“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9 (NIV)
When I was in my early 20s, there was nothing I disliked more than conflict.
I didn’t vocalize my opinion even when I felt strongly. I danced around needed conversations or boundaries because of fear surrounding what would happen to the relationship or what someone would think of me. I became a “stuff it and smile” kind of girl.
What I didn’t know then, which I have learned now, is this: The problem with pretending to be fine when we're really not is that all that pent-up steam will eventually come out. And if you've ever held your hand too close to steam, you know how it can burn.
On the outside it may have looked like I was just conflict averse, but on the inside there was a deep-rooted people-pleasing trap I had stepped into.
Years later, I still fumble through this. I still don’t enjoy conflict by any means. I still struggle with wanting to please people more than I should. And as I’ve examined this, I’ve asked myself over and over: What am I truly wrestling with? What am I so unsure of? What is the great dread in my soul? Besides just fearing other people will walk away from me, what is the deeper fear driving all of this?
Maybe it’s deeper than just my fear of someone rejecting me because of a conflict that didn’t go well. Maybe I fear I must get from people what I am unsure God will provide for me. And if I fear God’s provision is incomplete, I must fill in that gap with other people or I won’t make it in this big, sometimes scary, often threatening and always chaotic world.
Therefore, I’ve made people the answer to my security rather than God Himself. I’ve made rationalizations to avoid conflict and upsetting others, hoping this will bring me the peace I really long for.
It’s an inverted security that only makes us more and more insecure with every realization that people aren’t designed for or capable of filling in the gaps of our doubts about God. The smoke screen is “I don’t want to appear unkind or unchristian by stirring up conflict with my ‘no’ or setting a necessary boundary.” But the raw truth is we will always desperately want from other people what we fear we will never get from God.
Trying to please people won’t ultimately satisfy us or the other person, and it certainly doesn’t please God.
Even when we look at the life of Jesus, He did so many amazing and sacrificial acts of love for others. He fed people, washed their feet, taught them, comforted them, and modeled a different way to act and think. But He didn’t do it so people would fill a need in Him. He served from a place of fullness, not for a feeling of fullness. (Matthew 20:28)
Jesus was obedient to God and loved people well. He didn’t people-please, hoping to be well liked and accepted by everyone. And when people didn’t like what He had to say and they walked away from Him — and many people did — He didn’t drop His boundaries, chase the people down, and beg them to take Him back. Jesus loved people enough to give them the choice to walk away.
What does all of this have to do with our own fear of conflict? Everything.
God calls us to obey Him. God does not call us to obey every wish and whim of other people and keep them happy at all costs. God calls us to love other people. God does not call us to demand that they love us back and meet every need we have.
If we are afraid someone will think poorly of us, potentially abandon us or try to make us feel crazy when we speak up about something, chances are that, without wise boundaries, they will eventually do all three of these things to us.
So how can we stop being afraid of conflict and step away from unhealthy people-pleasing? We can start by breathing in the words of Jesus in John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” When we remember we are loved by God, we can remain in His love. We can allow this truth to inform our thoughts and actions. Knowing we’re loved, we can prayerfully consider needed conversations or necessary boundaries in our relationships. We can pursue a healthier approach to inevitable conflicts we all deal with, facing issues with grace and humility. Knowing we’re loved, we can release the fear and anxiety people-pleasing breeds in us.
Ultimately, knowing we’re loved by God allows us to live without carrying the weight of what others think of us.
I don’t know about you, but I want to live like I’m loved today. Will you join me, friend?
Heavenly Father, please remind me of how much You love me so I’m less tempted to turn to others for things I really should be turning to You for. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me through Your Word today. Help me make progress in my fear of conflict and also take an honest inventory of needed conversations or necessary boundaries I may be avoiding. Thank You for not leaving me to figure this out alone. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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Has the fear of letting other people down swayed you away from drawing boundaries you know are needed? Lysa TerKeurst understands this struggle and wants to help you make 2023 the year of better, healthier relationships. That’s why she’s inviting you to join our free, six-week Online Bible Study through her new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes. The study begins on January 23, so order your copy and sign up for the study today! Sign up here.
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John 15:11, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (NIV)
How could releasing the fear of conflict lead to greater joy in your life and relationships? Share with us in the comments.
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