Serving cross-culturally adds an entirely new dimension to people pleasing, and for those of us who struggle with wanting to please others, the pressure can be immense, especially when our income is dependent on the generosity of others.
When I was raising support and reporting to supporting churches, I tried to focus on sharing my ministry, but deep down I desired people to like me, to want to continue or to begin partnering with me. And, of course, once they partnered with me financially, I “needed” to continue to please them. At times this meant spending extra time answering questions for a church newsletter or a child in Awana. Other times this meant meeting people for a meal or driving hours to speak for minutes. Yes, these were all part of my job description, and I was thankful for the opportunities to share and for the prayers and financial support.
However, on occasion there were emails that I struggled with knowing how to honestly respond to and awkward dinner conversations with people I didn’t know at all but who felt as though they knew me extremely well.
The pressure to please those around me wasn’t reserved for people in my passport country. No, I wanted teammates to like me and to want to work alongside me. I wanted the people in my new country to enjoy my company and to build friendships with me. And for the majority of my time overseas, this was true. I had teammates who cared about me and invested in my life, who were incredible to work alongside, and whom I could be myself with.
But the last couple of years of my time overseas, I struggled. I wanted to please my teammates and my national co-workers, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I attempted to adjust my expectations and role on the team without compromising my values or who I was, I couldn’t please them. I knew they didn’t dislike me, but I also knew they weren’t happy with who I was, with what my strengths were. Once someone told me he wished I was more like someone else, and while this was said in a joking manner, my heart was crushed by those words. In that moment I knew I would never please my team.
Being who others want us to be seems simple, yet the strain of being someone else takes its toll emotionally, mentally and physically. When I realized no matter what I did, I wouldn’t please those around me, I began to focus on how to stop worrying about what others thought of me. I knew I needed to continue to serve well without compromising who I was while still respecting and loving others. This required hard work in my heart and mind and in my words and actions.
My first step was remembering who I was in Christ. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV) ran through my mind and helped me focus on what was true. God had created me for good works, and while my good works didn’t always please those around me, the goal was to please God, not men.
My second step was praying for wisdom in how I interacted with teammates. My desire was to serve well, even though I was struggling with being a part of a team I couldn’t please. I spent time praying through Scripture, praying for wisdom in how I spoke and how I reacted to situations. I prayed for God to provide opportunities for me to serve Him and for the strength to be myself and not compromise who He created me to be in order for people to like me.
My third step was focusing on my strengths. While I wasn’t the athletic extrovert a teammate wanted me to be, my administrative skills were a benefit to the team. And I was able to build solid friendships with multiple young adult women because I took time to focus on specific relationships, not on making a host of friends. At times I became distracted by my weaknesses and all of the ways I didn’t make others happy. My mom was my greatest cheerleader and regularly encouraged me by reminding me of all I was doing and of all of the lives I was impacting.
While I wish my last couple of years overseas broke me of my need to please people, I still struggle with longing for others to like me. However, reentry with its “I’m not sure who I am if I’m not a cross-cultural worker” dilemma has left me constantly wondering what people think of what I say and do. (This is another post entirely!) As I was working on this post, my husband read me the following prayer:
“Father in heaven, you are the only one whose judgment matters in the end. What men think of us can burden or brighten our days. But it is of little account in the end.” (Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper, p. 69)
How I long for this to be my daily attitude towards pleasing others. How I long to always have the eternal instead of the temporal in view.
How has people pleasing impacted your life overseas or as you’ve returned to your passport culture?