Not long ago, my husband, Todd, and I were in therapy and I was crying over one of the seven thousand things our therapist managed to unearth in my heart. At one point, she mentioned how I often feel paralyzed by the expectations of other people. There have been times people put unrealistic pressure on me, expecting for me to be happy or confident or strong or wise or available or have my life together, and I crumbled. Other times, I assume people have various expectations of me, even if they don’t, and I crumble. Either way, the fear of disappointing people (affectionately known as people pleasing) has recently played an unexpected role in my life.
This time last year, I was living in Nashville, interviewing for a full-time ministry position I’d soon accept, and hadn’t even met my husband. Now I’m five months into marriage, living in Atlanta, and totally, do-I-even-remember-how-to-get-a-job, unemployed. Some days I feel like Rocky Balboa after he climbed those stairs in Pennsylvania, complete with inspirational music blasting in the background. Other days I want to collapse into bed and watch a thousand episodes of The Great British Baking Show because everything is changing. Quickly. Drastically.
I’m changing in ways I never anticipated. From the things I like to the ways I delegate my time to the money I spend. My relationships and dreams and priorities are different. My thoughts tend to gravitate towards things like building a foundation for my future children. Setting a peaceful tone in my home. Trying to cook. Going to sleep early. Learning to be at peace with myself when I’m alone and Todd’s on the road and I don’t have plans. Letting go of the expectations I held over my first year of marriage and my 25th year of life. Gratefully living in the reality God has given me.
My therapist says the changes I’m experiencing are not only normal, but good. Still I can’t help but feel that I’m disappointing people in the process.
I keep having flashbacks from the last five years, sitting at various wedding receptions with a group of friends saying things like, “Well, that’s the last time we’ll see them again” or “They’re about to fall off the planet!” And as a single woman fresh out of college, I was certain I’d never do the same thing when I got married. Certain I’d maintain a huge social life, even though the majority of my friends were men. Certain I’d be my good ole self, while also being married, while also moving cities, while also changing jobs. The expectations I had on myself and others were unrealistic.
It reminds me of a tweet I read the other day from one of my favorite pastors— “How highly we think of ourselves!” And it’s true. When we were in high school, we’d roll our eyes at our college friends who started drinking and partying and changing overnight. In college, we couldn’t imagine how someone with a degree could still be working at a coffee shop. After college, we got annoyed by our married friends who would choose to spend time with each other at home instead of spending a hundred dollars at the movies with their friends. We are positive our kids won’t act THAT way in public. Certain our marriages won’t have THOSE problems. Convinced our opinions and lifestyle and priorities will never change; that we’ll always keep the same routines and jobs and personality traits.
Please hear this from me (and my therapist and Jesus): You don’t have to bear the burden to change in a way that pleases people. You will change and you’re supposed to change because life changes you. Your only job is to please God, knowing he is already, in the most mysterious and freeing and grace-filled way, pleased with you.
Here are my encouragements for anyone experiencing change:
If you’re the one changing, it’s a good indicator that you’re paying attention to your life. Many people are going to be resistant and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Be gentle with them and move forward in obedience to God’s calling for you. At the end of your life, you won’t stand before your friends or parents or family and give an account for your life. You will stand before God. Prioritize his voice and do your best.
If people around you are changing and you feel uncomfortable or afraid or upset by it, I understand. Really. Change hurts. Most of my friends in college were guys, and as they got married, I lost some sweet, sweet relationships. Some of them moved away. Others started jobs that led them into different social circles. While your pain is valid, remember their transition is not directed at you. None of your friends got up and moved cities for graduate school to inflict pain on you. They’re doing their best in navigating the life God has given them, just as you’re doing your best with the life God has given you. Be gentle and release your expectations, allowing them to be who and where they are.
Today, I am praying for myself and for anyone reading this, that we will be able to view change through the lens of grace, kindness, and surrender. That we will not be intimidated by the opinions of others. That we will have grace towards those who are changing in ways we don’t understand. That we will not give way to fear, but rather embrace growth, knowing our Father has a beautiful blueprint for us all.