Do you have a hard time saying no when others request something of you? Do you find yourself fearing losing the approval of others even if it means doing what seems to be right thing or saying something that needs to be said, even if it’s difficult? These are the traits of a typical people-pleaser, and I readily recognize them in myself – especially in wanting others to like me and to think well of me. But as Ed Welch explains below in his excellent book When People are Big and God is Small (P&R, 1997), if unaddressed, this can not only can be detrimental to yourself, but it can keep you from truly loving and helping others. I like how he puts it, especially noting how we can deceive ourselves about the goodness of wanting to please others.
“People-pleasers can mistake ‘niceness’ for love. When they do, they will be prone to being manipulated by others, and burn-out is sure to follow. People-pleasers can also mistake ‘yes’ for love. But ‘yes’ might be very unwise. It might not be the best way to repay our debt of love. Saying ‘yes’ to one task might keep us from another that is more important. It might mean that we will do something that someone else could have done better. It might mean that we will entrench the sin patterns of other people. It might mean that we interpret the church egocentrically rather than as a body, thinking, ‘If I don’t do it, nobody will.’
“Therefore ‘yes,’ ‘being nice,’ and ‘self-sacrifice’ are not necessarily the same as love. They can be ways that we establish our own personal meaning and identity more than creative expressions of loving others” (214).
My last post on Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Mariner, 2006), offered a brief preview of how Lincoln embodied mental illness and mental wellness (and even greatness) at the same time.
To best appreciate Lincoln’s greatness – his strength of character and mental fortitude – it helps to see him at his darkest, most desperate moments – in the valley of depression. This is the picture I want to offer here.
Lincoln once confided about his depression to a colleague, a fellow politician, who didn’t suspect that he suffered from depression. This man recalled, “He told me that he was so overcome with mental depression, that he never dare carry a knife in his pocket” (23).
His second episode of major depression was triggered by a “long period of intense work,” “profound personal stress,” and “a stretch of bleak weather.” He “spoke openly about his misery, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide. He was unable to work. His friends feared that he might kill himself, and that if he lived, he might go insane” (23).
“By the time he was in his early thirties, he faced a lifetime of depression…The acute fits of his young manhood gave way to less histrionic, but more pervasive, spells of deep gloom. Dramatic public avowals of his misery gave way to a private but persistent effort to endure and transcend his suffering. Yet the suffering did not go away…And even when he began to do the work for which he is remembered…he continued to suffer” (23).
These passages describe a turbulent, and pitiable, emotional and mental state. Because of these episodes and his behaviors, some even thought Lincoln was crazy. Yet at this very point, it is worth remembering that this man, who couldn’t carry a knife from fear of hurting himself and at times believed that he would go insane, went on to become president of the United States and steer this nation through the Civil War and take the first major step toward freeing the nation’s slaves.
This is a guest post by my wife, who is a much faster reader than me.
I first discovered Meg Jay when I was on kick watching TED talks. I found her talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20,” (see video below!), so engaging and clearly stated that my husband bought me her book for Christmas so that I could keep digging into the topic of the importance of your twenties.
As a twentysomething, I was interested to learn what’s so special about this decade of my life. The quotes below from Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now (Twelve, 2013), are a sampling of her answer to my question “what’s so special about your twenties anyway?”. It turns out: A LOT!
- “Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five” (xiv).
- “A colleague of mine likes to say that twentysomethings are like airplanes, planes just leaving New York City bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in either Seattle or San Diego. But once a plan is nearly in San Diego, only a big detour will redirect it to the northwest” (xxx).
- “’Not making choices isn’t safe. The consequences are just further away in time, like in your thirties or forties’” (40).
- “As a twentysomething, life is still more about potential than proof” (62).
- “By the time we reach our twenties, the brain has gotten as big as it’s going to be, but it is still refining its network of connections” (139).
- “Twentysomething plans help us think across the years and decades ahead” (141).
- “’Inaction breeds fear and doubt. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.’-Dale Carnegie, writer and lecturer” (156).
- “We now know that, of any time in life, our twenties are our best chance for change” (166).
- “Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood” (170).
- “Compared to their twentysomething selves, women are about half as fertile at thirty, about one-quarter as fertile at thirty-five, and about one-eighth as fertile at forty” (180).
- “’There is a big difference between having a life in your thirties and starting a life in your thirties’” (194).
Our twenties matter. The decisions of what job to take, what career field to enter and work to get into, and whether or not to pursue an advanced degree (and if so in what and where), matter. Who you date (or don’t date) matters because it can affect who you end up marrying and choosing to partner in life with. Meg Jay covers these professional and personal aspects of life well in the sections “Work” and “Love” of her book. She stresses how decisions made (or not made) in your twentysomethings significantly affect the trajectory of your life. She also presents very compelling biological information about how, physically, our twenties are a unique time in her section “The Brain and the Body.”
I loved The Defining Decade. If you’re in your twenties or have a loved one in their twenties, you should definitely read this book! It’s inspiring and motivating. I think Meg Jay would agree that her book is a call to action written for twentysomethings encouraging us to not put things off for later but really seize our twenties.
My favorite books of 2013, in order:
1. Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.
I’m breaking a rule with this one: including it as one of my top reads before I’ve finished it. But I’m just over halfway through the book, and it’s already my favorite! Expertly employing historical narrative, Metaxas introduces us or reminds us of these seven great men: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddel, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Chuck Colson. Their greatness, Metaxas explains, is in their use of their power and position to serve others. Indeed, we can and should all recognize this as that which makes one truly great.
2. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller.
I read this to prepare for marriage this year, and it’s a book my wife and I will go back to many times during the course of our marriage for guidance and motivation when the going gets tough. Keller expounds on the biblical principles laid down for husbands and wives and shows us the power, the essence, and mission of marriage. It’s replete with useful principles and examples of meaningful, Christ-centered marriage, but one of the most helpful insights I took was the view of marriage as, ultimately, “spiritual friendship” between two sinners in need of God’s grace. Five months into my marriage, I affirm that this is indeed the bread-and-butter of our union – daily friendship and companionship in which we not only greatly enjoy one another, but also encourage and gently push each other to grow in our love for God and others. Keller’s important book explains the theology and teaches the practice behind meaningful marriage.
3. Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk.
Most people recognize the greatness of Abraham Lincoln, but few know the crucial role of his struggle with lifelong, persistent clinical depression in forming and strengthening his character. Shenk sheds light on Lincoln’s condition, which began in his 20s when he had his first severe bout of depression, with the understanding of our modern understanding of this illness, and he demonstrates how Lincoln’s trials with depression prepared him for the gargantuan trials of his presidency and the nation. This book illuminates and consistently fascinates, besides being eloquently and delightfully written.
4. The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Though too few today have heard of him, Reinhold Niebuhr was a towering theologian and public intellectual at mid-century. He wrote this book as a critical self-examination for our nation, which following WWII found itself as the unchallenged superpower in a world threatened by the menace of Communism. Clear-eyed about the evil and perversion of communism, Niebuhr called on the American public and their leaders to not be blind about our own contradictions and ironies, such as professing noble universal ideals of peace and freedom while securing them through the threat of nuclear annihilation, as demonstrated in Japan at the close of the war. He argued that as the necessary and often tragic exercise of leadership in the world meant that we would not be able to keep intact our professed innocence and virtues. Still, he was clear that the consequences of inaction and isolationism are worse still. This profound and prophetic work, written in 1952, remains as relevant as ever today.
5. Making Sense out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft.
“This is a book for anyone who has ever wept and wondered, ‘Why?'” begins this book. A philosophy professor at Boston College, Kreeft takes the reader by the hand and brings him to the feet of philosophers, theologians, artists and writers to help him better understand the why behind the painful but universal reality of suffering. Kreeft’s gentle wisdom is displayed on every page, making this a deeply personal and moving journey in addition to an intellectual examination of the various and often inadequate answers to suffering found in different religious and philosophical worldviews.