The Roses Must Die: on people-pleasing and choosing empty ground


“Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu…disobeyed the Lord by burning the wrong kind of fire, different than He had commanded…and they died before the Lord…And Aaron was silent.

Moses then asked them what had happened…“Why didn’t you eat…? He demanded.

…Then Aaron answered Moses, “…If I had eaten the people’s sin offering on such a tragic day as this, would the Lord have been pleased?” And when Moses heard this, he was satisfied.

Leviticus 10excerpts

Aaron didn’t eat that day. He was silent at the death of his sons. He didn’t tear his clothes or run away. He and his other sons completed the offerings and carried on. But when Moses challenged him for not eating, Aaron spoke.

The sacrifices are done. The instructions have been obeyed. But on a day like this, would it REALLY please the Lord for me to eat as if nothing has happened??

And Moses was satisfied.

God wanted Aaron’s obedience, regardless, but it does not please Him to pretend. It is the same with me. God wants my obedience, but He does not want my lies. And I am treading water between the two, finally sorting out what in my life has been an act; trying to be honest with Him, with myself.

There is a real tension to work through: God asks that I submit to His instructions, even as he invites me to pour out my heart to Him.  He teaches me to be holy. He asks me to tell it like it is when my heart is full of unholy. He asks that I obey, but He does not ask me to pretend.

I can claim the dignity of real reactions to the hard stuff, the irritations, the discouraging, but I cannot ignore His claim on me. I am not supposed to ignore my feelings, but I am not supposed to run wild after them either. And this tension is front and center in my interactions with other people.

So here I am, caught between:

“…Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”   –Ephesians 4:29


“Obviously, I am not trying to win the approval of people…”    Galatians 1:10

Don’t try to get people’s approval, but do use EVERYTHING you say to encourage them. Don’t let them rule you, but DO choose to serve them. The line is almost invisible, and I am the pendulum between.

Here is my litmus test: Who is it I look to when I ask “did that go okay?”

Is it Him, or is it someone else?

Paul finishes Galatians 1:10 with: “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.”



Where people-pleasing inhabits my way of life, there’s an issue. Those ways are an act, where I push down what I really think and try to meet all the heavy expectations out there. Those ways prevent and distract me from being fully your servant. Those ways must die.

But, Lord, I must look to you to bring life through the disrupted soil I leave in place of those ways when uproot them. People-pleasing is a thornbush, but it is still prettier than what is left when I rip it out. And I sit, exhausted from the effort of pulling and pulling at this area. I stare at the fractured ground and think

Oh no, oh no, what have I done! What if I needed that? What if some part of that kept me in check and made me a better person?? What will I become now?

That’s how I feel: gritty, abrasive, unkind, uncaring, dry, cracked, where once there stood a prize-winning rose. But I am not the domesticated, predictable and perfectly-shaped blossom bred by man to look “just so” on a Homes & Gardens magazine cover. I am the rich and stunning life of cascading wildflowers sweeping over grassy hillsides and tousled in the wind. I have always preferred the gardening of God. So the roses must die.

Help me, Lord, to be patient with your process in my own life, as I wait, teeth clenched, pacing nervously, scanning for something to break through the surface in the space I have held for it.

Grow your sincere kindness in me, Lord, to replace the pretending. Help me to end this show where I do what’s expected of me with a painted-on smile and a restless heart. Teach me to give you room to garden as you see fit, to pull out whatever you choose, no matter how carefully I have tended it, and to water even the seemingly empty ground, as ugly and undeserving as it seems.

I cannot grow what I want to see in my life, but it flows from you without pretending. So help me to stay and to water and to watch what will break through. Your beautiful life is forming here.

So displace my pretending

and help me wait

for grace and truth to grow.



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