Not caught in the middle.

The words you are about to read have been scrolling through my mind for the past several weeks like the screen credits at the end of a film. Never ending. Perhaps that is because I spend many nights alone, with nothing but a pen and a cup of tea in hand. If I had roommates, I would probably have less time to think, which at times would probably be a good thing. All of that aside, the next words are very different from a film’s closing credits as these words are very personal and vulnerable. My only hope is that these words would help someone to see that they are not alone and that they, too, can live in true victory.

For starters, I am an ENFP. Some of you who aren’t familiar with personality types might be asking what in the world am I talking about. Let me explain. In a word, we (ENFP’s) are true free spirits, always exploring new ideas, observant of the world that surrounds us, and enthusiastic about the future to come. However, our greatest weakness, in my opinion, is that we are highly independent people pleasers. We see the best in everybody and hope that others, in return, will see the best in ourselves. We thrive on the encouragement/support of other people and feel discouraged when other people don’t like us (our personality)/our ambitions/our dreams, etc.

I would never openly admit that I am a people pleaser, but I will admit that so many times, more often than not, I have tried so hard to gain the approval of others. When someone I greatly respect or admire looks down upon my writing or the things that I share on social media, I take it personal. It took a long time for me to finally realize that not everyone will support you, not everyone will believe in you, and not everyone will like you. And, that’s okay. (once again, this truth is really hard for an ENFP to grasp. It hurts.)

Yet, somewhere between trying to be somebody and simply follow my calling, I realized that it doesn’t matter what other people think about me. This life isn’t about me. I realized that my focus had been too much on myself, and while it was a hard realization, it was a necessary one. When this truth hit me in college, I crumbled. There was so much of me that was trying to find fulfillment/validation through the approval of others that I lost sight of God’s vision for my life. This humbling experience was the most freeing & transformative moment in my walk with God.

C.S. Lewis states, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” 

While I know that many of our struggles are a spiritual battle between flesh/spirit, there is also a battle of the heart and mind that is shaped by our experiences/upbringing. As I studied social psychology in college and did a lot of research on children who grew up in a bi-nuclear home, I realized where the root of all of this people pleasing business was coming from. (perhaps, some of you can relate?) Of course, part of it was indeed my flesh, but the other part was the inevitable fate of always feeling like I was never good enough. During my teenage years, I sat in a psychologist’s office, where my brother and I were asked to talk about our feelings about our parent’s divorce. There was this constant fear within me that something that I would say against either parent would show up in the report and then backfire. I wanted to please both my parents, but I couldn’t. Growing up in a bi-nuclear home means that you are constantly in the middle. I still am. It’s not their fault, but that’s the inevitable fate of divorce: you are thrust between two worlds, desperately wishing that you could please everybody, and certainly wishing that life could go back to the days when the entire family was gathered around the dinner table, eating mom’s homemade enchiladas.  I don’t tell this story to ask for your pity, really. (“Life moves on and we must move with it.” Yes, that’s a Downton Abbey quote.) I simply tell it to remind you and I that when we meet people in this life, try to look beyond the surface, get to know why they respond to things the way they do, and as we tell one another’s stories, we may find that we are not alone and learn how to help one another see past the issue at hand.

I remember a moment in my life when God spoke very clearly.
“Are you trying to get people to follow you or are you trying to get people to follow Me?” Because, when you are living your life to try to get people to follow Jesus, instead of making your own name known, you will receive resistance, you will receive negative comments and you will receive hate. That very much goes against what our hearts would like to receive from others, especially in a social media tech savvy world where likes satisfy both our social and psychological needs (thanks, Uses and Gratifications theory).

In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

In order to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves. We must deny the voices within that seek approval through successes and likes and book purchases (that one’s for me), and pats on the back from strangers and friends. Jesus accepts you for who you are, but will you truly accept Him? To accept Him is to realize how very loved you are in His eyes, that there is nothing that you must do to approve and that that your mission is making His name known, even if the crowd mocks you, rejects you, and isolates you from the cool kids club. The true modern day church and true Christianity thinks not less of ourselves but thinks of ourselves less. Thanks, C.S. Lewis for that daily reminder. Our mission is to propel the gospel into every area of our lives, without a second thought of how that will make us viewed as cool and acceptable to those around us. True Christianity reveals truth, it does not seek popularity.

I always remember reading Luke 14:26 and feeling a little confused after. The scriptures read, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple.” What in the world does this mean? (especially since the greatest commandment is to love, right?)

In context, the word hatred does not mean to literally hate everyone and life itself, but to make sure that everything in your life is yielded first to the LORD. The cost of being a disciple is surrendering the weaknesses of my flesh (my personality), my past and present, my opinions and strong ideas to the complete and absolute will of God. If we make it our daily priority to truly put God first and yield ourselves to His plan, then we really won’t care about what others think. When we deny ourselves, we won’t feel like we are torn between two parents, because we will know that our Abba Father’s word is the most living and truest thing in our lives. When doubts, frustrations, negativity, and low self esteem tries to cloud our vision, we will hear the love of the Father instead, who reminds us that we are made perfect in His image. We don’t have to perfect a certain image, we don’t have to work our way into His will, we don’t have to talk to a psychologist and fear that our conversation will result in God being angry with us. He wants us to be honest and He beckons us to approach Him with all concerns, worries, and emotions that we face in our day to day.

I am thankful that my worth and acceptance in this life is not found in my financial status, my pedigree, my vocation, my education, my achievements, or my cooking (because God knows I would be a laughing stock for days. I’m trying. I really am trying.)

Social media, at times, has clouded a lot of people’s heartbeat to be found in the steady approval, high platforms and pleasing words from others. It feels good to be approved by many. (Don’t believe me. There’s this chemical in our brain called dopamine and it fuels this need/addiction for validation/uses and gratification. Look it up. It’s quite interesting. You don’t need to pay $120,000 to study the subject. I already did that for the both of us at University, so please use your free resources. Your bank account will thank you.) We seek the sight of many, when the reality is that our photographs, our art, our voices, our work, only needs to be approved by One. When you live with the hope of only pleasing One, God alone, then at the end of the day, when your life’s film credits are rolling, it won’t matter what the people say, who comments, or who clicks the follow button.

I live in victory knowing that my life pleases the One who breathed life into me, who encourages me daily to keep writing, and who tells me to keep carrying this gospel into my workplace, into my online community, and into my family, even if others hit the dislike button. Let us take up our crosses daily, and remember that we are playing for an audience of One. (Ann Voskamp has some great words on that thought!) Because, when you live to please One, the world will see God through you. And, that is my hope for you and I. Let us speak the truth even if our voice shakes, and let us be hopeful even when our world tries to bring us down. We don’t have to be caught in the middle, for it is the words of Jesus that governs our life. Anything else is contrary and not up for debate. So, don’t be fearful. You, my friend, have an incredible God cheering you on.

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