As a blogger, one of the biggest temptations is to become fixated on likes, shares, and views, and to write everything so that it gets the most of them possible. Social media and the internet provide the ultimate feedback system, with instant knowledge of whether or not something was well received. The hard part is criticism, and the temptation is to avoid it at all costs. Writing, after all, is an act of vulnerability, exposing your innermost thoughts for thousands to either approve of or tear apart. And boy can it be hard when you get torn apart.
But our desire for approval, and fear of disapproval, is not limited to the internet or to bloggers. It is a human problem. Every day, we feel a desire to shape who we are and what we do based on the praise or criticism of others. Whether its in the workplace, school, or with our friends and loved ones, one of the most painful feelings is that of rejection, and we avoid it all costs.
Living for Likes
In one sense, this is only natural. Humans are social creatures that want to be liked, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Yet, this desire for praise and approval can all too can become an obsession, a disease, an idol. It is a serious problem when who we are is not determined by anything inside of ourselves, much less our relationship with our Creator, but by the ever shifting judgments of others; when our conduct is not determined by higher principles, but by how it might be perceived.
The real test is when the desire to please others puts us in conflict with pleasing God, which it inevitably will. Following Christ always contradicts the world in one way or another. It will always provoke frowns and cynical comments, criticisms, negativity, or even outright mockery and humiliation. In a real way, this negativity can cause pain. If it is severe enough, it could resemble an emotional martyrdom of sorts, especially if the disapproval is received from those we love and care about most.
The question is, who do we want to please more, God or men? Will we shrink back and change like a chameleon to blend in? Will we apologize and capitulate? Or will we courageously stand firm like the great saints and martyrs? How we answer those questions will reveal much about our hearts.
At the root of our desire to please is self-love, also known as pride. Self-love infects everything and distorts it, and this is no less true of our desire to be liked. The sting we feel when others criticize or mock us is our deep rooted love-of-self flinching in pain. And because this is true, the only way to overcome and be free from the sickness of people-pleasing is to steep ourselves in humility.
The truly humble man is dead to the praise or criticism of others. He is entirely indifferent if he receives the Nobel prize or is lynched by a mob. One question, and one question only drives the way he lives: Have I pleased my Lord Jesus Christ who loved me and gave himself for me?
How far nearly all of us are from this humble freedom and indifference! At this first hint of criticism, we recoil and shrink back. We modify, qualify, and retract. We have no courage, no inner fortitude, or at least not nearly enough.
The only way to break free of the bondage of pleasing others is to learn to accept everything, even humiliation, at their hands. Be willing to carry the cross of criticism, to bear the pain of rejection and mockery. To pray for your persecutors, while not bending to please them.
And when the pain of rejection and shame sears your heart, remember your crucified Lord, who endured the shame of the Cross, despising it to obtain your salvation. He too was mocked, stripped naked, scoffed at, derided and utterly humiliated in every way; abandoned by his closest friends, rejected by those he came to save, and exposed for all the world to laugh at.
But you know what? He loved you more. He endured the cross of shame to save the very ones who subjected him to this humiliation, crying out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And that includes you.
Living to please others is a very real form of bondage. It enslaves and destroys. The only way to be liberated is to carry our crosses and submit to the shame of pleasing God over men. We must learn to love our Savior more than praise and approval, for only then will we be truly free.