II ’m a chronic people pleaser, and I always thought it’s what a good Christian should be… until recently.
Like me, you may find it difficult to say no (especially to church-related requests), rarely ask others for help in case it’s a “burden”, or insincerely agree with or compliment people just so they’ll like you. If so, welcome to the people-pleaser club.
As a Christian, I’ve always struggled to walk the line between loving people and pleasing people. On the surface, people-pleasing—being polite, agreeable, and accepting—is the cookie-cutter stereotype we consciously or subconsciously expect Christians to exemplify, and there’s nothing wrong with this, per se. It’s nice to be nice, but sometimes, maintaining the “nice” Christian facade means lying to others—breaking the Ten Commandments—and that really bothers me.
I’ll be honest with you: In talking to friends, strangers, or even loved ones, I sometimes get bored or concerned with or confused by their words—I’m sure you sometimes do too—but often, rather than telling them I want to leave the conversation or disagree or am concerned by what they’re saying, I just smile and nod, while my brain is now only about ten percent engaged in the dialogue—just enough to keep them talking, feeling validated, and continuing to like me.
Other times, people ask me to do tasks I don’t want to do, but rather than say, “Absolutely not”, I smile—enthusiastically, even—before going home and criticizing myself… or them for not respecting my boundaries, which I never established in the first place.
By being too agreeable, I become dishonest with both myself and others. By always saying yes and failing to put limits in place, life accelerates to a frenetic pace, and I neglect my emotional, physical, and even spiritual health. What are the side-effects? Burnout, resentment, complaining, guilt, and even gossip. I become an unpleasant person to be around, and this makes it even harder to be nice. My smile becomes faker; my laughter even emptier. Thus, the negative cycle continues.
Is this a picture of the real, selfless love to which Jesus calls us? Is being “nice” really what it means to be His follower?
For some reason, as Christians, we’ve equated “being like Jesus” with being a nice person. However, look at Jesus: He did things we probably wouldn’t call “nice”. He called the Pharisees “fools” (Matthew 23:17), “vipers” (Matthew 23:33), and “hypocrites” (Luke 11:44). He overturned tables in the temple (see Matthew 21:12,13), told the disciples to “shake off the dust from [their] feet” if people weren’t welcoming (Mark 6:11), and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus told the truth, even when it hurt the rich young ruler (see Matthew 19:16–22), and often separated Himself from the crowd.
He wasn’t a “yes man” or always available, and He didn’t try to please people. In fact, many people hated Him. And yet, everything Jesus did was done in love—a genuine, life-changing, world-shaking love that is still discussed 2,000 years later.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot that loving people and being nice are often opposites. People-pleasing isn’t really about pleasing people. Beneath its rosy facade, people-pleasing is a selfish attempt to make people like us. In contrast, genuine love is being able to tell someone the truth, even if it hurts; even if that won’t like it; even if that person won’t like you anymore.
Nevertheless, this has critical limitations. “Telling the truth in love” is not a license to criticize the young girl whose skirt you deem too short or the new convert who brings a Big Mac to the church picnic. It’s not an excuse to attack specific behaviors of the spiritually vulnerable. Jesus’ instruction to the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” didn’t criticize her lip color or lingerie; but it didn’t agree with or compliment her behavior, either. Rather, His loving words demonstrated genuine care about her future, while giving her autonomy and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work in her heart and life.
Therefore, if you’re experiencing the side-effects of people-pleasing—burnout, resentment, or guilt—maybe it’s time to be more like Jesus. Maybe it’s time to be a little less nice.