I have a confession: I’m a bit of a people pleaser. I have been for years. “No” was the hardest word for me to say. Sometimes, it felt nice to be able to serve others. But withholding that two-letter word also got me into some situations that I wish I would have avoided. When you’re struggling with people pleasing, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. But the more I talk with other girls, the more I realize that it’s a very common struggle!
One of the sources of my people-pleasing was a pure ideal that became a twisted belief. Christians are called to serve others in love. The Apostle Paul instructed believers to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). For the longest time, I thought Paul meant that we should only look to others’ interests and consider ourselves as being less than others. This was a twisted view that masqueraded low self-esteem as humility. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that we weren’t meant to be doormats. We were created to be empowered in Christ! One of the keys to living in this freedom is establishing boundaries with people.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus is preparing to send out his disciples to minister without him. Jesus tells them, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We should love others and be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), but we should also be wise and use discernment.
Jesus knew the state of the world then, just as he does now. He saw evil in the hearts of men and warned against such corruption. Like the good and faithful shepherd he is, Jesus wants to protect us, his flock.
He also wants us to know the importance of rest. When we feel like we’re being pulled in all directions, it is important to spend time with God and simply rest in His presence. We will quickly burn out and become miserable when we put our time with people above our time with God, however noble our intentions may be. Jesus himself often snuck away to be alone with God in prayer. He created boundaries for himself and did not stray from them.
When you feel like you have to minister to everyone, remember that you are not Jesus. We are supposed to be like him, but we can never be him. He is our savior, and only he can change hearts. We can show people Jesus and tells others about him, but we can’t change them like he can. Even Jesus didn’t minister 24/7. He took a lot of time to be alone with God. We would do well to follow his example!
What I’ve come to learn is that there are situations when it’s actually harmful for us to try to change people. If we get a bad feeling in our spirit about a person or situation, we must pray and listen to what God says to us. There have been many situations in my life when I felt uneasy, sometimes without an obvious reason. When I prayed about these situations, God often told me to guard my heart and stay away from certain people, groups, or situations. I am still kind to these people, but I do not give them my time. I often struggle with feeling like I’m not being kind or Christ-like when I do this. But a wise woman in my life told me that at the end of our life, we will give an account to God—not to anyone else, and especially not to any of these people we worry about. We will give God an account of what we did in obedience to Him. This will include the times when we obeyed God and guarded our hearts even when we didn’t fully understand why. It will include the times when we put more trust in what God said than in others’ expectations or desires. We can’t let people’s expectations run our lives because we’ll never feel good enough. It is only in Christ that we find fulfillment, and it’s only in spending time with God that we will feel whole again.
My challenge to you is to evaluate your relationships. Do you grow from them, or do they make you shrink into yourself? Do they give life, or are they draining? Are they encouraging, or do you leave feeling down and out? If any relationship doesn’t meet the positive criteria, I’d encourage you to pray about closing that door. I’ve found that creating boundaries and sticking to them opens more time for those you are close with! These are the relationships that we should be nurturing the most because “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Most importantly, evaluate your time with God. Are there things you need to give up to spend more time with Him? It’s hard to make ourselves do, but it’s so worth it. God will give you discernment as you establish these boundaries. Most importantly, He will show you more of Himself—there’s nothing sweeter than that.