Kick out the people-pleasing and make room for God-pleasing
I’ve replaced my cat with a football. She isn’t happy about that. I’m not sure how the football feels.
Tori the Cat tries to nestle as close to me as possible at night — and always on my left side, restricting both my movement and my exit from the king-sized bed.
I am a cat pleaser. I jam my arm, my shoulder into the space she allows me. If I awaken to use the bathroom, I actually crawl across the bed to exit on the other side. When I return, I crawl back into bed the same way and try to reposition myself in the same position.
All so I don’t disturb her.
What am I doing?
Becoming a cat displeaser
Most recently, I’ve developed a painful left shoulder impingement. My husband, a physical therapist, blames the cat.
“You need the freedom to move,” Steve said. “You need a full range of motion.”
Even in my sleep.
He suggested I take up the space where she likes to sleep with something else. I grabbed a chubby stuffed polar bear. He handed me a football.
Of course, I tried the stuffed animal first. It initially gave my cat an additional cushion on which to rest, then slid off the side of the bed. So I tried the football. At first, it, too, failed. But when I put the ball under the covers and embraced it with my arm, it was surprisingly comfortable and deterred my pet.
As you can imagine, Tori the Cat did not like this solution at all. She kept trying to make her way into her usual position — then climbed on top of my chest to lay claim to it for the night. I moved her to the foot of the bed. She persisted. It was a battle. I had to thwart her efforts — or she would have positioned herself somewhere else on my body to set up camp.
Eventually, she found a space near my feet that sufficed for both of us.
Replacing negatives with positives
As I contemplated the situation, I realized I had to fill the space that Tori usually claimed with something else. Or the cat would have come back to position herself there for the night.
Recently, I gave up wine. (It had become a nightly habit, and I kept increasing my intake.) Instead, I now fill up my wine glass with a mocktail (a wedge of squeezed lime, a splash of tart cherry juice, and San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water).
Because I filled my glass with something else that I enjoy — and can drink by the 16.9+ ounces — I didn’t miss the wine. Just as I replaced my cat with a football, so I replaced what had become a bad habit with a tasty, healthy beverage.
Habits, like cats, inhabit our lives. They take whatever space we yield to them. To stop old, damaging habits from returning, we must install new, life-building habits in their place.
The spiritual replacement
Spiritually, we must do the same. Paul tells us in Romans that we can’t just declare ourselves “dead to sin”; we also must count ourselves “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Instead of offering ourselves to sin as “instruments of wickedness,” we should offer ourselves to God as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:11-13, NIV).
In Matthew 12, Jesus tells a story about a demon who had been cast out of a person. He says the homeless demon wandered around looking for a new host, and, when it couldn’t find one, decided to return to its old one.
“On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”Matthew 12:45, MSG
A demon returning to a house cleaned but empty finds itself at home again. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us so nothing else can!
Filling the vessel of honor
I was doing my Bible study homework, the chapter called “Vessels of Honor.” One of the first points was my need to give my body to God.
My first thought? Oh, I’ve got this. I give God my body first thing every morning. (It’s part of my morning routine.)
Suddenly, I found myself jotting this:
“Sara — you give me your body every morning at the start of the day. Yet, you aren’t yielding it to my Spirit throughout the day. You are still feeding it what it craves, rather than what it needs.”
A couple of pages earlier, this question had appeared: “What areas of your life might need to be confronted and cleaned up by the Holy Spirit?”
I had written this:
“Well, I gave Him my wine and now I think He wants me to give up sugar and junk food. Whatever I use to satisfy cravings or stress or worry instead of His presence, that’s what He wants out of my daily life.“
About my cat-pleasing tendencies…
I wish sugar and junk food were my only defaults for satisfying my soul. Well, my only bad defaults.
I readily admit I am a cat pleaser. I can be that “crazy cat lady” and appear amusing, even if pleasing my cat results in real, physical injury. But it is easier for God to show me my dependence on my cat’s happiness — and, thereby, point to my errant need to have people I love and respect be happy with me.
(Years ago, when I played second base for our church team, our shortstop called me the “codependent second baseman.” I didn’t understand what she meant. But obviously, I have been sacrificing myself to please people, in addition to cats, for quite some time.)
People-pleasing is a habit in my life. Quite possibly a habit that needs to be replaced.
Am I pleasing others at the expense of my own well-being? At the expense of being the Sara God created? At the expense of pleasing God?
What am I allowing to press against me that limits my free range of motion? Emotion? My being all me?
I haven’t figured out what “football” to embrace instead of keeping a people-pleasing space available. But I suspect it looks a lot like Jesus.
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