Embracing awkwardness

“Would you consider yourself a people pleaser?”, Elaine asked me.

The word “absolutely” couldn’t come out of my mouth fast enough. “Absolutely, yes. I want to make everyone happy, and I hate it when people are upset with me. Sometimes, if I know someone is mad, it makes me physically ill.”, I said.

Elaine looked at me with sympathetic, understanding eyes. I could tell that was the answer she expected. “Am I a stereotypical oldest child, or what?”, I asked, laughing at what a text book case I was. She smiled, and laughed a little too. “Yes, you certainly have a lot of the characteristics we typically find in the oldest child of a large family. It’s natural to want to make people happy, but sometimes when you’re the oldest child you feel like you have to be good all the time, almost like you’re auditioning for something. You feel like one wrong move, and you botch the performance.”

Everything she said made perfect sense to me. Since before I can remember I always felt like I had to be good, like I had to do everything right so that people would like me. Whether it was friendships or my parents or my job. It didn’t matter, I would bend over backwards to make people like me. “Sarah”, she said. I quickly snapped out of my nostalgic moment. “I understand why you don’t like it when people are mad at you. No one really likes that. But there has to come a time when you understand that you can’t make everyone happy, that no matter how hard you try, you’re always going to let someone down. You have to be able to come to the place where you know someone is mad at you, you experience the awkwardness of it, and you’re ok with it. Not that you have to enjoy it, but you just accept it and don’t let it affect the way you see yourself.”

“But I don’t wanna”, I whined.

She smiled understandingly, “I know Sarah, we never want to let people down, and awkwardness is incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s a part of life. And Sarah, you aren’t called to please people. There is this misconception that as Christians, the bible tells us to keep peace, but the bible never says that. It says we are to be peace makers. In other words, as much as we can, we do our part to create peace, but it isn’t up to us to keep it.”

At this point my mind was officially blown, that made so much sense to me. All my life I had been trying to make peace and keep it. I spent 22 years trying to accommodate people and their unrealistic demands, because I thought it was my job. I thought I was called to make them happy. But, it isn’t, my job is to please one person in all I do, and that’s God. Just Him. The end. I am called to do what I can to be at peace with people, I can take away the hurt or anger on my end, I can extend them grace, but I can’t make them forgive me or like me.

This truth has completely changed the way I see some of my relationships. I will continue to admit when I am wrong, I will continue to do what I can, within reason, to fix the mistakes I make. But once I do that, then all I can do is sit, sometimes in awkwardness, and just let the person be mad at me, because their anger doesn’t make me less, my identity isn’t found in their opinion of me. When I seek to please people, it’s because I am looking for them to affirm who I am as a person. I am looking for them to tell me that I’m ok, that they accept me. But here’s the thing, my affirmation doesn’t come from people. In the end, their opinion of me doesn’t matter, because I already know who I am. The jury is back, the verdict is in, and my identity is already set in stone. I am loved, cherished, and forgiven. So in the face of awkwardness, and disappointment, and even anger, I am choosing instead to remember what’s true and what’s false. The truth is God loves me and anything that contradicts that is a lie.