An Open Letter from a Recovering People Pleaser

It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst . . . his love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

by Tara Johnson, author of Engraved on the Heart, originally posted on Relz Reviews

In my debut novel, Engraved on the Heart, the heroine, Keziah, struggles with trying to please her staunch Confederate family, even though their beliefs oppose her abolitionist convictions. Her battle with epilepsy and feelings of worthlessness leave her torn until she learns a remarkable truth.

Just like Keziah, I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. After years of exhaustion, of hiding behind masks, surrounded by the cold arms of depression, I’ve discovered people-pleasing is a moving target. It’s a lie that says approval and love are the same thing. However, in the course of time, God revealed his truth to my heart. Approval and love are not the same thing at all. They are, in fact, polar opposites.

I’m finally starting to realize my worth in God’s eyes. I’m tired of being sucked into a spiral of exhaustion when he has promised me rest. I’m tired of living like everyone else’s opinion of me is more important than his. I have no desire to view people and their approval as my idol or my hope any longer.

Jesus created me unique for a special, defined purpose, yet for years I gave away that gift and tried to remake myself into a poorly constructed mold, praying I would be accepted.

It failed. Over and over again.

Today, I stand here knowing I am loved by the Creator of the universe. He sees me. He calls me his daughter. He knows my broken, messy self yet still delights in my childlike attempts as I grow. And although he has healed and transformed me in immeasurable ways, there is still a broken place inside me that fights the desire for human approval.

With all that being said, I confess that being a recovering people pleaser is hard work. It’s a choice I make each day. I have to be proactive—not just for my sake, but for my family’s as well.

Here is my prayerful plea to you. . . .

1. Respect my boundaries.

Setting boundaries is extremely hard for me. So when I give you a no, even if it sounds timid or unsure, don’t press. Saying no is quite literally the most difficult thing for me to do. It takes an incredible amount of courage, and the only reason I would say no is because I’ve learned how much pressure I can take before I crack. I have no desire to collapse in on myself like a dying star. Not again.

I want to be able to help you in the future, but if I don’t find a proper balance of my energy, time, and resources, I won’t be able to help anyone. My no, although difficult for me to say and possibly just as hard for you to hear, benefits us all in the long run.

2. Manipulation and spiritual abuse are no longer welcome.

Saying you’re disappointed in me for refusing to help you is manipulation. I may have collapsed under these tactics in the past, but no longer. Saying God told you I would be great for a certain job is well and good, but unless God tells me the same thing, my answer will be no. I have a living, breathing relationship with him, just as you do. When this life is over, I will answer to him and him alone . . . not a jury of my peers.

Please don’t shame me, tear me down, or hurt me if my need to say no muddles your well-laid plans. Trust me, I have already tortured myself in realizing I can’t undertake the task, despite my desire to have your approval. Lashing out only makes me resentful about the request, angry at you, and angry at myself for being manipulated. I cannot be your rescuer.

3. Whenever I say yes to something, I will have to say no to something else.

I can’t be everything to everybody. My family is a ministry too—the most important one God has given me. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, a limited amount of resources and energy. Sometimes, saying yes to something that might be good leaves little room to embrace God’s best just around the corner.

4. Be patient.

Sometimes I turn off my phone because the requests never stop. My battery is empty. My family is demanding my attention. I may even have to turn down several major things that I would like to do because God is telling me they aren’t in his plans . . . at least, not now.

If I have to squeak out a string of nos, I’m not trying to sound like a two-year-old. I’ve merely learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to fall back into the same old cycles that nearly became my undoing. I must choose wisely. Be patient. It’s only for a season.

5. Love me, whether I perform well, poorly, or not at all.

The common ground held by people pleasers the world over is this: we have a desperate need to feel loved. We search for unconditional love in conditionally minded people.

For too long I based my worth on what people told me about myself. But all that matters is what God thinks—and he loved me so much, he gave his own life to redeem me from the land of darkness.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m on top of the world or scraping bottom at my worst . . . his love never changes. And I’ve discovered this amazing truth is what my heart has been searching for all along.

I will fail you. I’m human. I stumble and fall. All I ask is that you love me despite my messy attempts to fly. With God’s grace, I’ll love you the same.

In true people-pleasing fashion, I ask—is that okay?

Engraved on the Heart by Tara Johnson 

Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines—until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.

Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.

Learn more HERE>>

An Interview with the Author:

What was the working title?
My working title wasn’t very original. Civil War Story. Haha! Once I envisioned the scene with Kizzie and Micah in front of the Kissing Tree, Engraved on the Heart popped into my brain and stuck.

Describe your book in 5 adjectives.
Romantic, intriguing, adventurous, inspiring, and danger-filled.

Which character did you enjoy writing most?
Ma Linnie. I adore her sense of humor and frank honesty. I fashioned her character after a woman who used to babysit me when I was a child. Aunt Betty had a larger-than-life personality that was exceeded only by her love for people.

Which character gave you the most grief?
Jennie. I think she gave everyone the most grief! I originally intended her to be a secondary character to provide some comic relief, but she had a mind of her own. Before I realized what had happened, she was sneaking all over Savannah, conspiring against Keziah and turning the story on its head. It’s odd to have a character who is both comedic and villainous, but she is all that and more.

What emotions do you think your story will generate in readers?
A good story takes the reader through the same whirlwind emotions that the characters experience: fear, shame, happiness, confusion, remorse, jealousy, hopefulness, and everything in between. More than anything else, I want this story to leave readers with the joy of knowing they have tremendous worth in the eyes of God—brokenness, scars, and all.

What emotions did you experience while writing this story?
Just like Keziah, I grew up with a seizure disorder. I had to relive the shame, the fear, the feelings of frustration all over again. It led me into some dark places, but God used this story to help me heal. It was a beautiful way to shine his light into those shadowed corners I didn’t want to see.

How do you choose your characters’ names?
I had heard the name Keziah years ago and thought it was such a beautifully unique, old-fashioned name. My editor discovered it is actually biblical and is the name of one of Job’s daughters (Job 42:14). I asked friends on Facebook to help me come up with a good name for a hero, and Micah Joel Greyson was born. It’s usually a mix of inspiring names that intrigue me and help from awesome friends.

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