I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t trying to please someone. It has been nearly four decades of strapping this burden on like a back-pack filled with cumbersome bricks, of always trying to please everyone, that I am not even sure if I understand or know who the authentic me is. I have lived for so long tormented with this desire to feel pleasure, from other people in my life, to have people approve of me, to work hard at pleasing everyone around me, to not rock the boat too much. It is an impossible task, that I continually fail at, and continually feel guilt and remorse over. When I feel someone’s displeasure of me, whether real or imagined, it strangles me in shame, guilt, and self- loathing. It can be as simple as someone disagreeing with my thoughts written on Facebook and calling me out. That alone can spiral me into fear of losing someone’s approval. Sometimes I am so afraid to have a voice, because maybe my voice does not match what people expect that it should, and I am still learning and growing and changing. The terrible truth is that I have lived a good portion of my life desperate to please God as well, and feeling as if I could never quite figure out how I was supposed to do it. I sacrificed some big things in this life. Not only did I sacrifice my authenticity, but I also did what I thought God wanted me to do. Heck, I even sold all of my earthly belongings and moved to Africa. And yet, this fear of God’s disapproval clung to every part of my soul like a life-sucking parasite.
In the tradition that I was raised in, there was no shortage of proclamations from the message that I constantly “fall short”. I think the very first Bible verse that I memorized as a small, impressionable little three or four year old girl was Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I have nearly always understood that I am a terrible sinner and fall short of God’s glory. That has never been in question. The wrath of God and His displeasure of me seemed to be entwined in my very DNA. And really my desire to please people was birthed from my desire to please God. It makes for a weighty existence, one in which I am constantly failing to measure up. It has been a lifetime battle that has sucked the joy of life from me far too often. One of the very first times that we walked into our home church, I remember sitting and hearing Pastor Blake talk about God, and how He is not a God that is characterized by wrath. Then he said “I want you to know that God smiles at you.” I was furious at his words. Surely they had to be blasphemous. How does the God of the universe look down on despicable sinners and smile? This was not the dialogue that was spoken over any part of my life prior to that point, and I wrestled hard with its validity.
Over a week ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being sent to Colorado to receive a week of intense soul care. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and the younger me, looking to please people, would be cringing right now to even use that word ‘experienced’. One morning as we were meeting with our spiritual directors they led us through the passage from Matthew 3:16-17. We practiced Lectio Divina with this passage and really took time to try to understand the message that the author was intending to communicate.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
When I paused long enough to ponder the timing of God’s words over His son, I was overcome with emotion. Jesus, yes although God, but let us not forget his humanity, had not done anything ministry wise up to this point. It is worth noting that He was around 30 years. Jesus had not done a single miracle, or healed a sick person, or preached a message. Yet, His Dad, His God, announced His pleasure in His Son. He said this to Jesus before Jesus had done any work – before He had performed. His pleasure came before Jesus’ performance.
I sat on a love seat tucked into the beautiful, snowy Colorado mountains with hot tears making rivers down my cheeks. My whole life has been about striving and performing in order to finally obtain God’s pleasure. But in that moment, I truly understood for the first time in my life that God’s pleasure for me is fixed. I already had it. My identity in Jesus is secure and immovable, regardless of my performance. As the adopted daughter of God, He looks down at me with that same love and pleasure, that He has for His only Son. My tears continued to stream and I cried for that little girl who could never get her math facts fast enough, for the junior high chubby girl who was no good at sports, for the high school student who was shy and awkward, for the college girl who nearly made herself sick striving for a 4.0, for the insecure new mom who thought she had to prove herself to be a good mom, for the nose-ring wearing Baptist pastor’s wife who never could fit in, for the thirty year old woman who thought selling her home, adopting kids, and moving to Africa might finally obtain pleasure from God. For the me of today who is depressed, broken and lonely with homesickness for a place that really is not my home who strives for perfection that is unattainable, and who is not sure how to fit back into a country that seems to be falling apart at the seams after having her eyes opened to a whole big world beyond the United States. I cried and I cried and I cried for her, and for the masquerade that needed to be killed off.
But a dam was broken that day, and although this is a journey and there is no quick fix to years of living into a false self, I am desperate to live into my true self – into the identity that is all mine through Jesus – I, Tiffany, am His beloved, and [regardless of my performance or lack thereof] my Daddy in heaven is well pleased, with me. I have His pleasure! May this forever be tattoed on my heart – in her, He is well pleased! May all striving cease. May I stop explaining every nook and cranny of my life to people just so they are pleased with me and my decisions for my life. His pleasure is so much more fulfilling than a few fake friends on Facebook.
And beloved, the same is true of you as well. He is well pleased.
Lean into it, live into it. It’s a game changer, actually I believe that this beautifully, breath-taking truth is a life changer.