“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
I know what you’re thinking. “When God asks a people-pleaser to hate others? Geneva, you’ve always been a bit whacky, but THIS has definitely taken the cake, girl!” I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But hear me out, ok?
I like to refer to myself as a recovering people-pleaser. Some days, I totally kick the urge to fall into those old, ugly habits and other days, I fail miserably. So, yeah, definitely still recovering and quite honestly, for as long as I live, I will probably always have good days and bad days with it; I’m just hoping those good days continue to be more frequent and the bad days become fewer and fewer.
I first experienced God working on breaking these chains in my own life, with my relationships with peers and friends in high school. Then later, I had major reconstructive surgery on my character in my professional life as a mental health and substance abuse therapist. My concept of a “good” counselor was rocked when I realized that while being a good listener and being nonjudgmental were, as I presumed, certainly important traits of a counselor doing their job correctly, just as important was the need to speak truth to Clients. Sometimes – often times – truth was difficult to hear. It was challenging to the listener and it would often be met with resistance and even dislike of the counselor speaking it. And that knowledge was hard for me to accept. Didn’t my Clients need to “like” me as a counselor? How could I help them if they didn’t like me all the time? Oh, the growing pains I experienced as God transformed my character and understanding of my responsibilities as a therapist and once again chipped away at my natural instincts to please others.
Not so long ago, though, I looked back in awe at how far I had grown as a therapist in this area of my life. I felt proud to realize that I was confident in gently speaking needed messages to Clients and that I was no longer paralyzed by fear to do so, despite the fact that it didn’t always make me popular with those I was trying to help. And so I thought I had finally mastered my people-pleasing habits. I mean, where else could I possibly still need work in this area? Hadn’t God challenged me in every way possible to eliminate this habit?
Imagine my surprise when I soon learned that maybe, just maybe, God had actually saved my biggest problem area for last. It was an area that I wasn’t at all prepared for and it has been met with lots of pain, heartache, and discouragement.
You see, growing up, I was always a bit of a “golden child.” Gosh, that sounds incredibly snooty of me to say, huh? But that’s the only way I know how to describe it to help you really understand why this battle has been so difficult for a gal like me, so hang in there and let me explain. I became a Christian very early on in life. I generally did what was expected of me, I made good grades, and I didn’t really go through any scary teenage rebellion. I was the stereotypical first-born child in my family, with my biggest show of irresponsibility being a constantly messy room (which by the way, I am totally paying for these days trying to raise a 6-year old to not be a slob. Sorry, Mom!) My close-knit, southern family was proud of me and they supported my decisions in life. In the small church we attended, I was a leader. In college, I made phone calls every night to 3 people: my momma, my mamaw, and my aunt, who was like a second mother to me. The overall consensus among my family and those who knew me was that Geneva was a “good girl.”
Initially, I didn’t do any of these things to please others. They were genuine acts from a genuine place in my heart and honestly, most of it was never a real act of heroism or courage to go against the grain as a teen. My personality is just naturally inclined to generally follow the rules and live in peace, so if I’m honest, being “good” wasn’t ever something I could really brag about because it never required extreme sacrifice on my part. But looking back, I think I eventually became accustomed to the praise and the accolades to a point that my best behavior wasn’t always being done to honor God, but to please others. And as God’s most recent efforts to eliminate my people-pleasing habits have revealed, perhaps, even, it had become an idol in my life.
I dread almost every election season because it’s always filled with mud-slinging, empty promises, and confusion. The 2016 presidential elections were no different in that respect, except they seemed to be even uglier than normal. This country, who I’ve never found to be particularly united, became even more divided than usual. My Facebook feed, like many of yours, was full of opinions, hatred, and nonsense. I’ve never been a real fan of talking politics because I’ve never been a real fan of conflict. Oh, who am I kidding, I HATE conflict. But 2016 shifted something in me. Though still not a fan of speaking out politically, I found myself unable to keep quiet about some of the things I found disturbing. And while I was expecting criticism, I wasn’t prepared for who most of that personal criticism was coming from: From people I had been a leader among, I had been admired by, and I had always been supported by. It seemed that my incredibly unpopular opinions on several political matters had hit quite a nerve among those I’d always felt the most comfortable around. People who had shaped my life in great ways, been there for me in some of my darkest days, and who I owe a great deal of gratitude to for their influence and leadership in my life, suddenly felt like strangers to me. People I loved the most in my life were suddenly disappointed in me, shaming me, and even angry with me. And I wasn’t prepared.
I began to do a lot of soul-searching. I questioned my motives for speaking out. I questioned my beliefs. Was I wrong? I mean, according to a national survey, 80+ percent of the white, evangelical population all seemed to disagree with me. Surely that meant something. I mean, believe me, I was used to having unpopular beliefs. But I wasn’t used to not fitting in among my own; quite the opposite, actually. This was new terrain for me and I didn’t like it. Was I allowing my mind to be tainted with worldly influences? These are the types of questions I wrestled with daily. These are the types of conversations I had with God at 3am when I couldn’t sleep. I mean, how could I possibly be in God’s will here when nearly every spiritual and personal influence I’d had in my life at this point, disagreed with what I was saying. Clearly, I had to be wrong. Right?
And then, I started praying about it. People had accused me of being biased in some of my opinions because of my life experiences. My immediate reaction to those accusations was to dismiss them, but I eventually came to a place of true brokenness and I found myself thinking that maybe they were right. Maybe I was being biased. I didn’t know anymore. I started praying, “God, all I want is to be in Your will. If these passions of mine aren’t from You, then take them away. I’m begging You, that if I am out of Your will here, strip these desires and this unrest in my soul away.” That became my daily prayer: “Not my will, but Yours.”
And you know what? Things started shifting, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking they did. I didn’t find those passions eliminated. I didn’t find God shutting my mouth. In fact, I came to realize that these weren’t just my personal opinions on topics, but they were things I clearly felt the Holy Spirit convicting my heart about. I found the courage to continue to speak up for people God had burdened my heart for and to advocate for these causes, no matter the approval or disapproval of others. And while I still struggle at times with no longer being in the good graces among many who are important to me or among those I’ve always related to the most, I am learning that I used to depend on those opinions more than I depended on God’s.
So does God really expect us to hate our family or our friends? Of course not. But what He does ask of us, is that we do His will always, no matter the cost. And rest assured, it’s going to cost us at some point. It may bring us to a place where doing what God has laid on our hearts just doesn’t make sense to our mother, our father, our husband, our wife, our brother, our sister, our son, our daughter, our uncle, our aunt, our grandfather, our grandmother…to anyone. It might bring us to a place that feels desolate, where it feels like it’s just us standing in our brokenness, defeated, discouraged and confused. But be encouraged, Friends. Throughout all of this, God has been faithful in strengthening me through the wise words of some mighty leaders, establishing new, godly relationships in my life, and giving me the courage to stand for what He has laid on my heart, even if it feels at times that He is the only one supporting me in it. What about you? What is He asking YOU to do?
Where God leads, He always, always provides and He is masterful at breaking us, but somehow, if we let Him, He brings beauty from the ashes of our destruction.