January 6, 2016

On Productivity and People Pleasing

In the past few months, I have begged to hear from God. You may remember, as I've told you before here and here, that on an otherwise nondescript day in October I came up against a brick wall that left me shattered. It was as if God Himself had stepped in front of me, stopping me in my tracks and jarring me into seeing a stark reality of myself--where I am, where I've been, and where, if I was not careful, I was headed.

That's all very vague and hazy, I realize, and that's what it felt to me too, even though I was the one living it. Which is why I've begged to hear from God.
I knew He was there; He has been all along. I knew He was the one stopping me in my tracks, and I knew instinctively it was His love and care for me that undergirded the movement of His hand. But I couldn't distinguish His voice among the cacophony of this life I've built for myself. I couldn't hear Him, even though I was in the Word daily and praying for relief. I couldn't undo the restlessness in my heart. All I knew for sure was that I was to wait.

Waiting and being still are not my natural dispositions. I am constantly on the move. My mantra, if I had one, would be something about productivity. Onward and upward! No time wasted!

And, so, my prayer to hear from God came from a place of, "What do you want me to do?" Perhaps He meant for me to release a ministry or incorporate something new into my schedule. Perhaps it was a priorities issue or a needed change in focus.

But I have felt His unraveling of something far greater than what is on my to-do list. He has been after something that I've known about for 39 years--in other words, all my life--but that I've felt helpless to change.

My people-pleasing.

I have lived for 39 years for the eyes of others, in all the iterations people-pleasing takes. I've wanted to impress, to be admired, to be noticed, to be loved, and to be liked. But most of all I have not wanted to disappoint. I've done anything to avoid disappointing.

I haven't wanted to acknowledge it to myself, but I have long braided my high-capacity for productivity together with my desire to make people happy. In other words, I've generally been able to keep the plates spinning and perform for the approval of others.

The brick wall was an affront to all of that. My energy fell to a snail's pace. My children, who are generally never sick, have been consistently sick for weeks on end since early November, with everything from pneumonia to consecutive viruses to simultaneous stomach bugs. I had to back out of lots of things, and in all of the backing, face the discomfort of disappointing people and, most of all, disappointing myself.

But this is what I know now: I have not disappointed my God with my lack of productivity. This stopping, this slowing to a snail's pace, has all been according to His sovereign hand. He is not as interested in what I do in His name as He is interested in my heart having its greatest joy: Him.

And so He has forced me to face my twin idols of productivity and people-pleasing, to unbraid what I've twisted together.

I keep thinking I'll reach a point when I'll hear from Him that this has all been about a decision or something I need to release. But there is no destination. I know He is asking me to live in a whole new way.

One day when I was half-asleep, the word "molting" popped into my head. That's it exactly: I am being asked to shed a way of life where self and people are my idols and to live as I've actually been created to live.

I want this molting, even though it has been very uncomfortable so far. On certain occasions, I've literally obsessed over the idea of disappointing people. But if I'm honest with myself, I see that, before the brick wall, I'd reached a point of desperation. I was desperately tired, desperately numb, and desperately desiring to have my joy back. I wasn't enjoying my life--not my children, not my writing, not my ministry, and not even the people I was trying so hard to please.

Idols are lifeless, they cannot inflate us with joy.

Another word that has been on my mind lately is "absurd". One of our elders at church, in his sermon,  said that we don't often hear from God because He asks us to do absurd things, and we don't want to do absurd things. To submit to a quiet waiting before the Lord, to not be productive, feels absolutely foreign to me. It feels absurd. But I know that I know that I know that God is asking for my quiet waiting as a reverential step of faith, because it flies in the face of the idols that want my worship back.

These words--"molting" and "absurd"--are following me into the new year. I find myself online, reading everyone's words and goals and resolutions and questions to end/start the year. (Heavens, we are a productive bunch.) I'm drawn to those same kind of things. I want to do those things. But I know me, and God knows me too, and every time I think I'll tackle them, God nudges me. Just wait. 

I'm starting to get down to the core of things, although I sense I have quite a ways to go. The main thing I had forgotten is that I am loved by my Father, and that forgetfulness has led me into all sorts of dysfunction. In the waiting, in the absurd and uncomfortable molting, I'm starting to reawaken to the truth of His love, and my heart is responding with proper worship.

In the past few months, in any quiet moment my mind would turn restless and searching, almost panicking for answers. But now in quiet moments, I go back to the simple truth and repeat it in my mind until it sinks in: I am a loved child of God. That is all that I need to be.

In that truth I am molting and coming alive to joy again.