Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.
I’m convinced he was talking about the month of May.
Because every activity under the sun seems to be on the calendar for this month: soccer tournaments and baseball play-offs and award ceremonies and graduations and piano recitals and dance performances and prom and teacher appreciation week and school plays and final exams and EOGs and Memorial Day and swim meets and gymnastics championships and board meetings and field trips and company fundraisers and church musicals and art festivals and on and on.
Honestly, what else could we possibly shovel into the month of May?
Oh, that’s right.
It’s crammed into the month right along with a million and one other things and most likely shares a space on the calendar with at least two other occasions.
With so much to do in so little time, May can really put the pressure on.
And, boy, do we feel it.
Of the many pressures we face with the planning, hosting, attending, and preparing for every activity under the sun this month, three of the most daunting ones are the pressures to please people, perfect every detail, and preserve every moment.
the pressure to please…
In itself, the desire to please is not a bad thing. It can be a good, even noble, thing to put others ahead of ourselves, to treat people the way we would want to be treated.
We just want to make people happy.
Whether it’s our children or parents or neighbors or coworkers or whomever, we want to do what we can to please people and make them feel comfortable, respected, special.
There will be times, however, when, in spite of our best efforts, we will not succeed in pleasing everybody.
Take Mother’s Day, for example. A holiday with the opportunity to please three generations of mothers—moms, grandmothers, and great-mothers—on both sides of the family.
Odds like these are not in our favor.
Surely we will inadvertently leave somebody out, offend somebody else, not give a nice enough present, bring the wrong kind of bread, or commit some other holiday misdemeanor.
Any way we look at it, somebody ain’t gonna be happy.
And it’s usually us.
What we see so clearly with Mother’s Day is that an opportunity to please also creates an opportunity to disappoint—other people and ourselves. In a month that offers so many events, it can be hard not to see these events as something other than simply more opportunities to disappoint—other people and ourselves.
But the problem is not with the price of gifts or the types of bread. The problem is with our priority. We need to put to ourselves the same question Paul put to the Galatians:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?”
I like that Paul doubles up on this question about pleasing men. It makes us think twice. And we should because really, yes and yes, that is what we are doing: we are trying to please man. Or woman. Mom or grandma. Or husband or child or boss or somebody.
Because there’s always somebody wanting something from us.
And, Lord love us, we aim to please each and every one.
But not Paul.
No, Paul follows up this double question by declaring that he has given up on pleasing people. He says, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I take his comment to mean that we cannot serve—or please—two masters. Either we please people or we please God. We cannot do both.
Which is not to say that pleasing God and pleasing people are always mutually exclusive—as though when we please God, we automatically make the people around us miserable. That is not the case.
What it means is that if we make pleasing people our main objective, we are going to fail. We certainly won’t please God, and let’s face it, we still probably won’t please the people we were aiming to please in the first place.
But if we make serving God our main objective, we have the chance to not only please God but maybe even some other people along the way.
Christian author and theologian C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
Aiming at heaven, though, does not mean disregarding other people altogether. We should not kid ourselves by thinking that pleasing God means we can do whatever we want without care or concern for how our actions may affect other people.
That is not pleasing God. That is pleasing ourselves—very often to the detriment of other people.
As much as we may not like it, pleasing God very often does involve other people—maybe not pleasing them exactly but showing them kindness, showing them love. Treating them the way that we want to treated, the way God calls us to, with mercy, with justice, with humility.
And in so doing we will please God. And maybe a few other people this month.
Even if we do end up bringing the wrong kind of bread.
unless otherwise noted * graphics, photos, text © 2017-2018 hilary hall