Monday, June 3, 2013

Who Are You Trying to Please?

There is a little saying I have seen on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and on the internet on numerous occasions. I might be paraphrasing it a little differently, but the gist is the same. It reads:

I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow is not looking good either.

I hope that caused you to chuckle just a little bit. It generally brings at least a grin to my face every time I see it. But as is the case with many little snippets, there are some underlying truths that are being addressed.

One of the truths being addressed is the seeming need by some people to have everyone please them. Perhaps you have run into such a person in your life. Fortunately, I think such folks are relatively rare, but when you run into them, you know it.

When I was in seminary, part of my training was to work as a hospital chaplain for 10 weeks. During that time period, I was called to visit a patient who was causing some difficulty. When I arrived, we began talking. After only a few minutes, the lady began asking me to do all sorts of things. At first, I graciously helped her with a few items, but then she asked me to do something that I wasn’t allowed to do.

I said, "I’m sorry ma’am, I cannot help you with that."

She retorted, "Why not?"

I replied, "I’m not allowed to do that. You will have to talk to your nurse to see if she can help you with that."

The woman, in a none-too-pleased tone responded, "You are a chaplain, aren’t you?"

I said, "Yes."

She quipped, "Aren’t you supposed to make me feel better?"

I answered, "No, ma’am. You’ve got to do that yourself."

And that’s when the fight started. No, not really. There was no fight, but there was a look of shock from this woman. She literally expected me to do whatever it took to please her, and she wasn’t exactly happy when I wouldn’t comply. Fortunately, there were no ill effects of this visit, but I have remembered it to this day. Why?

Well, when you run across such people, you learn very quickly there is no way to absolutely please them. They will continue to ask for things and harp about things ad nauseum because of a reality I pointed to–no one can make another person happy. Happiness cannot be brought about by expecting others to provide it to you.

That’s point one. The second point is that if you end up trying to please everyone or please someone who expects you to provide that happiness, you will end up in dire straights. I’ve seen this happen more than a few times, but perhaps someone who illustrated this in a marvelous way is science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in his book I Robot. Now, please know this before I begin, the book I Robot is vastly different from the movie staring Will Smith. The book is actually a collection of short stories, and it is to one of these stories that we now turn. It is titled, "Liar!"

Mind you, this book is science fiction, so you will have to allow your imaginations to work. In the story "Liar!" a robot develops the ability to read minds. The people in the story are trying to figure out why to begin with, but they soon find themselves entangled in a massive web of intrigue. It seems like the robot is lying to them. Theoretically, this should be impossible according to the three laws which govern robot behavior. Those laws are:

Law #1: A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction, or allow a human being to come to harm.

Law #2: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

Law #3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Now, Law #1 is critical to the story "Liar!" A robot may not injure a human being through inaction or allow a human being to come to harm. The robot in the story can read minds, and because it can read the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of those humans, it works diligently to make sure no injury comes to those human beings–even emotional injury. Think about that, and then think about your thoughts and what you desire and who you care about and what you would like to happen to you in the future.

Imagine someone who could read those thoughts and then read the thoughts of others. Imagine what would happen if you asked them about what others were thinking. Oh how nice it would be to find out what others were actually thinking about you. But then realize, the person who could read minds couldn’t injure you even emotionally. Imagine the person who could read minds saying exactly what you wanted to hear so that you felt no emotional pain. Imagine what that would do to you when you found out that you had been lied to. What would happen?

Well, in the short story "Liar!" the robot who actually did this ended up making absolutely no one happy, and when it realized it was actually causing pain by trying to make everyone happy, its brain short circuited and was fried.

Can you see the lesson raise by Asimov? Perhaps he didn’t intend for that lesson to come forward, but it’s pretty obvious to me–if you try to please everyone, you will actually please no one, and you will fry your brain in the process.

But this raises the question: who then are we to please? Who are we to focus on? Ourselves? I think if we focus totally on pleasing ourselves, we become like that lady I spoke about in the hospital. And we certainly cannot try to please everyone? Should we just work on pleasing our family? Our friends? Our boss? But what if they turn into those who abuse our good nature? Who are we to work toward pleasing?

As Christians, we have the answer to that question. It is tackled by St. Paul in the book of Galatians, and we have a portion of that before us this morning. In the opening verses of this book of the Bible, Paul writes:

10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Which do you think Paul focuses on?

If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. If there was any doubt, Paul clears it up with that statement. He is not here to please people, and neither are we. We are here to please God. Period.

And what does it mean to please God? What does it mean to make God happy? Well, first off, we need to realize, that we can’t totally please God. All have fallen short of His glory. Even with being redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we still don’t stop sinning. We cannot achieve perfection. So, even if we don’t achieve perfection, what do we do? Do we cease trying? Do we stop trying to please God because we know His standards are unattainable?

Let me ask you this: does a baseball player refuse to step up and try to hit the ball even though his or her chances of actually getting a hit are generally about one in three? Does a basketball player stop trying to shoot baskets even though there’s only roughly a 50% chance she or he will make a basket? Does a football player refuse to give his all knowing that on most plays a touchdown is never scored or that he will not score that touchdown? Does a sprinter stop running as fast as he or she can even though he or she knows there is only one winner in the race–and there are others likely faster? No. In each scenario, the athlete strives to do his or her best. The athlete works because every once in a while, a ball is hit, a basket is made, a touchdown is scored, and a time is improved.

And what do you think happens when God sees us doing our best? What do you think happens when He sees us trying to please Him even though we fall short? Do you think He becomes angry? Do you think He grovels and prepares a couple of lightning bolts? No. Not at all. I’m pretty sure He says the same thing to us that He said to Jesus at Jesus’ baptism, "You are my child, with you I am well pleased." Amen.

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