feel the guilt about making this or that decision creep back into my mind, even after I resolutely decided that I wasn't going to let what other people think affect me. I end up thinking more about what other people are going to think than about what God thinks.
And this has held me back...it has held me back from growing up mentally and emotionally...it has held me back from finding out what it means to truly live in grace and offer that same grace back to others...it has held me back from developing and owning my own thoughts, feelings, opinions...it has held me back from sensing God's will in my life because I was more 'in tune' with others' opinions of me than I was to hearing His voice. And that is a shame because I should have 'grown up' a long time ago!
But it's never too late to start, so here I go...I'm growing up and it feels good. A little, no a lot, scary, but it does feel good. I will admit to a certain trepidation, knowing that at some point there will be consequences of other people disagreeing with me and there might be unkind words, or worse...but I don't want to risk losing out on something really awesome in my relationship with God by letting my fear of what others think control me.
People-pleasing really does keep me from seeing what is truth from God, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" (John 5:44). I don't want my tendency towards people-pleasing to cloud my relationship with my God...I want His messages to come through loud and clear!
Listen to this verse in John 12:42-43..."Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." These rulers believed in Jesus but were too afraid to step out in faith, trusting that God could provide for them even if they were put out of the synagogue...they missed out big time because they loved the approval of men more than that approval of God. Ouch. I don't want to be like that. When I stand before the throne of God after my last breath of earthly life, I want to hear for myself that I have met with the approval from God...at that moment, I think that whatever disapproval I might suffer here on earth at the hands of those who don't approve of me and how I live out God's calling on my life will be as nothing. I'm deciding right now that it will be worth it.
So how do I get there? Well, for me I am learning that it has to do with understanding what it means to do the authoritative work of adulthood*...and this means that I can't be always out to get the approval of other adults. That's what children do and children can't do an adult's job. So, seeking and finding approval from God and not trying to please others is an important aspect of growing into adulthood.
Adults make decisions, have opinions, establish values that are not subject to approval or disapproval from parents or parental figures, and recognize that they are accountable for the consequences of the things that they think, feel and do*. Basically, it means that it is a process of gaining authority over my life...to know what I believe, think through things for myself, made decisions, that I don't depend on the approval of others for survival and that I have expertise in one or more areas. Those who spend time around me will then get a sense from me that I am authoritative...that I have become an adult. And once I have become an adult, I can submit to the authority of God by choice, not out of any sense of duty or because 'that's what you do to be spiritual'.
This doesn't mean that I don't respect the offices of authority that are in the church, but it means that I don't view leaders as somehow being 'above me'...we are all equal adults in this family of God; all equal brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God. Because I am an adult, however, and I have taken ownership of my life, I can freely give up my rights and serve others in submission because submitting to my equal brothers or sisters in their God-given offices is actually submitting to God and not to men.
Mark 12:14 says..."Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." Jesus did not fear men and neither did he need their approval as parent figures...so Jesus was free to speak the truth to others and then let them worry about whether they liked it or not.
I think I want to be like Jesus...a woman of integrity who teaches the way of God in accordance with the truth. I can think of no higher calling.
*Some thoughts and quotes used from Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud...