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The Sin of People-Pleasing


Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

Meg Hunter-Kilmer - published on 05/01/16

How caring what others think keeps you from the kingdom of God
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Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory for the sake of your love and your truth.—Psalm 115:1 Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stone, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:4-5

Thousands and thousands of years ago there was a poet who loved a princess. And because this poet was a warrior too, he won the heart of the princess and also her hand. But Michal’s heart was turned by the things of this world, while David was a man after God’s own heart. Though she had loved and served and protected her husband, she did not know his God. And when David’s spirit was moved to worship and he came dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, Michal despised him. “‘How the king of Israel has honored himself today, exposing himself to the view of the slave girls of his followers, as a commoner might do!’ But David replied to Michal, ‘I was dancing before the Lord. … Not only will I make merry before the Lord, but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your esteem, but in the esteem of the slave girls you spoke of, I will be honored’” (2 Samuel 6:20-22).

It’s an ordinary marital spat. Michal is concerned about what the neighbors will think. David thinks it doesn’t matter. But the consequences tell us there’s more to it than that: “And so Saul’s daughter Michal was childless to the day of her death” (2 Samuel 6:23).

Michal’s obsession with other people’s opinion, the sin called “human respect” in times gone by, sterilizes her. Her vanity makes it impossible for her to bear fruit. And so does ours.

It makes sense on a natural level. The more worried we are, the more tense we are. Nerves make us clumsy. But I think it’s more than that. I think that vanity castrates our work for the kingdom because it stops being about God and starts being about us.

We leave out the hard parts in RCIA so that people won’t think we’re judgmental. Or we snap at our kids for making us look bad. Or we kick ourselves for not saying something witty. Or we burn with envy over the lives we wish we had.

Or maybe we’re really careful and do everything right, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and God thwarts our efforts because he’d rather have our humble hearts than all the good works in the world.

I spend a lot of time reminding myself of this. It doesn’t matter the nasty comments I get on articles or the ugly e-mails or the withering glances from sullen teens forced to listen to me speak. It doesn’t matter who hates me. All that matters is the glory of God.

It’s not an excuse to run roughshod over people’s feelings, of course. My insensitivity doesn’t give God glory. But it’s a reminder that we worship a God who was rejected by men. We ask daily to be formed in his image. And that means that we’ll lose friends. We’ll be marginalized. We’ll be overlooked and ignored. And we’ll be in good company. Because Jesus was so unconcerned with his own glory that he consented to be killed in the most shameful way possible. Those who bear the name of Christ can’t really demand more.

Instead, we stand beneath pitying or angry or disdainful gazes murmuring, “To your name be the glory.” We become priests of Jesus Christ, offering the sacrifice of our reputation on the altar of the cross. And we’re built up into the dwelling place of God who loves humble hearts.

I have a tendency to obsess over other people’s opinions — always have. So first I worry what people will think, then I act so as to please them, and finally I hate myself for the reactions I imagine they’re having, all the while ignoring the purpose of it all: the glory of God. He’s had to humiliate me quite a lot to begin making inroads into my hard heart, reminding me again and again, in the words of Mother Teresa, that “God has not called us to be successful. He has called us to be faithful.”

In the end it doesn’t matter if they love me or loathe me. It doesn’t matter if I preach with a golden tongue or never touch a single heart. It doesn’t matter if I impress princesses or slave girls. What matters is that I spend my life dancing before the Lord, mindful only of giving him glory however he asks. Then I will bear fruit, though I may not see it in this world. Because I will be his.


Meg Hunter-Kilmerwrites for her blog, Held by His Pierced Hands, and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults and leading retreats and parish missions.

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