I experienced a mini victory recently. No one else would ever perceive it as such, but God knows. For the better part of my life, I have tried my darndest to not disappoint or displease those I encounter. Please note the word, “tried.” Those of you close to me will have something to say about whether or not I achieved those goals. With the gift of hindsight, I’ve come to realize that trying to please others or going out of my way to not let people down is actually a fruitless goal in of itself and undoubtedly destined for failure. Often, the complete opposite of my intention is accomplished. But that realization didn’t dawn on me with such clarity until recently.
I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the mini virtue victory.
The day before a family road trip, I took the kids to the library to load up on books for our journey. While my kids were eagerly pilfering the shelves, an extremely nice librarian asked me what our holiday plans were. I explained that we were hitting the open road for a few days and that was precisely why we had made a pitstop at the local library. She exuberantly responded, “That is so wonderful! I just can’t stand how reliant parents are on those AWFUL DVD players—in their cars! For heaven’s sake, it baffles the mind! When we were kids, we talked, played games, or just remained silent. Now kids just plug in…” She was waiting for the proverbial, “Amen, sister!” I understood that she intended to compliment me for offering my kids good ol’ fashioned books instead of videos. I agreed wholeheartedly with what she was saying, but using our “awful” DVD player was most definitely on our itinerary for the expedition. In fact, just before our detour to the library, I had packed the minivan with a whole selection of animated classics with the intention of breaking them out as we passed through the more mundane flatlands of Nebraska. I even happily considered taking a seat in the back for a spell while my husband drove, so I too could enjoy our mobile movie theater, right along with the kids.
I had stepped into it—an impending hot mess of social awkwardness, something I’ve avoided since… FOREVER. In the past, I might have nodded and affirmed the librarian’s mistaken assumption that I’m a stellar parent who always resists the urge to pacify with screen time. I might have even told her how I think devices are ruining our children and our culture. I would have conspiratorially laughed at the stupidity of all those parents whose knee-jerk response in difficult situations is to rely on technology. I would have affirmed her because it was easy and neat. And while agreeing with her would have been an honest estimation of my core beliefs and goals, I would’ve omitted or glossed over the more difficult, messy part—the part about fully intending to use the blasted DVD player, that I was honestly (GASP!) grateful for it. I certainly would NOT have corrected her mistaken notion about me. Because in doing so, I would’ve tipped my hand to my embarrassing, ugly, but very real weakness and vulnerability as a mom. Who wants to trot that out in the middle of small talk? Uh, not me. What would that accomplish other than making me appear inferior in her in eyes? Not to mention, how it might make her feel uncomfortable as she would be confronted with my honest and raw shortcomings. In my mind, having to deal with that excruciatingly long second or two, as it dawned on her that she had unintentionally insulted me, was not worth the hassle of being honest and authentic. My thought process would go something like this, “What harm is there in letting her think I deserve to be on the cover of every parenting magazine across the world? She recognizes a kindred spirit in me and if I just go along to get along, I can affirm her noble beliefs while keeping things nice, pleasant and polite between us. Win-win. Right?
In my earnest efforts to keep things nice, pleasant and polite, or make those around me feel emotionally comfortable, I have often bent over backward, literally defying physics as a freakish contortionist trying to meet those ends. The result though has been a decaying authenticity and a crippling fear of appearing less than adequate. Not exactly the kind of stuff to tout on a resumé.
But, I am proud to say, that time, I did not succumb to the desire to gloss over everything and go out of my way to make her comfortable while boosting my own esteem in her eyes. I was myself.
“Actually, we have one of those DVD players,” I responded shyly. Awkward pregnant pause. “We will probably use it, but we don’t rely on it. They’re actually really nice to have for long trips.” It was as if all the breath I had been holding for so long finally found an escape valve. Phew. The world did not explode. To those of you who are not perpetual people pleasers, you won’t understand what a momentous occasion this was for me. Making niceties and telling people what they want to hear isn’t your hang up? Stop bragging! But for those of us who are predisposed to get caught up in all those mental, emotional gymnastics, you understand my great relief.
The librarian was a tad embarrassed as she stammered to cover her faux pas. I patiently let her do that for herself, realizing it wasn’t my responsibility to make it better for her. For a rare moment, I leaned into the ickiness. She clumsily tried to smooth things over. “Those DVD players probably come standard in most minivans now anyway. I know if I had one way back when I’d probably use it too. My daughter is always on her phone. At dinner, she texts with the phone under the table because she doesn’t want me to see. She doesn’t even need to see her fingers…” I just graciously listened. The moment passed and everything was a-ok again.
I’m a work in progress. My new mantra is: it’s ok to disappoint and appear less in someone’s eyes. I am not less in God’s eyes. I am everything to Him. He loves me and knows that I am not less. In confronting that fear of appearing unlikable or inadequate, I am actually growing stronger. I am growing in intimacy with my heavenly Father who loves me right now for who I am even at my weakest moments. And it is then when he pours out his most powerful graces. He is the one I will strive to please. He is the only one that matters. It’s a mini victory for me, but not in His estimation.