On My Own / by Michael Nichols

One day recently, a family near and dear to my heart had me and others from our church family over, and down the road, by the river, some guy who had been fishing with his friends drove his truck from one side of the river to the other! I mean, I was kind of shocked that the river was shallow enough, but also the truck had a massive lift kit... yet the bottom of the truck was submerged... How idiotic, right?

The main question I had was: which of the girls he was with was he trying to impress? (Insert eye roll here.)

Granted, driving your truck through a river isn't the brightest thing a person can do. Matter of fact, it's pretty dumb to potentially wreck your engine. Why would anyone think it's impressive? But people do dumb things all the time in an attempt to impress someone. It loosely reminds me of the words of Paul the Apostle, that we are to serve others "not with eye service as men-pleasers," but from the heart, in the way we would serve Jesus.

God knows what we're capable of, whether in the flesh or in Him. He already forgave us and invited us home again. He also called us to do great things in His power and in His name. We didn't have to impress Him for any of that, either. "While we were yet sinners," He did this. Not when we were impressive. When we were pathetic. When we opposed Him for everything we used to think was gain. In either state, we are loved and desired by Him, and He desires to make us into an image of Him again.

He also knows the motives of our heart. He knows if we're doing what we do to impress Him, or to impress others, or to buy His favor, or whether or not we have genuinely changed our hearts in gratitude to Him, or if we really want to live more like Him, or if we want to truly live up to the potential He made us to fulfill through His Spirit. The only problem with all of this talk of impressions is simple. We were never meant to impress Him. We were meant to just be real.

Any good coming from us shouldn't be out of a desire to make sure someone thinks well of us, but rather because it's who we are. We should definitely desire to be better and to be more like Him no matter what the cost, but why should it matter who we impress? Shouldn't our desire be to be the best we can in whatever dimension of life, independently of the opinions of others? It's good to understand that God's opinion is really important, but His opinion of us is shown by what Jesus did on the cross, not by what we do, even though what we do does matter in that it affects our lives and our ability to have a relationship with Him.

So if life isn't about impressing God or others, then why do we do it? What are we so afraid of?

Losing people.

Losing dreams.

Failure.

Humiliation.

Being alone at the end of it all.

But if life isn't about impressing God, then that should make what Jesus did for us even more reassuring. It should be a reminder that even when we fail, even when we fall short, we can always try again, because all He wants is reconciliation. He never wants any of us to be alone, and in Him we will never be alone. Yet it's still so easy to need the approval and presence of others like a coffee addict (proudly raising my hand) needs a jolt or two every day.

We often hinge our lives so much on the opinions of others that it's really easy to forget why we're alive to begin with. We were meant for Christ. We need to be with Him, not the approval or presence of others. It's amazing when we have that, and we should have that, but when that becomes the purpose of our lives, it starts to break us.

We compromise things we shouldn't. We accept things that hurt us. We give up things we need. We forget our dreams. We forget our purpose. We forget the ever-present love of Christ. We forget that our lives are lived in Him and not in others. To live this way is to idolize the presence of others in our lives, which entails forgetting that it's Jesus whose love is all-sufficient.

It even goes beyond that and corrupts the very thing that we idolize, the very thing we desire. We can't live our lives determined to please others so that we can get what we want from them, whether that's something they can offer or even their presence. That's actually manipulation. If it's about keeping a person in your world to the extent that you stop having genuine relationships with them, that's imprisonment, not love. So in the end, to be a people-pleaser is to be manipulative.

The irony of the whole thing is that being a people-pleaser never allows us to truly have relationships with others. When we're concerned about keeping a person appeased, we're concerned about keeping things in a state that we're comfortable with, rather than honesty. When you're concerned with keeping someone around or getting something from them, you're not really concerned with them. You're concerned with you.

The irony gets even thicker when we realize that it's okay to be concerned with yourself. In fact, it's good to know your needs and desires. It's good to be sure you have everything and everyone you need, and in the kingdom God provides that. But where is the line? When does being concerned with your needs and desires become controlling behavior toward those in your life? When does love turn into greed? When does compassion turn into a hollow transaction?

It happens when we depend no longer on God and start depending on man to provide things only God can. We need people, but we don't need to lose ourselves in them or to them.

The solution? Start doing things for yourself. Don't misunderstand. I didn't say, "Do things selfishly." But do what you want to do because it's good to live honestly. Without honesty, we can never fully experience what's good in life, and we can never grow out of the selfishness we've refused to acknowledge.

Do things because you really want to.

Do things that are real.

Hold onto the people you really want in your life, and if they need to go, then let them go.

Hold onto the people who really want to be in your life, and if they decide to go, then let them go.

Hold onto the dreams that really deserve your love, and if they vanish, let them.

Hold onto the convictions you really believe in, and if they truly start to crumble, if they prove that they can't hold you up, then let them crumble.

And for the love of all that is true, don't let your comfort zone or your idea of what you need prevent you from being who you were meant to be and doing what you're meant to do in Christ.

Being surrounded by what you know, and trying to make things the way you want them to be... trust me when I say I know how right it feels.

I know what it's like to pour into relationships that are unhealthy.

I know what it's like to want relationships to be deeper than they are.

I know what it's like to mistake delusions of grandeur for dreams, and vice versa.

I know what it's like to mistake what is familiar for what is home.

I know what it's like to mistake my comfort zone for where God wants me to be.

I know what it's like to think that the most important thing in life is making sure everything goes right, that I fulfill every longing of mine, that I build the most comfortable life, that I stay surrounded by the same people, that I belong in the same place for all time. But that's not what life is about. Life is not about the ones to whom it is given but the one who gave it.

I want a relationship, but not with someone who isn't good for me.

I want a relationship, but not with someone who doesn't want the same.

I want to accomplish my goals and what I think my life should be, but not if that isn't really God's plan for me.

I want to put down roots, but not where I can't grow.

I want to have some sense of safety in life, but I also want to live well, even if that means risking everything.

When we clear out the noise of all the people we're trying to please, we can start to see our true self, but only under a dim light. That's why we need the light of our Father, which is Christ in us, to really start to get the whole picture.

When our eyes are locked on those around us, we can't see ourselves clearly, and we can't really see Jesus clearly. That's why sometimes, you just have to step out of your comfort zone, take risks, live life, and just be who you really are, and do it on your own. That isn't selfish. That's being genuine, and it's being willing to be uncomfortable to do what is best for you.