This morning I was reading 1 Thessalonians. As sometimes happens, two particular verses jumped out at me. In this case it was because in both, Paul used the phrase "more and more." He was urging the Christians in Thessolonica to do two things. In chapter 4, verse 1 he says, "we have instructed you how to live in order to please God," and urges them to continue to do this more and more. In the same chapter, verse 10, he encourages them to "love all brothers throughout Macedonia." And again, urges them to do so more and more.
If I am going to be honest, I struggle with implementing both of these commandments simultaneously. I seem to swing on the pendulum of who to please. Either I put my focus on living to please God (and not man), as verse one instructs, or I spend my energy trying to make people happy. Then I catch myself worrying about what people think, and tell myself that my focus on whome to please should be God. This often turns into a self-castigation that goes something like, "You shouldn't care what they think. You should care that you are doing the right things; pleasing God." And if I am not careful, my "not caring what they think" turns into, "not caring about them".
This is, of course, is in direct contrast to commandment two, which is to love our brothers. But, oh! How to separate loving someone from trying to please them?
This morning, as I was wrestling with how to come to grips with this in my heart (because my mind KNOWS that both commandments are correct and should be followed...), I finally landed on two principles that helped in that moment. Perhaps they will help you as well if you struggle with "people pleasing".
First, I reminded myself that in my own strength, my own love, my own power, I simply cannot do both. If I rely on myself to "do" better, I will fail. But the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me. And that power can certainly love God, live to please him, AND love my brothers without pandering to them. That love that Christ had for the world, that was both grace AND truth, is the same love that lives in me. And it is that power and that love that I want to channel.
Second, I thought of myself as a parent. I love my children more than any souls on this earth. But quite often in parenting, I made decisions that did not make my children happy. If my decision was based on what was best for them, and conflicted with what they wanted, I never dwelled too long on the fact that they were unhappy. Did I try to explain my decision? Yes, if they were old enough to understand. But I never feared that their love for me would die simply because I didn't do something to please them. Why is that? Perhaps because I had faith that my love for them would show through in the end. Perhaps because the moments of love and joy and fellowship outweighed the times of frustration and discontent. Regardless, I never based my parental decisions solely on "what will make the children happy".
So, why can't I do that with my brothers and sisters? Why do I worry that sharing my differing opinion, or conflicting view, will forever marr a friendship? Why do I think that I am responsible for making everyone in the room happy, even if I don't really agree with a decision?
It's still a struggle. But I hope that as I continue to read scripture and meditate on its truths, that the Lord will continue to change me to be more like him. As this happens, I will more easily abide by both commandments: I will live my life to please God and I will love my brothers and sisters!