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The People-Pleasing Problem

First Reading: 1 Timothy 3:14-16

Beloved: I am writing you, although I hope to visit you soon. But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion, Who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 111:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

How great are the works of the Lord! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my hear in the company and assembly of the just. Great are the works of the LORD, exquisite in all their delights. Majesty and glory are his work, and his justice endures forever. He has won renown for his wondrous deeds; gracious and merciful is the LORD. He has given food to those who fear him; he will forever be mindful of his covenant. He has made known to his people the power of his works, giving them the inheritance of the nations.

Gospel: Luke 7:31-35

Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

ESV

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It’s an old saying: “You can please all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I encounter this reality on a daily basis.  My older son loves the pasta I made for dinner; my younger son won’t even let it get near his mouth. Some of my high school students dive enthusiastically into the activity I have planned; others rise reluctantly from their desks, looking as if they’d rather have their teeth extracted.

Today’s Gospel touches on this truth by showing us the reception Jesus got from other people. He’s judged as a glutton and drunkard for enjoying the pleasures of the table, but He’s well aware that if He’d lived an ascetic life like John the Baptist, He’d be criticized for that too. I feel a little bit better reading this passage. Even the Savior of the world didn’t have everyone liking or approving of Him. I’m in good company.

But still, it can be hard to let go of the desire to please everyone. Intellectually, I know that I will not win applause every time, whether it’s with my cooking or my teaching or my writing. Emotionally, that fact is often hard to accept. And I’m not content not to improve; some part of me always wants to increase the percentage of people in the “Pleased” category. At the same time, I recognize that this desire could turn me into Ginny-in-the-hamster wheel, running madly and fruitlessly for no reason other than my own pride.

“Tension” is not a word we associate with positive things, but sometimes it can be good. This is one of those times. I think my life works best when there is a tension between these two extremes. It is good to strive to improve, but I need to be realistic about how far I can go. It is good to want others to approve of me, but I can’t sacrifice my truest self to get there. In any given situation it takes wisdom to know when to keep going and when to stop. It takes discernment, and prayer.

Thankfully, we have a God who has been there Himself. He has been there, and He’s always ready to listen.

When have you had to navigate between trying harder and accepting things as they are?

photo by Madi Myers-Cook

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a mother, high school English teacher, and BBC period drama junkie. She is the author of Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood and Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. Ginny lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and about thirty thousand Legos.  You can find out more about her here

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