“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions,” Matthew 11:18-19.
Do you ever feel like you can’t win for losing?
Yeah. Me too. It’s frustrating beyond words to try and please people, because there are some people in this world who just won’t be pleased. A lot of them, it seems.
When I was a young pastor’s wife (or should I say younger? I am still young, thank you very much. But . . . my husband’s not actually pastoring right now, so I’m not actually a pastor’s wife any more. . . but I digress.) Anyway, when I was a young pastor’s wife, I got caught in the trap of trying to please people. I wanted to please everyone.
Yes, I can hear you chuckle.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many hoops I jumped through, trying to make everyone like me. And I did believe that unless everyone liked me, I must be doing something wrong. But then something so ridiculous and so insane happened, I couldn’t help but wake up and smell the dirty socks.
You see, for a while, I did everything that needed to be done, if I could possibly do it. I taught Sunday School. I lead the children’s choir on Wednesday nights. I taught a children’s class on Sunday evenings. I was a leader in our weekly visitation program. I lead our praise and worship team. And, I visited our widows every Tuesday morning.
Now, every one of those things was a worthy responsibility, but no one person should have to do all those things. Especially when that person is also a wife and mother, with responsibilities at home. But I did them with a smile, because that’s what pastor’s wives do, right? Until a couple of women in the church started criticizing me.
“No one in the church can do anything, because Renae thinks she has to be in charge of everything.”
Wait, really? I thought I was doing those things because we couldn’t ever seem to find anyone else who wanted to do them. But . . . really? Okay. I decided to step down from a few of my roles. I quit teaching the Sunday night kids’ class, and I quit teaching children’s choir, because word had it, that’s what my two criticizers wanted to teach.
A couple of months later, the same two women were whispering again, spreading the word as if it were some sort of political campaign. “Renae just abandoned all the children’s classes. Poor babies.”
You’re kidding, right?
Not long after that, one of the ladies in the Sunday School class I taught was going to have a baby. Now, this lady was my good friend. Her daughter and my daughter were the same age, and they played together often. We ate lunch together, shopped together, and did all those things girlfriends like to do together. So I decided to give her a baby shower.
Before long, the aforementioned duo was at it again. “She can’t do that. She’s the pastor’s wife. She can’t play favorites. If she’s going to give her friend a baby shower, she’d sure better give each of those others a baby shower!”
So . . . guess what I did?
Yeah. You can believe it. I gave a whopping five baby showers within the span of just a couple of months, despite the fact that at this point, I had many true and dear friends coming to my defense and telling me to ignore the criticisms. But, I wanted to please everyone . . .
You see, I was trying to find my self-worth in the approval of others. And no matter how many hoops we jump through, that’s never going to happen. Some people enjoy looking for things to criticize, and no matter what we do, we’re never going to please them.
Instead of wasting my time and energy, stressing myself out trying to please people, I should have just taken a deep breath, relaxed, and rested in the approval of my Heavenly Father. I don’t have to jump through any hoops to earn His love. He adores me. He thinks I’m wonderful, and pours out His love on me just because He is God and I’m His child.
Oh, sometimes he disapproves of my actions. But He will never hurt me by gossiping about me or trying to humiliate me or bully me. No, when my actions are out of line, He deals with me gently, with mercy and grace and love. Yeah, I’d have been a lot better off to just get on my knees and ask God for wisdom about how to please Him. And His list of requirements is a lot shorter than the average person’s list. All God wants from me is that I love Him more than anything. And that I do my best to love others the way He loves me.
End of list.
And when I am loving God with all my heart and loving others with His kind of love, most people will eventually figure out what’s what. When we live to please God, our actions speak in our defense.
So, that’s one lesson I learned from that difficult season in my life. But I also learned another one. Since I was on the receiving end of such harsh demands and criticisms, I want to make sure that I’m never on the giving end. I learned in a fresh new way to apply the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I believe God’s word said it even better though, in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
So let’s not be like the people who criticized John for not eating or drinking, then criticized Jesus for eating and drinking. Let’s use our words to build others up, not tear them down. And when we are criticized by others despite our best efforts to please God, we can smile. We’re in pretty good company.
Dear Father, Help me to ignore the pressure to please others, for I know some people will never be pleased. Help me to look for my self-worth in the only place I can really find it: right in the center of Your love.