In a moment of frustration, The words flooded out of my mouth before my filter could grab them: “I just want to figure out a way to live life without leaving a deficit!” What was that? I stood there puzzled, silent for a few seconds, realizing that I had just articulated a deeply seated belief, staring at the words as they hung boldly in space. “Well, that is impossible,” I thought out loud. I quickly added that not only was this notion impossible, but expecting such a life for anyone would be unkind, unfair, and even dehumanizing. Yet, I had in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, placed this expectation on myself.
I wanted a zero-negative life, where my choices and actions would never cause a ripple in the pond.
Living in that calm pond takes a great deal of careful planning so each decision is beneficial to others and definitely NOT causing a negative effect. It means rarely spending money on things that are of individual value, and instead spending money only on things the whole family would enjoy. It means planning the weekly menu and leaving out of the rotation your favorite dish because no one else really likes it that much. It means canceling evening plans with a good friend because at the last minute, the husband looks tired and you don’t want to burden him with the bedtime routine. It means waiting to relax with time for yourself until everyone is in bed and the house is picked up. This is a no-deficit, zero-negative life.
The lie's promise is that by not “putting out” your family and close friends, you will feel peaceful, calm, well-adjusted, confident and have a sense of happiness. Putting others first makes you a good person. The reality is, we earn back just the opposite; we end up being pretty angry and cranky instead of the “good person” we set out to be.
We experience false guilt that nags at our stomach without remission. We are indecisive and second-guessers long after coming to a decision. We struggle with self-pity over our lack of freedom and grow increasingly resentful toward the people we love, wondering why they take advantage of our kindness, neglecting to notice our sacrifices and selfishly accepting our constant offers. We become exhausted because we are rarely relaxed, as it is a great deal of work constantly assessing the needs of others and arranging our life choices and actions in alignment with what we perceive they would prefer.
The refreshing truth that is often taken as common knowledge by some, but eludes those who struggle with these tendencies toward people pleasing: God actually expects us to look out for our own interests.
Philippians 2:4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The Apostle Paul's text shows that both are important – my interests are important; and other people’s interests are important. The letter doesn’t state, “It’s selfish of you to have interests of your own; so spend your life making other people your only priority.”
I remember as a child in my home and church the J.O.Y. acronym. J.O.Y. taught that we will have joy in life by loving Jesus First, Others Second, and Yourself Last. I can't count the number of times a well meaning adult admonished me with these words, "Remember! Joy means yourself last!" The needs and interests of others can be endless. Waiting until all the others are served before enjoying any of life for myself meant I was exhausted and serving from lack, not from abundance. The J.O.Y principle is simple and catchy, but is it truly what God desires for us, to continually meet the needs of others before ourselves? Consider Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” He doesn’t say, “I hope you have a little joy, but only after you make sure you've served everyone else up.” He says, “I hope you overflow.” Overflow - abundance - abounding joy!
Freedom from the fear of disappointing others and liberty from the guilt of self-care can be ours if we learn to embrace that God cares for us, desires for us to have enjoyment in life, and doesn’t put us in charge of the feelings and happiness of others. We are to carry each others burdens, but also reminded that each of us is to carry our own load. This is the balance.
A life of full-impact for God means we serve from abundance, free from shame, enjoying the real joy and peace that comes from trusting God, not the imitation stuff that comes from trying to constantly please others.