This April, my wife and I will have been married for twelve years. And I’ve spent the majority of those twelve years bouncing back and forth on the pendulum of pleasing her and simply shutting off. It’s an exhaustive charade that has robbed me of peace and caused me to fall into the trap of loving her circumstantially. I treasure the fact that she challenges me and pushes me beyond my comfort zone, but it grates on every last nerve.
For more than thirty years, I’ve been an approval-seeking people pleaser. That’s exactly why I polarize my emotions towards my wife when she challenges me. With one set of eyes, I see someone who loves me absolutely and wants the best from me. But I also see a set of expectations that I can’t possibly live up to.
Recently, with the help of a dear friend and the power of God, I drilled down to the source of my frustration—the very heart of the issue. Instead of treating the symptoms, we introduced a cure.
The reality is, I had applied my pleaser persona to my relationship with God. I alternated between seeking His approval and folding in apathy when I felt insufficient. I was lost in a struggle between doing all the right things and simply not caring. What my friend, Kevin, helped me see is that my life—my marriage, my career, my physical well-being—was a direct reflection of how I saw my Father. That perspective was transformational. In an instant, the subtle walls I had constructed around my heart began to crack and were brought down by the power of that truth. I wasn’t completely free, but I was getting there.
The more I saw God as a loving Father, the more capacity I had to avoid the pendulum. He approved of me, not because of what I did, but because of who I was. Consequently, I began to see that I wasn’t the only one caught on the pendulum.
It was affecting my kids as well.
Children Learn From the Father
My wife and I have four kids under the age of seven. That in and of itself is exhausting, but raising them well takes it to another level. As I wrestled through my own desire to please and shut off, my wife challenged me with a question: “What are we teaching the children?”
On one hand, she was addressing us as the parents of our four children. That would have previously sent me into a spiral of defensiveness. But with a fresh heart and eager eyes, I chose to pause and consider her question. In addition, I saw a deeper layer. As a culture, what are we teaching our children? What if we saw ourselves through our kid’s eyes? My kids long for time with their dad and look forward to my coming home. But how does it feel when I raise a finger to silence their questions? Or how painful is it that I give more attention to my phone? What do our kids see?
As parents, we constantly mold the way our kids view the world. Our own prejudices and passions slowly leak down to our kids without us even knowing it. Inadvertently we may create good, obedient kids that become terrible adults because they don’t have a healthy view of the Father.
It takes vulnerability, humility, and perspective to invite God into the conversation—to filter our lives through a lens of faith. And our defensiveness and prejudice are constantly battling against us. The quicker we well-up with emotion and raise our voice in opposition shows how tethered we are to our circumstances and how untethered we are to God.
How we see our Father dictates how we see our lives. How we navigate our lives from there is a direct reflection on the generations that follow.
Our Cultural Struggle
As I pressed into this idea, it provided a unique perspective on what we’ve been experiencing as a culture. America seems to be caught in a sort-of grenade throwing party. We’re standing on opposite sides of various issues tossing bombs back and forth at each other, mindless about the damage we’re doing. We’re blowing off our brother’s and sister’s limbs and calling it free speech. The crowds cheer while the children stand by and watch.
But I wonder what they see? What are we really teaching our children with this behavior?
More importantly, what do our actions say about the way we view God?
If you’re willing and humble enough to wrestle with those questions, I think you’ll find something deeply beneficial that helps you transcend the exhaustive back-and-forth of the emotional pendulum. If you’re unwilling, you’re building walls for yourself while yelling at everyone else to tear theirs down.
How Do You See God?
How we live our lives and how we treat people are a direct reflection of how we see God. If we see Him as a heartless dictator who demands our best, we’ll hold others to the rigidity of obedience. If we see Him as a villain, our life becomes a sort-of fairytale where we make everyone out to be the villains. It’s only when we see God as gracious and loving, a Father who loves His kids, that we can have the full capacity to be gracious and loving in return. That begins with our own family, those He has entrusted to us. It ripples outward from there.
If we have any hope of affecting culture, it begins here.
We must take moments of honest pause and bring our thoughts and actions into the light. Because if we’re not careful, we’ll teach our kids that phones are more important than people, that screaming and yelling are the appropriate responses to disappointment, and to hope in everything but God.
That’s a dangerous legacy that I don’t want any part of.
Matt Ham and his wife, Liz, live in Wilmington, North Carolina with their three sons and one daughter. Matt is a speaker and author of the book, Redefine Rich. In 2016, Matt co-founded YouPrint, a Faith Development organization, along with Zondervan author Kevin Adams. For more on YouPrint, please visit www.youprint.life.