God’s Solution to People Pleasing

with Lou Priolo | April 29, 2008

Can wanting to please your husband, mother or friends be a sin? Find out by joining us for today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with Biblical counselor Lou Priolo, author of the book Pleasing People. Lou explains that loving people in a biblical way often means giving them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

Can wanting to please your husband, mother or friends be a sin? Find out by joining us for today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with Biblical counselor Lou Priolo, author of the book Pleasing People. Lou explains that loving people in a biblical way often means giving them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

God’s Solution to People Pleasing

With Lou Priolo
|
April 29, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: There is a difference between being kind and loving and compassionate toward others and being a people-pleaser, and counselor and author, Lou Priolo, says when you step across the line and become a people-pleaser, there are consequences.

Lou: Inordinate people-pleasing brings you into bondage by enslaving you to everyone whom you desire to please.  When you become a people-pleaser, when you are people-pleaser, I should say, then you really become the slave of those you are trying to please.  Think about it – every person you try to please above and beyond what is allowed by the Scripture becomes your captain and your conqueror.

This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 29th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Have you found, in your attempt to please others that you have become someone's slave?  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  So how do you feel like our guest is doing this week, you know, Lou Priolo.

Dennis: He's pleasing me.  Is he pleasing you?

Bob: Well, I'm going to give him a grade – on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put him?

Dennis: Ummm.

Bob: I'm just kidding.

Dennis: Just because it happened on "American Idol" last season, where they put that young lady on the spot …

Bob: And said which group are you going to be in.  Yeah, I know the one you're talking about.

Dennis: She just sat down on the stage.

Bob: Yeah, you're not going to answer.

Dennis: I'm sitting down on the stage.  Lou did a fine job.  Lou Priolo joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Lou, welcome back.

Lou: Thank you.

Bob: How do you feel like you did, Lou?

Lou: I feel fine.

Dennis: You did good, you did good.

[laughter]

Lou has written a book, and the reason we're kind of laughing about this, he has written a book called "Pleasing People."  And on the front, Lou, you've got a – what kind of dog is that, Lou?  I don't really know what kind of dog that is.

Lou: Someone told me – I have no control over what the publishers do.  It's a cute little dog.

Dennis: But it's a dog that is begging, and the subtitle of this book is "How Not to be an Approval Junkie." That really is what it's about, isn't it – about pleasing people rather than pleasing God?

Lou: Yeah, it's about the inordinate desire to please people so much that you basically become a slave and a servant to them, and that you are guilty of the sin of idolatry, and that they end up ultimately controlling your life.

And, as we said, there are all kinds of consequences – everything from the inability to say no to losing eternal rewards.  So it's a big problem.

Bob: Can you think of somebody that you've seen in your practice or somebody you know who you sat down, and you started talking with them, and all of the bells were going off, and you thought, "This person is a people-pleaser and here is how that is messing up relationships, their marriage, their family, here are the issues this person is dealing with as a result."

Lou: Yeah, I can think of several individuals.  I think of a pastor in one context, I can think of some housewives, I can think of some men who struggle with that.

Dennis: Describe a mom that you've observed this people-pleaser tendency, because we have a lot moms listening to this broadcast, a lot of wives.

Lou: You know, probably, Dennis, the way it shows up, in my experience, the most for moms has to do with the raising of their children.  It's like they want to be known for being a biblical parent, and they put so much pressure on themselves and on their children for their children to act a certain way to the extent that they will neglect other responsibilities. 

I mean, here they are, one flesh with their husbands, supposed to have this intimate relationship with them, but the husband gets neglected, the church gets neglected all because they are so caught up in being a biblical parent.

Now, listen, I've written books on biblical parenting, I'm all for it, but a lot of times, a wife and a mom can have this inordinate desire to have perfect children become such an idolatrous desire in their life that they lose sight of all other biblical responsibilities, and God has given wives other responsibilities beside just being a mom.

Bob: So if a mom like this – will a mom like this come in to see you and say, "Boy, I've recognized a problem.  I'm too conscientious as a mom?"  What will happen?

Lou: Rarely.  It will take an amount of talking to them and finding out what the presenting problem is and then ultimately finding out where she is spending her time and where she is neglecting her biblical responsibilities and then it becomes apparent, and the good thing is, whether it's the pastor or the husband or the college student or the mom, usually, it's a pretty easy sell to help them see the extent to which that they have been pleasing man more than pleasing God.

Bob: So is there a typical presenting issue?  Will a wife come in and say "My husband and I are struggling in our marriage," and that's where you surface that she's really wrapped up in the kids, and is she seeking their approval, or is she seeking the approval of the other moms?  Who is she trying to please here?

Lou: Typically, it's the other moms.  And if I had to think of a presenting problem, you know, a lot of times it presents itself as anxiety.  So a lot of times a mom will come in, or an approval person will come in, and you can tell that – or at least get a clue that they might be being a people-pleaser by virtue of the fact that they are worried about things that have to do with their reputation because, again, that's what this is all about, it's about wanting a good name.

And, again, the Bible says we ought to have a good name.  We ought to go to certain lengths to protect our good name, but there is a point at which our desire for a good name becomes a sin because we want that good name for the wrong reasons, or we want it more than we want a good name for the Lord.

Dennis: You know, as I'm listening to you, I'm reflecting back on some of the folks I've counseled over the years, and I haven't counseled nearly as many as you have, obviously, Lou, but I'm thinking of a number of women who have presented a problem of trying to please their mothers now as an adult, and it's the whole issue of leave, cleave, become one.  You've been referring to it here, but do you see a large number of women who are …

Lou: Incredible.

Dennis: … who are preoccupied sometimes into midlife with getting the approval of their mother because somehow they've never been able to get that nod or that look or that good word, that affirmation, where the mother says to the daughter, "You did it, Sweetie, you have my approval."

Lou: Yes, and to be fair, it's not just women.  I've counseled lots of men who, in one way or another, are still trying to please their dad or their mom.

But, you're right.  Now, remember, we said that there is a place for us wanting to please our parents.  There is a place where it is right for us to want to please our parents.  I mean, all those verses in the Bible that say "Honor and obey your parents," implicit in those verses is the fact that at some level you have to please them.

So all of your life you grow up wanting to please your parents, which, up to a point, is right.  Of course, at the point at which even before you leave home, your parents ask you to sin, then you may have to make the choice to please God rather than your parents.  So you've got this conscience that's pretty much programmed by this desire to please mom or dad or whoever it may be.

Well, when you get married that is supposed to change.  He that is married cares about the things of the Lord, how he may please his wife, 1 Corinthians 7 says.  She was married, cares about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  And so there's got to be this dynamic shift from wanting to please mom and dad to wanting to please the husband, but if over it all does not hang the big umbrella of "I want to please God first," then you've got an even bigger problem.

Dennis: Mm-hm, and I don't want our audience to miss the profound simplicity of what you're describing there.  We, first of all, need to be preoccupied with pleasing God, then our spouse, and we have to leave our parents to turn our devotion and our loyalty toward our spouse, and I'm thinking of a woman a number of years ago I met in Dallas, Texas, who had a mom who was in her 80s, and here was a woman who was 60 years old.  Her children were out of the nest, and I hate to use this word "neurotic," but she was preoccupied.  She was totally obsessed with getting her 83- or 84-year-old mother's approval as a woman in her 60s, and it was impacting her relationship with her husband, with her adult children, the running of her household.  It was not a healthy situation.

Lou: I've seen that dozens of times, too.  You know, it all gets back, really, to Genesis 2:24.  I mean, you can trace virtually every marriage problem back to a violation of Genesis 2:24 – either failure to leave, failure to cleave, or failure to become one flesh.  And in this case, probably, it's the failure to leave.

The word "leave" in the Hebrew, it's azab, and even the Greek word for "leave," it's a very strong word.  It's not like "I'm leaving to go to the store, and I'll be back in a few minutes."  It's like I'm leaving for war, and I'm not sure when I'll be back.  It's a very, very strong word.  It's actually translated "to abandon, or forsake" sometimes.

And so, yes, when you get married, you leave behind dependence upon your parents for dependence upon God and your spouse, and a lot of people really, really miss that.

Bob: Lou, I remember coming to a point in my marriage – here was my thinking, as a husband – my thinking was my assignment is to love my wife, right?  Christ loves the church, I am to love my wife, so I'm to give myself up for her.  There is a difference between loving your spouse and pleasing your spouse, isn't there?

Lou: Oh, boy, absolutely.  Sometimes to love your spouse biblically, you have to necessarily displease her.

Bob: And it took a while for me to catch onto that, I think, for a couple of reasons.  One, because loving and pleasing seem like they're the same thing but, secondly, because not pleasing your spouse is not a happy or a comfortable place to go for anybody in a marriage.  To love you well by displeasing you, nobody wants to go down that road.

Lou: You know, this is a whole program, I mean, you realize that – husbands who are not willing to shepherd and even confront their wives basically because they are peacelovers rather than peacemakers.

Bob: So talk about a husband who comes in and says "Okay, I'm struggling in my marriage, and we just can't seem to get along.  I'm doing everything – Lou, I'm trying.  I bend over backwards to try to please my wife."

Lou: Well, it's good for you to try to please your wife up to a point.  Again, the Bible says if you're married you should try to please your wife, but there comes a point and a time when you have to shepherd your wife, and that necessarily means that at some point you're going to have to open the Bible and wash her with the water of the Word and sort of discuss with her the fact that there is something in her life that's inconsistent with the Word of God, and many husbands I've met are so afraid to do that because they're afraid of the consequence, they're afraid to be in the proverbial doghouse for hours or days ahead of time, and they will not do that.

In the final analysis, love is giving people what they need not necessarily what they want, and if you see me do something wrong, Bob, and you love me, you'll confront me.  You'll convict me, you'll try to get me to see that I've sinned.  But so many husbands and wives are so unwilling to do that because they think love is a feeling, like it's a noun rather than a verb.  Love is a feeling you feel when you feel like you've got a feeling that you never felt before.

Bob: And, you know, I will – I'll be happy to confront you because you can write me off, and it's no big deal.  I confront my wife, you talk about the doghouse, I may be frozen out for days.  Who knows what's going to happen here, right?

Lou: You know, Bob, I can't speak for every woman, but I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of the couples that I counsel, the wives may initially bow up.  They might get upset, they might put the husband in the doghouse for a while, but if they love the Lord, invariably, they will come back, maybe an hour later, maybe a couple of days later, and they'll say, "Honey," you know, again, this is provided the husband does it in gentleness in the way Galatians 6:1 says that he should – they'll come back, and they'll say, "Honey, listen, I know I blew it, and I was very upset with you, I was vindictive," whatever, "please forgive me.  You really did the right thing, and I'm thankful that you confronted me and please don't stop because I really need a leader, I need someone to shepherd me."

But most men are so petrified to do that, and so consequently they never try it, they never test the water, and consequently their wives end up not being shepherded and guided the way that they should.

Bob: So they may be loving but they're not leading.

Lou: Well, they're not loving, either.  I mean, love involves giving people what they need, and to love your wife, your husband, I mean, I can't tell you – in our marriage, I get reproved a whole lot more than my wife does, and I can tell you, she loves me enough to confront me.  I get confronted quite regularly, and I need it.

Dennis: What we're talking here is a love that is willing to risk.

Lou: That's right.

Dennis: Because it steps out of the safety of silence, and it confronts the issue.

Lou: And, again, it's more than risk.  It's even more important than taking a risk.  If God says I've got to shepherd my wife and by loving her, necessarily I have to wash her with the water of the Word and occasionally talk to her about the things in her life that are out of sync with God's Word, I'm sinning against God, and am I going to please God or am I going to please my wife?  Am I going to fear God or am I going to fear my wife, and that's really what it comes down to.

Dennis: I'm sure right now there are a few wives who, all of a sudden, leaned a little closer to the radio, and they said, "Now, wait a second.  I'm not sure that the water my husband is going to wash me with is pure water."

Lou: Right.

Dennis: And it may come with a few extra chemicals that is not the truth, okay?  So, wait a second here, this can be an area of abuse where a husband takes advantage of his wife.

Lou: Very good point, and that is why the Bible is very, very clear in several different places about the way this is to be done – "If any brother is overtaken by a fault, you who have the spirit restores such a one."  Your motive should be to restore such a one.  A husband's motive shouldn't be to confront his wife because she's making life miserable for him.  It should be because he wants to restore her considering yourself in a spirit of gentleness.  I mean, you've got to take the beam out of your own eye first, you've got to be gentle, which means you don't come across angry, that means you've got this – the word "gentle" is an interesting word in the Greek.  There is no exact English equivalent. 

It has the idea, on one hand, of not being angry, but it also has the idea of humility.  It's sort of like, you know, Dennis, the thing that I've got to talk to you about today, I had to tell myself just yesterday, I mean, I've been there, and I know how hard it is.  What it's not is this holier-than-thou condescending attitude.

Dennis: It's not a club.

Lou: Exactly, and the Bible says, "Sweetness of the lips increases persuasiveness."  So, yes, it's very important that both husband and wife, parent and child, as we do this thing that the Bible says we must do from time to time with our Christian brothers and sisters to convict them of their sin, it's got to be done in the right way, or you can end up shooting yourself and the whole family in the foot.  You can torpedo the whole process if you don't do it with the right motive and in the right way and with the right words.

Dennis: Is that what you mean when you challenge men with the Scripture that says to wash your wife with the water of the Word?  He is actually to wash her with truth and with love and with compassion?  Are those practical ways he can wash her with the Word?

Lou: Those are some of several I've actually outlined in another book that we've not yet done a program on, but, yes, I mean, anything from using the Scripture as he talks, making decisions on the basis of God's Word and communicating God's Word with her.  In my opinion, guys, the most important thing a husband can do to fulfill that Scripture, to wash his wife in the water of the Word, is to do whatever he can do within reason to make sure his wife has time each and every day reading God's Word for herself.

Dennis: A number of years ago, Lou, I wrote a book called "Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem," and that book actually came out of the drama of our marriage.  When Barbara and I were married, I had no idea how much self-confidence she lacked.  I saw a very polished woman who came across very positive, very solid, firm, anchored.

But as we began our marriage together, the deeper we went and the more intimate we became with one another, she began to disclose to me her feeling of inadequacy, and I would have to tell you, at the beginning of our marriage, there was a time when I felt very inadequate to know how to love her in return. 

And to meet her at her point of need, to have somebody who washed her with the Word of belief, of biblical love, of, yes, speaking the truth, but I set out in the early years of that marriage to meet that need and, you know, I don't know when it happened, I really don't.  It may have been two decades into our marriage, it may have been three decades into our marriage, but I do know this – that if you love with the love of Christ, there will be a return on that investment.

I haven't done it perfectly, I have failed miserably on many different occasions, but I did attempt to take my wife and say "You know what?  I love you the way you are, I'm going to keep on loving you, I'm going to keep on attempting to bring this book into your life, and to treat you" – well, as the Scripture says, "to nourish and to cherish you."

Again, I didn't do it perfectly but over a 30-year period, it works.

Lou: You know, that is sort of the trick – to be able to, on one hand, say to your wife, "Honey, I love you, and if you never change, I'm going to love you.  I married you knowing that you were a sinner, warts and all.  I knew about the fact that you were sinful when I married you as you knew that I was sinful and I'm in for life, and if you never change, I'm here, and I'm for you.  But, Sweetie, because I love you, because the Bible tells me that I've got to help you to grow as a Christian, I've got to talk to you about these things."

So it's the ability to communicate on one hand, "Listen, I'm not asking you to change for selfish reasons, I love you, I'm in this thing, you know, I still think you hung on despite all of your flaws as I trust you do with me, but because I love you, and because I know you love me, we've got a responsibility before God to mutually help each other – me as your spiritual leader and you as my helper.  I mean, if there's anything that God wants you to help me with, Sweetie, is to be a better Christian, right?  And I need you, from time to time, to confront me, I need you to tell me when I am not walking in the truth of God's work."

So that's the trick, but you've got to just remember, as a husband, that you're really not loving your wife and your children if you don't make a reasonable attempt to try to convict them and help them grow out of the sinful patterns into which they have fallen.

Bob: You know, we've really illustrated this all around a husband who has a wife who is struggling with her self-esteem or a wife who is going to get angry if she is confronted.  It can go both ways.  A wife can be the one who is the one who needs to confront a pattern in her husband, and he may crash, or he may explode.  But the point is, if we recognize a responsibility before God to admonish one another, to encourage one another, to affirm and exhort and all of the things that the Scripture tells us to do, we have to obey what the Scriptures teach and not be afraid of what our spouse may do.

Lou: And see, this is where, to me, the whole crux of being a people-pleaser where the rubber meets the road – is your conscience – it's a matter of conscience.  I mean, what is going to cause me to overcome my fear of whatever my wife might do if I confront her, or my children might do?  There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear, if I love God the way I say I do, and if I love my wife and my children the way I say I do, it really doesn't matter about their reaction. 

My love for God, my love for them, is going to overcome my fear, and so it all comes back to my conscience – is my conscience programmed by the Word of God?  Am I going to do what pleases God or is my conscience programmed by society and by an inordinate desire to want to please people?

Dennis: And it goes back to what you've exhorted us throughout this broadcast with – first of all, who do you want to please?  Is it people or is it God?  Who, ultimately, are you about pleasing with your life, and I think you've done a good job, Lou, of really challenging husbands, wives, moms, to rethink whose drumbeat are they marching to?  Is it God and the truth of His Word, or is it the nodding approval of another person?  And that approval is not wrong, we've made that very clear, but we should look to God and try to seek His approval and know that we've pleased Him by being obedient.

Bob: I love the subtitle on your book, which is "How Not to be an Approval Junkie," and there are some of us who are so oriented toward pleasing others because we need their approval in order to validate ourselves, and your book helps us think biblically about this whole issue.

We've got copies of the book, "Pleasing People" in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I can imagine this would be a good book not just to read on your own but to read through with others, whether it's in a mentoring relationship or in a small group setting.

You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and get more information on how to get copies of Lou Priolo's book, "Pleasing People."  When you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  If you click on the "Learn More" button in that box, it will take you to the area of the site where you can find out more about Lou's book.  You can order copies online, if you'd like.

Or, if it's easier, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and we've got folks who are ready to answer any questions you have or make arrangements to have copies of Lou's book sent to you.  Again, the number, 1-800-FLTODAY, or you can order online at FamilyLife.com.

When you do get in touch with us, we want to ask you to consider making a donation this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported, and your donations are always appreciated but, right now, there is an even greater incentive for you to get in touch with us, and that is we've had some friends of the ministry who have offered to match your donation.  They have said that if you will make a $25 or a $50 or $100 donation, they'll match it.  If you make a $500 donation, they'll match it.  In fact, they will match all the donations we receive between now and the end of May on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $635,000, and we're thrilled by their offer.  We want to take full advantage of that, so we're going to need to hear from folks, a lot of folks, between now and the end of May who call in to make a $25 donation or who go online to make a $50 donation.  We're going to need to hear from some folks who contact us to make $1,000 or a $5,000 donation if we're going to take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity.

So can we encourage you to pray about this and, if you can, get in touch with us today to make a donation either over the phone at 1-800-FLTODAY or online at FamilyLife.com.  We would appreciate hearing from you.  We hope to take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity, and we appreciate you listening, and we appreciate you considering a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Now, tomorrow we want to talk about, among other things, how we, as parents, can keep our children from becoming people-pleasers.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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