Trolls on the Bridge: How to Keep Negative Feedback from Shredding Your Heart

I recently read this quote by Allen Arnold and it resonated deeply. “If God is pleased with your latest creation but the world ignores it, how do you feel? The answer reveals who you are creating for.”

thumbs up

Excellent question. I fall into this trap far too often. I hope people like what I’ve written. This new blog was a step out of my comfort zone. Will people read it? Will they like it? This doesn’t even have to revolve around writing. This could be about any situation. The secret fear is, “Will they approve what I offer? Will they approve of me?”

So many of us say we are living, breathing, creating, and doing for an Audience of One, but the truth is, when our creative offering is ignored by the masses, we suffer hurt. Disappointment. We may even feel insignificant or devalued. Such a reaction tells us the true condition of our heart.

What’s worse? Not having our creation ignored but having it, or perhaps even our very person, attacked. Ouch.

ecclesiastes 7 5Let me stop here and say I’m not talking about constructive criticism, although for some, any kind of criticism feels like destructive criticism. Wearing our feelings on our sleeve about something we create isn’t healthy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard early on when beginning my writing career came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “What you create, whether it be your book, your story, an article, whatever it is…that thing is not your baby. It is a product. You are not what you create.”

Great advice, and an excellent way to keep the sting from burning too deeply when criticism need be applied. And trust me, it will. No one is born the expert in their field. No one.
Constructive criticism is intended to build up. It’s based on love and wants the best for the other person. Destructive criticism wants only to harm. Its intent is to destroy, and is usually birthed out of jealousy or fear. So when you’ve been hit with negative feedback, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the source. There are four types of feedback sources.

  1. Lovers  

flatteryThese guys love everything you produce, say, and do. They love you. More of you 24-7. Of course, they would never dream of giving you negative feedback so they aren’t pertinent to our chat today, but beware. You should still take their gushing praise with a grain of salt. Don’t let it give you a big head. “…a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28)

 

 

  1. Critics

More or less, critics are people who are educated in the creative product you’ve released. They have opinions that are subjective but carefully thought out about why they do or don’t like something, how aspects could be improved, etc. Good critics should be about the product, not the person behind it. Constructive criticism from a critic can be extremely valuable. Just remember their opinion is subjective.

  1. Trolls

trollAh, here is where things get messy. Trolls will hit you with all kinds of negative feedback. They don’t like your product because blah, blah, blah. Some criticisms may seem legit, some utterly ridiculous and hurtful. In the midst of their barbs, it may become apparent to you these guys have never even read or used your product. What?!

Trolls are internet drama feeders. They love stirring up fights because they find it amusing. They will go after your creation, and possibly, after you just for the shock value of it. As a friend of mine recently put it, “Trolls are just looking for a goat to cross their bridge.” Someone to torture. Someone to mess with. Although it seems they are quite hostile towards you, they are probably indifferent. They really don’t care about you at all, one way or the other. They are just looking for some drama-induced excitement in their too-dull lives. feed the trolls

Word of advice: Don’t feed the trolls. Do not engage with them. Don’t try to make them like you. They are out for one thing: drama. You feed a troll, and they’ll keep hanging around the bridge. Starve a troll, and they’ll look for some other place to feed.

  1. Haters muppet haters

As a recovering people pleaser, this one hurts, but it’s true. There will be some people that hate you. There I said it. Let it sink in. They will hate you for no other reason than that. It’s usually based out of some sort of jealousy, but perhaps not. Maybe it’s a wound they are struggling with and you’re an easy target. Whatever the reason, there will be people that don’t like you. They will say the meanest, most nasty, soul-cutting things to you. You’ll have a choice in that moment whether to believe what they say about you and your worth or reject it. (Remember this: a lie can only harm us if we believe it.)

john 15 18You are not what you create. You were lovingly fashioned and knit together by God, designed for a purpose before you ever drew a breath. Haters spew venom because they have no love nor light. Trolls linger on bridges, but none of it changes one thing between you and the Author of Life.

Press on. Pray for those who hurt you. Love with abandon, even those trolls and haters. They must hurt deeply to have so much acid spill out. Here’s a thought: every time you’re confronted with hurtful feedback, instead of lashing back or wallowing in tears, as we all so often want to do, bow your head and say a prayer for that mean person. Talk about agape love in action.

After all, trolls need Jesus too.

galatians-1-10

Amazon Customer Reviews on the Bible: Putting Criticism into Perspective

3 star review

Receiving a long awaited publishing contract is a euphoric feeling. It’s also terrifying for someone like me, a recovering people-pleaser.

recovering people pleaser

I love absolutely everything about the creative process. From spinning a story world into existence, breathing characters to life or muddling through their spiritual and emotional transformations, I find the entire journey exhilarating. I even love the grueling grind of editing. (Most days, at least.)

With my debut release scheduled for summer of 2018, life is a whirlwind of excitement. Edits and marketing plans, launch teams and beta readers, book covers and website designs. So much to take in. So much that should be overwhelming me. But there’s only one aspect of the coming year that causes my knees to knock. When my amazing author relations manager at Tyndale asked me if there was anything she could pray about for me, I confessed the issue that continues to keep me paralyzed in fear…the dreaded approach of reviews.

fear

Writing is a tough gig, especially when you consider you’re putting your deepest thoughts and musings out for everyone to see. It’s an open invitation for anyone to take a peek inside your most vulnerable, shadowed places. And people, as we all know, judge. For a recovering people pleaser, the very idea is terrifying. The thought of someone not liking my book sinks a stone to the bottom of my stomach. Even worse is the idea of receiving scathing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. My head knows it’s not possible for everyone to think my story is the best thing ever written, but my heart is having a hard time preparing.

As I was wrestling with my fear, I began mulling over the classics. How did the world’s best selling authors react to criticism? As I googled “best selling books of all time”, God reminded me of something very important. I think most of us know what the number one best seller is, right? No, not Gone with the Wind or Ben-Hur or To Kill a Mockingbird. The biggest blockbuster to ever sweep planet earth was, and still is, the Bible.HolyBible

As I sat in my chair, a smile lifted my mouth. What would it be like if the Bible had Amazon reviews? Could you see people writing them in? “I really tried hard to get into this book but all those begats in Matthew 1….what was this guy thinking?” Or maybe, “From a historical perspective, this book was highly accurate but around the section called Judges things got weird. Too gory. Two stars for me. And don’t even get me started on The Song of Solomon.”

Out of curiosity, I braved a look on Amazon. Imagine my amusement to find the Bible has thousands of reviews. Some of them related to binding and aesthetic features from the individual publishing houses, but some actually about its content. Goodreads was even more divisive.

What’s my point?

If God’s perfect, holy, inerrant, divinely-breathed Word receives a wide slew of reviews, ranging from five stars all the way down to a “one star, do not buy”, I have no reason to be ashamed if my book is lumped in as the same. Truth is divisive. Creativity and art attracts some and repels others. What brings life to one may cause another to shrug and walk away. That’s okay. My job is write. God handles the results.

feet

Jesus wasn’t concerned about whether he made everyone happy. The fact is, He spoke the truth at all times, knowing that doing so would deliberately offend the religious hypocrites of the day. So be it. He came to do the will of the Father and only the will of the Father. Nothing more, nothing less.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. This is for any facet of our lives. When God calls us to do something out of our comfort zone, it may be, well, uncomfortable. Sometimes divisive. It may cause people to look at the world in a new way. If I’m worried about whether everyone likes my book or not, I’m missing the point. I cannot find my worth, my value or anything else based on the fickle applause of man. That is an ever changing idol that will leave me empty and wounded…an ever-moving target, impossible to hit.

target and arrow

I write to discover my own shadowed places. I write to please the Author of Life. I write because I love and want to share that love in return. To some, the story will fall on hard hearts and deaf ears. Some will find it a nice tale. Some will find it life-changing. There is beauty in all of it. I need only be faithful.

Thousands may be watching, but I live for an audience, and the approval, of One.

Are you a people pleaser? How has it affected your life? What do you do to combat it on a daily basis? I would love to hear!

 

 

An Open Letter from a Recovering People-Pleaser

I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. After years of exhaustion, of disappointment, of hiding behind my masks, of dark depression, I’ve learned that people pleasing may always be a battle for me. A daily battle. It’s a lie that I believed for far too long—mainly, that approval and love are the same thing. However, as God has peeled back layer after layer of my masks and choices, He has helped me understand that approval and love are not the same thing at all. They are, in fact, polar opposites.

approval vs love

I‘m finally starting to realize my worth in His eyes. I’m tired of shackling myself to others’ expectations when obeying Him is all that matters. I’m tired of being sucked into a spiral of exhaustion when He has promised me rest. I’m tired of living like everyone else’s opinion of me is more important than His. I have no desire to place people, and their approval, as my idol, my focus or my hope any longer.

Jesus created me unique for a special, defined purpose, yet for years I gave away that gift and tried to morph and remake myself in a poorly constructed mold, praying I would be accepted. Loved. Esteemed.

It failed. Over and over again. lecrae

Today, I stand here knowing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe. He sees me. He calls me His daughter. He knows my broken, messy self yet still delights in me. And although He has healed and transformed me in immeasurable ways, there is still a broken place inside me that fights the desire for human approval.

With all that being said, I confess that being a recovering people-pleaser is hard work. It’s a choice I make each day. I have to be proactive—not just for my sake, not just for my family’s sake, but as a child of the King.

Here is my prayerful plea to you…

  1. Respect my boundaries.

Boundaries, saying no, and everything that entails is extremely hard for me. So when I give you a no, even if it sounds timid or unsure, don’t press. Saying no is quite literally the most difficult thing for me to do. It takes an incredible amount of courage and the only reason I would say no is because I’ve learned how much pressure I can take before I crack. I have no desire to collapse in on myself like a dying star. Not again.

I want to be able to help you in the future, but if I don’t find a proper balance of my energy, time and resources, I won’t be able to help anyone. My no, although difficult for me to say, and possibly just as hard for you to hear, benefits us all in the long run.

  1. Manipulation and spiritual abuse are no longer welcome.

Saying you’re disappointed in me for refusing to help you is manipulation. I may have collapsed under these tactics in the past, but no longer. Telling me God told you that I would be great for a certain job is well and good, but unless God has told me the same thing, my answer will be no. I have a living, breathing relationship with Him, just as you do. When this life is over, I will answer to Him and Him alone…not a jury of my peers.

pleasing god vs jury of peers

Please don’t shame me, tear me down or hurt me if my need to say no muddles your well-laid plans. Trust me, I have already tortured myself enough with the reality that I can’t undertake the task, despite my desire to have your approval. Lashing out only makes me resentful about the request, angry at you and angry at myself for being manipulated. I cannot be your rescuer.

  1. Whenever I say ‘yes’ to something, I will have to say ‘no’ to something else.

I have learned that I can’t be everything to everybody. My family is a ministry too—the most important one God has given me. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, a limited amount of resources and a limited amount of energy. My relationship with God is my priority, then my family. Other things, special projects or passions find their place as God moves and directs through different seasons. Sometimes saying ‘yes’ to something that might be good leaves little room to embrace God’s best just around the corner.

  1. Be patient with me when I have to buckle down on boundaries.

Sometimes I turn off the phone because the requests never stop. My battery is empty. My nerves are frayed. My family is demanding my attention. I may have to say ‘no’ or request extended time to pray over a matter. I may even have to turn down several major things that I would like to do because God is telling me they aren’t in His plans…at least, not now.

If I have to squeak out a string of no’s, I’m not trying to sound like a two-year old. I’ve merely learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to fall back into the same old cycles that nearly became my undoing. I must choose wisely. To be healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, I may need to take a step back from time to time. Be patient. It’s only for a season.

  1. Love me, whether I perform well, poorly or not at all.

The common ground sought by people pleasers the world over is this: we have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people. We crave approval, thinking we are unlovable without it.

For too long I sought my worth based on what people told me about myself. But all that matters is what God thinks—and He loved me so much, He gave His own life to redeem me from the land of darkness. jeremiah

It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst…His love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

I will fail you. I’m human. I stumble and fall. Despite my failures, my heart has found peace and contentment in my Savior, and I love the friends He has given to make the journey even more joyful. All I ask is that you love me despite my messy attempts to fly.

With God’s grace, I’ll love you the same.

In true people-pleasing fashion, I ask—is that okay?

Jesus Wasn’t Calling: How I Learned to Walk Away from Perfectionism and Self-Inflicted Martyrdom

Jesus wasn’t calling.

Okay, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus is still in the calling business. Hang with me here and I’ll do my feeble best to try to explain my muddled thoughts.

batman-slapI have to admit it was quite a shock to realize all those years I spent doing and running, spinning my wheels and frantically trying to be a good, little Christian girl for Jesus weren’t for Him at all. They were for me.

When the truth hit, it slapped me hard.

I’ll never forget that night. Curled in on myself, sobbing on the mat of our bathroom floor into the wee hours of the night. My physical body had reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.

drowning

I remember curling the long, soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists and clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to all right, but it wasn’t by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people love me and I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It took awhile for me to realize all those ‘good’ things I was doing, all the activities pulling me away from my family and draining the peace and joy from my walk with God weren’t “callings from Jesus”. They were the hungry cries of a broken girl who desperately needed the approval of people to feel loved. I blamed “Christian service” for my inability to say no, servant-hood for my perfectionism and worse yet, developed a martyr mentality to mask the ever-growing resentment welling up inside.

please love me

Jesus has called us to many things, but living a life where we exchange His rich, vibrant, unconditional love for the weak, oscillating approval of man is not one of them. Excellence is good but trying to sacrificing the rest He’s promised in order to cram in more is not. Serving in church programs and ministries is wonderful, but only if you’re doing it from a heart that yearns to love others instead of a need to be seen by others.

That’s what I meant when I said Jesus wasn’t calling. I had confused my Christian service with people pleasing. And like it always does whenever the moving target of people pleasing and perfectionism can’t be hit, resentment fills in the void. Self-inflicted martyrs make poor servants.

My journey with Jesus is vibrant now. Full of joy and adventure, freedom and rest and yes, serving too. The difference is I’ve learned why I do what I do and I’ve learned where my worth lies…in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Now when He calls, I can hear His voice plainly. john-1027-28 I don’t confuse His gentle whisper with the screaming shouts and harsh demands of the world around me, or even with the old self-condemnation that creeps in from time to time.

I had to learn the hard way though. You don’t have to. Look inside. Check your motives. Make sure that it’s Jesus calling.

You can read more of my story here:      https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487684657&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson      

White Space

paint

“You should use up all the space on the paper.”

I remember the admonition from my fourth grade art teacher so clearly as she stood in front of the chalk board, holding the large, white piece of paper in her hand, a sharpie in the other.

“You kids are bad about leaving too much white space on the page. I want you to draw the black lines all the way to the edge. I don’t want to see any white space any more. None. Every square inch of this paper needs to be filled in with color.”

drawing

As I sat at my scarred desk, legs swinging against its metal feet, I remember running the markers across the large rectangle of white, the sound emitting a soft hiss. No white, no white, no white…

Just the effort and time it took to fill up that entire canvas of eleven by thirteen was exhausting in my nine-year-old mind.

The teacher had made it clear. If I didn’t use up every square inch of that white space, there was something wrong with me. I had to fill it. Use it. Cram it with color, lines, paint, smudges.

And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Fill the calendar. Cram my days with more. More activity. More opportunity. Good things. Valuable things. Noble things. Run and do and check off that ever-expanding list of accomplishments and schedule juggling. After all, we only have one life to live, so we need to take that bottle of time and jam-pack it to the brim, right? No white space.

Don’t get me wrong. They are good activities, but somewhere along the way, I’ve realized I yearn for white space. I need quiet. I need solitude. More than that, I need Him. Not the church activities or projects or programs. Just Him.

Too many of us are living our lives and filling our schedules like we do our plates on Thanksgiving. We are gorging ourselves to the point of throwing up. No space. We are choking, shoving and cramming every single bite we can manage and then wonder why we’re miserable.

overflowing-food

We’ve forgotten the exquisite beauty and peace of white space.

Consider this from an artist’s perspective.

“Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in a image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition. peter-and-the-wolf

More and more these days, the creative world is seeing an emergence of artists creating positive spaces and shapes that, in turn, cleverly carve out shapes in negative space intentionally.” (http://www.creativebloq.com/art/art-negative-space-8133765)

Just look at this stunning artwork by Phoebe Morris.

Did you notice what the author of the blog said? The shapes are carved out intentionally. Rest. Breathe. Time with God will not be an accidental trip into His arms. You must choose. Let go of some of the old things to embrace Him.

Graphic designers will tell you white space is vital for several reasons. First, it helps your brain process and group relevant information. Second, it establishes mood and gives emphasis to what’s the most important focal point of a design, and third, white space invokes our imagination. The same is true for our spiritual man.

The simple truth is, the heart who is seeking God is a heart at rest. He promises it in His Word over and over again.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” ~Isaiah 26:3

So if we are juggling and striving and feeling our batteries plunge lower with every passing day, our priorities are off somewhere. Consider the conversation God had with Moses in Exodus 33.

13 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” presence

This past year I’ve had to ask God to teach me how to rest. Is it sad that I’m thirty eight years old and still don’t know how to relax? But I don’t. He’s been tenderly showing me and loving me into a deeper walk with Him. A life lived on fumes is not the abundant life He promised. We can be so busy doing things for God, but still not be walking with Him. And that is a life of chaos.

 

Breathe. Find the white space. That’s where you’ll find His still, small voice.

The word for 2017 is…

I’m not a big believer in life verses. It’s too easy to manipulate a verse from the Bible and make it what you want it to be while ignoring context and purpose.  But I do enjoy choosing a word for the year.

sinai-3Each year I pray over a word God may have for me. Last year’s word was Sinai. I know what you’re thinking. Sinai? Really? How about Mephibosheth? Or Maher-shalal-hash-baz? Trust me, I thought the same thing, but after seeing the way God breathed His plan and sang over the pivotal moments of this past year, looking back I finally understand why He impressed the word Sinai into my spirit. It was fitting and profound. I saw His glory come down in a very tangible way.

One of my favorite reads of the past year was Allen Arnold’s The Story of With. In it, Allen said something that hit me hard. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.”

Live completely unbalanced…

live-unbalancedThat phrase echoed through my heart for weeks and wouldn’t let me go.

After years spent spinning my wheels, and a battle with depression, God tenderly showed me how deep is the pit of people pleasing. It’s taken years to crawl out of the abyss…years as He’s held my hand, walking me from darkness into Light. Time when I’ve learned what it means to be a God-pleaser instead of a people pleaser. Time spent learning how much I’m loved by Him…how different approval is from love and a host of other things. Years when I wrote a book about recognizing the destructive patterns to find healing. Years of agony, living out of balance until I finally found freedom. https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483218376&sr=8-2&keywords=tara+johnson+hollow+victory

I suppose it’s natural to yearn for balance after living in such an upside down way for so long.

Yet Allen’s quote continued to haunt me. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.

It finally hit me.

In my strive to step away from people pleasing and approval addiction, I had redefined my boundaries which was needful, but had allowed myself to become cocooned in a sterile bubble. I tried to ‘balance it all’ but still failed. I said no to the boundary abusers but failed to nurture what mattered most…deep connection with God. I bought into the myth of multi-tasking but only succeeded in doing many things poorly and wondered why I still couldn’t get it right.

lucy-and-ethel

This past year has marked a profound shift in my walk with God. It’s a time of putting down the ‘to-do’ list and more time trying ‘to-be’.

Before my battle with depression, I was living out of balance for the things that mattered least. But what if Allen is right? What if I learn to live out-of-balance for Jesus? What if I stop trying to get everything perfectly situated? To keep a perfectly tidy house? Juggle the perfect schedule? Perfect meals? What if I become comfortable with being messy me and spend my time at Jesus feet?” What if I just focus on living like Mary of Bethany, who didn’t care about all the other ‘stuff’ because she knew, in the long run, it didn’t really matter? “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

My word for 2017 is presence. I want my sole focus for this year, and my life, to seek the presence of my Savior. To know Him. To crave Him. To love Him. Nothing more.

We have this moment. If you’ve lost a child, faced a heart-ripping betrayal, an unexpected diagnosis, or well, hit puberty, you know the harsh truth: life is change. Sometimes we can’t imagine a moment more perfect than the one we are in and then we are dashed upon the rocks, slammed with such force we can scarcely take a breath from the pain of it. Sometimes we aren’t even sure if taking a breath is worth it.

If your heart is still beating in your chest, God’s work with your life is not yet done.

I don’t want this year to be marked with the drive to be efficient, worship my to-do list, balance it all or live in the hamster wheel that powers the dimly lit bulbs of my family’s house. I’ve lived that way long enough and have found it to be a broken cistern than takes more than it gives, drawing blood and life from those willing to be lured into its trap.

I’m starting out the new year buried in his Word, and reading a new book by Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect. present-over-perfectBut even in this I must be careful. I don’t want to be busy learning how to be in his presence and neglect time when I can put down the books, the phone, the ‘stuff’ away and just be with Him. Learning about someone is never as rewarding as talking to the person one on one, am I right?

I crave Jesus. I crave His presence. I want to live unbalanced for the One Who matters most.

Do you have a word for the year? What is it? What do you find most difficult about nurturing your relationship with God?

Lie #5: Approval Means I’m Loved

We’re up to lie #5 in our series on exposing the enemy’s schemes…”Approval means I’m loved.” This lie was nearly my undoing.

I desperately want people to like me. There. I said it. The thought of someone being displeased with me in any way drops a sick feeling in my gut.

What’s one way to shake that cold feeling of dread? Work harder. Be more agreeable, more likable. Fit in. Be accepted and never, ever let them see the real you. After all, if they know what you’re really like, the acceptance will disappear. Right?   please love me

That’s what I told myself, anyways.

I’ve battled people pleasing all my life. I can readily admit it now, but I would have died a thousand deaths to confess such a thing ten years ago.

At one point, my people pleasing was so bad, and weird, that I couldn’t even express my own tastes for fear of someone thinking I was odd. One day, my friends were chatting about how much they loved fresh tomatoes.

One of them turned to me with smile. “Is there anything more delicious than a fresh tomato, Tara?”

I replied, “Of course not! Nothing better.” tomato

Confession: I hate tomatoes with a passion.

Why did I lie? Especially over something so trivial? Because I craved acceptance. I needed their love. And I mistakenly thought that disagreement led to loss of love.

At the time in my life of my “tomato lie”, I did anything that anyone asked me to do. If a deacon said the sanctuary windows needed to be washed at midnight, guess who was down at the church at the stroke of twelve with Windex in hand?

All of that changed one night in 2002. For lack of a better word, I snapped. My physical body reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage. I crawled on to the bathroom floor and curled myself into a ball on the bathmat while I sobbed into the wee hours of the night.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief. cry

I remember curling the long soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists, clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to, but not by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people like me. I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It wasn’t until I found myself begging God to take me out of this life that I realized I had been had.

Somewhere along the way, I took my eyes off Jesus and began living for the applause of people. Men and women just like me. Sinners and failures, just like me. People who have made a mess of their own lives, just like me. People who didn’t die for me, yet I esteemed their opinion as if they did. And I lost sight of my Savior in the process. I gave away freedom and unconditional love and traded them for conditions, hopelessness and chains. hands in chains

I’m tired of shackling myself to others’ expectations when obeying Him is all that matters. I’m tired of being sucked into a spiral of exhaustion when He has promised me rest. I’m tired of living like everyone else’s opinion of me is more important than His. I have no desire to place people, and their approval, as my idol, my focus or my hope any longer.

And that’s what this lie breeds…idolatry.

The common ground sought by people pleasers the world over is this: we have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people. We crave approval, using it as a gauge to tell us our own worth. But all that matters is what God thinks—and He loved me so much, He gave His own life to redeem me from the land of darkness. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst…His love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

Approval and love are not the same thing. Anyone who tells you differently is a liar. Take it from a girl who learned the hard way.

approval vs lovegalatians 1 10

 

The Little White Pill

Some days I loathe it. Other days I nearly weep with gratitude for it. Strange dichotomy.

Every time I look at that little white pill in my palm, I am overcome with an odd mix of emotions. pillWhen I was diagnosed with depression in 2002, I was desperate for relief from the dark shroud that had blanketed my mind and heart. A shroud I had brought on myself as I lived year after year stuck in the vicious cycle of people-pleasing and perfectionism. I had exhausted every resource to try to keep others happy, to win their approval and what I hoped would be their love. I was wrong. (This is not to say all depression stems from these issues. Depression is multi-faceted and has a wide array of causes and triggers. Check out my book Hollow Victory for a more in-depth look at depression.) hollow victory

When my doctor suggested medication to ease my physical symptoms, I balked. I was a Christian. Wasn’t medication a sign of weakness for a girl who claims to trust God? Perhaps I was still in denial. Maybe taking a pill would make the diagnosis much more real than I cared to admit. Confusion battered my mind and heart. I had heard well-meaning believers condemning others who sought medical help for their depression, throwing out their careless barbs and accusations with frightening speed.

“You should just trust God more.”

“You shouldn’t get down.”

“If you’ll read this scripture, you should feel better.

All those ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ wreaked havoc with my peace of mind. That is, until God revealed this beautiful truth to my heart: grace is greater than all the times I fall short of the ‘shoulds’. I’m a mess but I don’t have to pretend to be something other than who I am. God knew I would fail in and of myself. That’s why He sent a Savior.

god's grace is bigger

Depression is just as physical as it is emotional and spiritual. Would we dare accuse a person with bad eyesight of “not trusting God” if he chose to wear glasses before slipping behind the driver’s wheel? Do we shun and disparage the diabetic for taking insulin? Or the heart patient for using beta blockers? Depression is no different. Serotonin and other chemicals are out of whack and need to be replaced.

Do I believe in gobbling down pills as the end all and be all? No, absolutely not. Taking medication allows me to deal with the physical symptoms as I lean on the Holy Spirit to reveal any emotional or spiritual issues that have become roots of trouble. And for some, there is no discernible cause for their depression. Bodies just don’t work like they are supposed to. We are living in a broken world with frail bodies. Eyesight fails. Thyroid levels fluctuate. Skin looses its elasticity. And yes, even Christians can get depressed. (Look at Elijah, David and Job if you don’t believe me.) depression not a terrible christian

Speaking for myself, I’m glad I listened and took the medication. My husband and children needed me at my best, not mere shadows of myself. It was a God-given tool to help ease physical symptoms and replenish my body of the chemicals it needed so I could focus on the work of discovering why I was depressed. Thanks to God’s gentle love, He tenderly revealed the wounds I carried inside and healed me in profound ways. He’s healing me still.

Fast forward to the present. I am in a much better place these days. My walk with God is vibrant. I know the warning signs of depression and have a proactive plan in place to combat the cycles that once pulled me down. So why can’t I function without that little white pill?

Last week, as I was bemoaning my dependency on it, I cried out to God in frustration. “Why? Why do I still need this? Why can’t I live and laugh without it? Must I forever carry the scars of 2002 with me?”

He spoke to me swiftly, His voice a gentle whisper as He impressed this thought into my heart. What if you no longer needed this medicine? Would you forget? Would you forget what I’ve brought you through? Would you forget what that black place feels like? Would you be able to help others struggling with the same issues if your heart grows numb to the pain you once suffered? Little One, this reminds you to be dependent on me. It keeps you from repeating the mistakes you once made, living to please people instead of seeking My heart. My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. weak and strong

I’m trying not to look at that little white pill as a chain any longer. It’s a tool, a reminder of the compassionate way He led me through the darkness to find hope and joy in Him again. Kind of like Jonah and his fish. Being swallowed by a fish wasn’t Jonah’s punishment for running away. No, that fish was grace. From the dark, sour confines of its belly, God captured Jonah’s attention and redirected his life into victory. Depression was my fish of grace.

Thank you, God, for Your mercy. For Your love. For being with me, even when I can’t feel You. I know You’re there—guiding, revealing and loving me, despite myself.

Sometimes, I still need reminding.

Have you battled a time of depression? What ‘shoulds’ have you heard about depressed Christians? How has God used something traumatic to catch your attention? What did you learn?

 

An Open Letter from a Recovering People Pleaser

I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. After years of exhaustion, of disappointment, of hiding behind my masks, of dark depression, I’ve learned that people pleasing may always be a battle for me. A daily battle. It’s a lie that I believed for far too long—mainly, that approval and love are the same thing. However, as God has peeled back layer after layer of my masks and choices, He has helped me understand that approval and love are not the same thing at all. They are, in fact, polar opposites.

approval vs love

I‘m finally starting to realize my worth in His eyes. I’m tired of shackling myself to others’ expectations when obeying Him is all that matters. I’m tired of being sucked into a spiral of exhaustion when He has promised me rest. I’m tired of living like everyone else’s opinion of me is more important than His. I have no desire to place people, and their approval, as my idol, my focus or my hope any longer.

Jesus created me unique for a special, defined purpose, yet for years I gave away that gift and tried to morph and remake myself in a poorly constructed mold, praying I would be accepted. Loved. Esteemed.

It failed. Over and over again. lecrae

Today, I stand here knowing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe. He sees me. He calls me His daughter. He knows my broken, messy self yet still delights in me. And although He has healed and transformed me in immeasurable ways, there is still a broken place inside me that fights the desire for human approval.

With all that being said, I confess that being a recovering people-pleaser is hard work. It’s a choice I make each day. I have to be proactive—not just for my sake, not just for my family’s sake, but as a child of the King.

Here is my prayerful plea to you…

  1. Respect my boundaries.

Boundaries, saying no, and everything that entails is extremely hard for me. So when I give you a no, even if it sounds timid or unsure, don’t press. Saying no is quite literally the most difficult thing for me to do. It takes an incredible amount of courage and the only reason I would say no is because I’ve learned how much pressure I can take before I crack. I have no desire to collapse in on myself like a dying star. Not again.

no

I want to be able to help you in the future, but if I don’t find a proper balance of my energy, time and resources, I won’t be able to help anyone. My no, although difficult for me to say, and possibly just as hard for you to hear, benefits us all in the long run.

  1. Manipulation and spiritual abuse are no longer welcome.

Saying you’re disappointed in me for refusing to help you is manipulation. I may have collapsed under these tactics in the past, but no longer. Telling me God told you that I would be great for a certain job is well and good, but unless God has told me the same thing, my answer will be no. I have a living, breathing relationship with Him, just as you do. When this life is over, I will answer to Him and Him alone…not a jury of my peers.

pleasing god vs jury of peers

Please don’t shame me, tear me down or hurt me if my need to say no muddles your well-laid plans. Trust me, I have already tortured myself enough with the reality that I can’t undertake the task, despite my desire to have your approval. Lashing out only makes me resentful about the request, angry at you and angry at myself for being manipulated. I cannot be your rescuer.

  1. Whenever I say ‘yes’ to something, I will have to say ‘no’ to something else.

I have learned that I can’t be everything to everybody. My family is a ministry too—the most important one God has given me. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, a limited amount of resources and a limited amount of energy. My relationship with God is my priority, then my family. Other things, special projects or passions find their place as God moves and directs through different seasons. Sometimes saying ‘yes’ to something that might be good leaves little room to embrace God’s best just around the corner.

  1. Be patient with me when I have to buckle down on boundaries.

boundariesSometimes I turn off the phone because the requests never stop. My battery is empty. My nerves are frayed. My family is demanding my attention. I may have to say ‘no’ or request extended time to pray over a matter. I may even have to turn down several major things that I would like to do because God is telling me they aren’t in His plans…at least, not now.

If I have to squeak out a string of no’s, I’m not trying to sound like a two-year old. I’ve merely learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to fall back into the same old cycles that nearly became my undoing. I must choose wisely. To be healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, I may need to take a step back from time to time. Be patient. It’s only for a season.

  1. Love me, whether I perform well, poorly or not at all.

The common ground sought by people pleasers the world over is this: we have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people. We crave approval, thinking we are unlovable without it.

For too long I sought my worth based on what people told me about myself. But all that matters is what God thinks—and He loved me so much, He gave His own life to redeem me from the land of darkness. jeremiah

It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst…His love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

I will fail you. I’m human. I stumble and fall. Despite my failures, my heart has found peace and contentment in my Savior, and I love the friends He has given to make the journey even more joyful. All I ask is that you love me despite my messy attempts to fly.

With God’s grace, I’ll love you the same.

In true people-pleasing fashion, I ask—is that okay?

Impressions

My kids love impressions. The crazier, the better. And being a singer, I always find it a hilarious exercise to see if I can manipulate my voice enough to oblige their whims.

queen of hearts

Today I spent all day conversing like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. When bad manners were displayed at dinner, the Queen of Hearts yelled, “Off with your head!”, causing an eruption of giggles.

In the past few months, I have spent much time as the Count from Sesame Street, Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, mariaMaria from The Sound of Music, Elmyra from Tiny Toons, Ethel Merman and Glinda from Wicked. (Along with a cast of unique quirky characters created by our crazy family.) It makes me wonder what impression my kids will pick the next day and if I’ll be able to pull it off. elmyra

For the past two weeks they have begged me to talk like Adele. And when I say that they asked me to converse like Adele, I mean all. day. long. Around the clock for two weeks. The cockney impression was spouted so frequently, I began to forget what my own voice sounded like.

The funny thing is that after I spent a few days talking like Adele, I couldn’t stop. Pretending became the norm. The norm became habit. And habit became hard to break. I forgot my own voice. And pretending to be someone I wasn’t made me feel like I was constantly in performance mode.

Too many of us live out our lives as a charade: the perfect Christian, no faults, no struggles…we live in an illusion meant to fool others and hide our wounds. We don’t like people seeing us in all of our mess and brokenness. So we stay tucked behind our masks…our impressions. We give people what we think they want to hear, and lose who God wants us to be in the process.

Impressions, pretending to be someone your not can be fun for a little while, but please don’t live there. God has a unique plan for your life…and it doesn’t include you trying to be someone else. Perfectionism and people-pleasing are detrimental patterns. They lie to you and, in subtle ways, proclaim that what God created isn’t good enough.approval vs loveGod made you a one-of-a-kind. He loves you, not the masks you wear or the performances you put on to be accepted. He doesn’t need another Adele or a Maria von Trapp or anyone else. He wants YOU. He had a plan for your life before you were ever created.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ~Psalm 139:16

Whatever voice He has given you, use it. Whatever story He has given you, write it. Whatever skills or talents He blessed you with, use them for His glory. Whatever your past, your successes, your failures, love Him. Chase after Him. Embrace your identity in Him. Don’t spend your life pretending to be a poor imitation.

adele

No matter how fantastic your Adele impression may be.

Have you ever struggled with pretending to be something you’re not? Are you a people-pleaser? How does it make you feel to constantly be in performance mode? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Check out more of Tara’s ministry at www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com