Whom Am I Trying to Please?

Many of you will have seen the 1998 Disney animated film, ‘Mulan’. Or you may have listened to the movie’s soundtrack, ‘Reflection’.

The song is performed as Mulan returns home after a humiliating attempt to impress her matchmaker. The lyrics express how Mulan feels about wanting to show the world who she really is and her fear of disappointing her family. Mulan then heads for the family temple where she removes her makeup to reveal her true appearance.

‘Reflection’ is a song that I’ve listened to countless times but it was only recently when I heard it again that the lyrics took on a different meaning. The song calls to mind this question – do we also hide our true selves behind a mask while we seek the approval of others to feel better about ourselves?

Perhaps like me, you may have once fallen into the trap of being a ‘people pleaser’. As a teenager and even as I started my career, I wanted everyone to like me. I was motivated by the positive reinforcement and praise I received when I gained someone’s approval. I attached my self-worth to what people thought of me and more often than not, said ‘yes’ to everything in an effort to please and impress.

Do you fall into a similar pattern of behavior?

Whether it’s at home, at school, in the workplace or even in church – we crave acceptance from others because we want to feel validated and worthy. We snap at our kids or parents for making us ‘lose face’ or look bad in front of others. We accept an unrealistic deadline from our boss because we’re afraid of being seen as unable to deliver. We choose not to speak about our Catholic faith to others for fear of being labelled as being ‘too holy’.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong with having a desire to be accepted and appreciated. In fact, without the affirmation of others we will never fully blossom into our full potential. But when this need for approval starts to dominate our lives and we start to lose sight of who we are and who God created us to be, then it’s time to take a step back and ask ourselves – whose opinion really matters more, God or man?

It was years before I finally broke free from this pattern of trying to please others all the time.  I realized that in diminishing my self-worth, I wasn’t allowing myself to become the person I truly am – a child of God, uniquely created and perfect in His eyes.

Scripture shows us that we only need just one audience and

at the end of the day it is His stamp of approval that truly matters  – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

I am your consoler, why then should you be afraid of mortal human beings, of a child of man, whose fate is that of the grass?’ – Isaiah 51:12

So yes, the most important person we need to please is God our Almighty Father and the only standard we really have to live up to is the one Jesus calls us to in a relationship with Him.

It is a standard that challenges us to :

(Mark 12: 30-31)

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength;
  2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

When we make God our focus and love Him first, this love will fuel our desire to walk in obedience to Him. And in order to answer to the Lord’s call to love others as we love ourselves, we need to start to living in love with Jesus.

This means spending meaningful time with Him daily in prayer and scripture study, receiving Him frequently in Holy Communion and going for confessions regularly. There are no shortcuts to building a deeper relationship with our Lord.

If you persevere and remain consistent with these spiritual exercises, you will experience more and more of His love and before you know it, you will no longer feel the pressure to please others. This then, is your key to freedom from ‘people pleasing’ and opens the door instead to ‘God pleasing’.

For what could possibly be greater than the love of God which is everlasting?

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love and so I still maintain my faithful love for you.’ Jeremiah 31:3