Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come […] Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:1-3, 8-10)
We sit under the fluorescent lights in a dark basement cafeteria, barely making a dent on our breakfast sandwiches. “I disagree with you, Connie,” he says, “I think God’s love is so much bigger than we could ever imagine. I think he wants to invite more than just the people in the pews at church and those living out ‘good’ lives. Do we put God in a box?” “But He can’t just ignore pervasive sin,” I argue back, “God is a God of both mercy and justice.”
There’s more room.
I feel instantly both affirmation and dismay at the results. Leadership. Wisdom. Pastoral. Those words aren’t a surprise to me, and I’ve seen God do His work through me using each of those giftings. But I still feel torn. Why is it so much harder for a woman use those gifts to serve the body of Christ? Why aren’t we taken as seriously? Why are we relegated to certain roles, when we know God has created us to serve elsewhere? Why are men ‘men’, but women ‘girls’?
There’s more room.
We are slightly wobbly on a plastic paddle boat in the middle of the lake. Breathing in the still, sweet air, we both sigh. We talk about what gives us hope and what satisfies our souls. He says it’s doing more and more good, it’s making a difference, it’s knowing that someone’s life changed because of him. I detect a bit of wistfulness. “For me, God satisfies that gaping hole in my soul,” I say, “but can you once again let Him do that for you?” He looks at me with eyes brimming with pain. “I don’t think I can consider God right now,” he said, reminiscing, “The church has hurt me too much.”
There’s more room!
I forget that I am one of the unlikely ones, one of the people who don’t normally get invited to feasts like the one He threw. I forget the generosity of the Host, who invited me without hesitation – offering me delight and reconciliation and love and purpose. I forget the joy I experienced when I first heard, there’s more room for you, there’s more room for me, there’s more room for all of us!
When I realize the generosity and breadth of His invitation, I become infected with joy and whimsy and delight. I start wanting to get out the pots and pans, banging them together, making noise for whoever will listen – heck, even stand on a crate at the corner of busy streets with a bullhorn – there’s more room for you! there’s more room for me! there’s more room for all of us!
He wants us to live fully, live loved, live invited. There’s more room for you too.
I used to people-please in every area of my life.
Group projects, blogging, jobs, friendships, career choices – my people-pleasing affected every part of my life. I would do everything I could to keep the people in my life happy, at the detriment of my own health and relationships.
I would nurture toxic relationships because I thought self-sacrifice to my breaking point was good. I can think of many one-sided friendships in the past, where my people-pleasing need was taken advantage of. I would sit for hours upon hours with people who manipulated me emotionally. They knew the weakness that I was too blind to see. They knew that my need to people-pleasing for my own satisfaction would keep me doing what they asked me to do. They knew that if I ever stopped giving in to their words, I would be wreaked with guilt.
At the sight of conflict, I would try even harder with kind words and acts of service to win the person over. The first year when I was a Residence Don, there was one individual on my floor who I knew did not like me. She was frustrated that people would talk in the common room while she was trying to study on a weekend, and she was frustrated that my efforts to balance her needs and their needs didn’t result in the solution she wanted. Every floor event or casual encounter resulted in her displaying an apathetic attitude. I would go out of my way to connect with her, including baking cookies and trying to win her over with notes checking in with how she was doing. I felt like my work wasn’t valuable unless every person in my floor community liked me and appreciated me.
When I received my mid-year evaluation, I noticed that in every category everyone else had checked off “Agree” and “Strongly Agree” for positive traits, but someone had occasionally checked off “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree”. Those red marks on a page tormented me inside. I couldn’t see that my work was positive for the overwhelming majority. I read the survey results repeatedly, trying to find a pattern in the results that could indicate who the person was that checked off the “Disagrees”. I swore that I would try even harder to win them over.
Fast forward a year. I had a very complicated community spread out over two floors in an all-girls residence. The year began with some tension between a few girls on the floor, especially between two of the girls. Neither of them were willing to compromise or work with each other. The situation quickly escalated out of hand when things happened one night where alcohol was involved. Some of the girls came to me with their side of the story, which I wrote down as a report. The other girls came to me a week later with their side of the story. When the two stories didn’t match, I left the situation in the hands of my manager.
The result was not what the first group of girls expected, and when it was announced, I remember seeing the one girl tearing up in the hallway. I invited her to talk with me in my apartment, and I assured her that what she was feeling was okay. After sitting down and talking the results through, she looked at me in the eye and said these words:
“You’re not fair and you don’t care about me. You betrayed me.”
At this point, I had sacrificed copious amounts of sleep, energy and time to help them navigate the situation, and had advocated for their side endlessly. I couldn’t help the tears that immediately streamed down my face as she said those words. I had failed at people-pleasing. I wanted her to like me so badly, to appreciate me for the work I had done on her behalf, and to know that I cared about her. I wanted her to know that I was fair, and that I was on her side.
If I failed at making someone happy or if someone did not like me, it nearly killed me inside.
I remember lying on the carpet that night. She left my apartment soon after that statement, and I checked my email to discover that her father had cc’ed me on an email addressed to my manager. I broke down. Lightheaded and shaking, I cried uncontrollably on the floor in fetal position. I couldn’t move or breathe. My raison d’être – the reason why I did that job and had satisfaction in life – was crushed. I was perceived as being unjust, uncaring and capable of betrayal.
I barely remember much else of that night except for asking my friend to come over and sobbing into her shoulder. I didn’t know how to manage my emotions. People-pleasing was so intrinsic to my identity that when I failed to make someone happy or meet their expectations, my identity fell apart.
I have many more stories (some still very recent and tender) of situations where I tied people-pleasing to my identity and then found myself questioning everything I am when I fail. I struggled with this painful reality this afternoon, when I found out that a couple of my former staff had approached my supervisor recently about the fact that I had firm boundaries for my work and life, which resulted in them not feeling as though I was there for them 24/7. Though I had the utmost support of my supervisors in my decisions to keep work and life separate, my heart still sunk when I realized some people on my team didn’t think of me well. I instantly compared myself with my colleagues and I wondered what I had done wrong to fail in this regard.
It took reflection, talking with a friend and writing this down that I’m able to begin processing the mess I have inside. I am insecure, and I want others’ praise and affection. I want to be needed. I want to make others happy for their good but also so that I can derive satisfaction from their affection towards me. I have tied people-pleasing so closely to my identity that I cannot set healthy emotional boundaries.
But He is more.
He has redeemed me from death (Ephesians 1:7); chosen me for His own to bear fruit (John 15:16). He knew me before I was born, knitting me together in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5/Psalm 139:13). He loved me before I could do anything to deserve His love, loving me by His grace instead of my works (Rom. 11:6). He has cast out all fear in His perfect love for me (1 John 4:18). He loves me with a love that nothing can destroy – demons, angels, death, life and all the powers in creation (Romans 8:38).
By the blood of Jesus, He has given me a new identity: loved, precious and valuable. I too often forget about the treasure He has made me. I forget that I don’t have to earn His love or make my identity about pleasing other people. Making an idol out of pleasing people, I began to value their opinions about my identity over the opinion of the One who is actually God. He has significant work for me to do – loving Him with everything and loving people as myself. I still have a lot to learn about this love, but I know that people-pleasing is not it.
How does one admit that they are distant from God? If they are struggling with perceived silence from God, then what can they do? Do they sit and wait for God to reach out to them first? Does opening the holy book they are struggling to open restart the conversation? Does sitting in the quiet, continuing to pour out words open the doors?
It’s not that I doubt my faith. He is and will remain the centre of my life. It’s that – somehow – in the busyness of life, the experiencing of God stopped. Suddenly, songs that led me to worship Him became just words and notes. Prayers feel ritualized, with a specific formula – adoration, thanksgiving, forgiveness and petition… and not a conversation between a Father and daughter. The head knowledge is there, and I can still talk, read and think about theology, but the relationship is suffering in silence.
Even in silence, I used to write about this journey with God. Writing became very difficult, partially because I didn’t want to own up to this mess going on inside. How do you communicate to others that you’re struggling with God? How do you put the words together to say that you can’t seem to open your Bible or have an authentic conversation with God, especially after months and months of journeying through the land of milk and honey?
I am struggling with this silence, and I’m at a loss. My words are only barely tumbling out as I write this. One thing I do know – He never changes. Though I am struggling, He is constant, forever the same.
He loves me, and that’s all I know today. That’s quite enough for today.