Last month the ladies’ book club at my church read When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Ed Welch. It was, as you might imagine, a convicting albeit encouraging read, a book that will so get in your business but in the best possible way.
At the start of the book, Welch lists several questions as an aid to identify the fear of man. Among them: have you ever struggled with peer pressure? Do you find it hard to say no even when wisdom indicates that you should? Is self-esteem a critical concern for you? Are you always second guessing decisions because of what other people might think? Are you jealous of other people?
Of course these questions are quite revealing but here’s where he really stuck it to me: “Do you avoid people? If so, even though you might not say that you need people, you are still controlled by them. Isn’t a hermit dominated by the fear of man?” (emphasis mine)
What? My hermit-ude a manifestation of a fear of man?
I told you: this is a book that will totally get in your business whether you think you struggle with codependency and the fear of man or not.
The theme of the book can be summarized as follows: “The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.” Welch explores how and why we fear others and then encourages a proper view of others by growing the knowledge and fear of the Lord. He punches a hole in the prevailing self-esteem ideal by claiming people are not empty cups needing to be filled. In fact, he goes so far to say that proclaiming that Jesus came to meet our needs is at best an incomplete gospel. Consider:
When psychological needs, rather than sin, are seen as our primary problem, not only is our self-understanding affected, but the gospel itself is changed. A needs theory suggests that the gospel is, most deeply, intended ot meet psychological needs. In other words, the gospel is aimed at our self-esteem problem. It is aimed at our tendency to dwell on our failures. It is intended to be a statement of God’s love saying that “God doesn’t make junk.”
This sounds good to us, but it is not the gospel. The good news of Jesus is not intended to make us feel good about ourselves.
Jesus did not die to increase our self-esteem. Rather Jesus died to bring glory to the Father by redeeming people from the curse of sin…the cross deals with our sin problem, our spiritual need.
As I said, whether you think you struggle with people pleasing or not, I think you will find When People Are Big and God is Small to be convicting and challenging as you evaluate who or what you fear and what you think you need. In fact, that’s been my primary response after reading: asking myself what it is I want most and correspondingly what is it I fear most. Welch asserts that “who or what you need will control you.”
What controls me?
Well, you don’t have the time and I certainly don’t have the desire to air all my dirty laundry here on the blog (you may thank me in the comments). I will say, however, that the blog, my writing life, is one area in which I do struggle with seeking and wanting validation and approval and thus I fear…well, I fear lots of things: poor writing, looking stupid, no one reading, everyone reading, being wrong…I think you get the picture. And I find Welch is correct: these fears control me.
Take today for instance. I spent an hour (okay, more) struggling to write a post. The words wouldn’t come, everything I said was forced and empty and dull, and to top it off I discovered I had written and published something eerily similar several months ago. And that post showed no evidence of grasping for words but quite the opposite. Instead, it was so well written I was quite impressed with myself and then terribly, horribly insecure over the post I attempted to write today. At that moment I was my own enemy and the cause of my own peer pressure! Crazy, isn’t it?
Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, or at least it is for me. I often feel exposed and vulnerable and that can be scary. Not only that but because it is personal it is easy to make otherwise objective parameters–comments, for example–a referendum on me. I know, I know, it’s dumb and all that but there it is.
I know that blogging or not blogging isn’t an issue of great import, certainly not when these same kinds of struggles may be manifested in more critical areas, my relationships for example. But the answer to my foolishness, in blogging or in other codependent issues? A bigger God, a smaller me. Welch reminds me…
[Y]ou must be controlled by the truth of God more than your own feelings. God’s Word, not feelings, is our standard. To be driven by our fluctuating sense of well-being may seem spiritual, but it is wrong. It exalts our interpretation above God’s. That is why it is so important to immediately turn to God after any biblically guided introspection. When we listen to God, he speaks words that fill an empty soul.
He blesses and frees us by saying, “Fear me and me alone.” This is exactly what we need. It gives us the privilege of being controlled by our loving and just Savior rather than other people.
So I put that other post aside and instead write this one as a reminder to myself of the foolishness of seeking the approval of people. I choose to fear the Lord and rest secure in Him.