“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a phrase most of us have heard and many have attempted, in one form or another. Besting our neighbors or at least trying to keep pace with other people’s lifestyles predates social media and reality television. However, as internet outlets abound and technologies advance, an existing human bent toward “othering,” preoccupying ourselves with others, is ever noticeable.
On one hand, we view others through a skewed lens: to blame, to idolize, to envy, to emulate. We consume, binge, and even judge their habits, appearances, choices, and more.
On the other hand, we are preoccupied with devoting our efforts and energies to pleasing and placating others. We forfeit God’s supreme role, mistakenly pinning the weight of our hope and happiness on frail, ill-equipped humanity.
Culture baits, luring us into other-centeredness. It dangles shiny baubles of the world in front of our starstruck gaze. It spawns an appetite, deceiving us that a little more of “this” acceptance or “that” coveted approval will satisfy the void.
Every human is created with a unique God-shaped space. Aside from Him, no one and nothing can ever fill it. Hence, our futile efforts fall on infertile ground when we try to substitute idols, whether people’s approval or accumulated substance, into the heart space intended for God alone.
When we codependently rely on others to dictate our value, we bury ourselves under false loyalty and expectation. These mountains require intentional faith and action to remove, with God, and a trusted therapist.
Let’s dialogue and reflect, focusing our attention on codependency, what the Bible says and shows about codependency, as well as some practical steps to walk a new path.
How did we get here?
We didn’t stumble into these wayward ways without precedent. The first generation of humans, Adam and Eve, fell prey to the same. They reached for the serpent’s offer instead of the permissible abundance God had lavished. We can see the evidence of their choices in many aspects of life, including relationships.
Codependency: A Closer Look
Codependency attaches our value to how people esteem us, for example, by drawing worth from their need for us. Codependency pulls our attention away from God, our Source for identity and affirmation.
Rooted in fear, codependency is at the heart of people-pleasing. When driven to cater to others’ whims and wants, aside from what God wants for us and what He wants us to desire for ourselves, we set up idols. This unintentionally swaps devotion to our unchanging Savior to human puppeteering that is finite and fickle, at best.
Do we tend to the needs of others as a badge of personal identity or token to subversively bargain for what we want, even if we mean well? This cycle of deception masks manipulation and disguises control.
Here, codependency leverages discontent or other emotion to muscle others into bending to the will of our highest hopes instead of bowing to God. Codependency and the fear that feeds it, shade our view of the perfect God, thereby tinting genuine love, acceptance, and approval with our false need to perform.
However, God loves and gives because He is Love. We are as infinitely loved as we’ll ever be. He chose, adopted, and accepted us (Ephesians 1:4-6). Consequently, salvation is not attributed to performance. Rather, we are saved for showing works, the outgrowth of God’s love-in-action.
Sometimes, we Christ-followers confuse Christlikeness with serving every person’s agenda and every cause, always and in all seasons. If we want to be Biblically accurate, we need to check the text and the Christ within, at the center of it all.
Codependency: Bible Show and Tell
Jesus’ example illuminates a path to live above codependency. He teaches us to live dependent on Him, and interdependently with others. His covenant of peace anchors this truth.
Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful. – John 14:27 (emphasis added)
Mind the Man/Woman
People, places, and things cannot provide the validation, peace, and purposefulness that we require. Jesus, as God and man, exemplified this, remaining firm in His identity and authority, refusing the temptation to placate others, even when He was most vulnerable (Luke 4:1-13).
Get to know who you are in Christ by getting to know Jesus. Grow in grace with Him and align with your identity. Learn to exercise godly authority by studying His example in the Word.
Mind the Mission
Jesus had one aim. He was bold and verbal about doing nothing less and nothing different than the Will of His Father. He committed, at all costs, including the expense of His own life.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34
Jesus rejected pressure from religious leaders, his disciples, and his family from distracting his Father-focused mission. Though He loved people, Jesus did not permit anyone to push him into an earthly agenda or restrain Him from following the Spirit into the unfamiliar.
A stroll through the gospels will post landmarks where Jesus drew away from crowds large and small. Countless miracles displayed God-on-Earth manifestations, but these public wonders proceeded from secret place prayer and worship with His Father. This sensitized Jesus to the Holy Spirit’s pioneering into places where His disciples (then and current) would have avoided.
But Jesus replied to the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And extending His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold: My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew 12:48-50
Remain in Rest
It is not God’s will for us to be subsumed in other people’s worlds that we can’t engage in the “unforced rhythms of grace” with Him (Matthew 11:28-30). Envision yourself serving others from an overflowing place of love (not codependent manipulation). Refresh in His Presence through prayer, worship, and study, so you are well-nourished for your own life and abundantly enabled to release to others.
A Soul Check-up
Codependently pleasing people can germinate a root of bitterness when we feel that our efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated, especially if we have unmet needs and lingering expectations. When we overspend time and energy outside of the sphere
and season that God has graced, we bankrupt the resources He furnished for a balanced, meaningful life.
Consider the following questions for a codependency heart check:
- Are you simmering in unresolved anger or secretly stashing resentment?
- Are you agreeing to do more for others than they are willing to do for themselves?
- Are you committing more to others’ agendas than to walking in holiness?
- Have you extended energy, time, and resources to support others with your initial yes, but now you can’t manage their wants and your needs?
Biting more than we can reasonably chew leaves us bloated, sick, and regretful. We may need to remove some commitments from our plates, and perhaps save for another day, delegate, outsource, or share with others whose capacity and capability match the current task.
The Bible narrates God’s love story as one in which His people continually turned from Him, in pursuit of other gods. Relentlessly and repeatedly, He wooed and redeemed them from their proclivity toward idolatry and self-destruction.
While modernized idolatry may not always resemble a shrine in the living room, it can mimic the “Joneses” or strive to please others more than prioritizing God’s Heart. The eternal God still wants to rescue us from the idolatry of codependency and people-pleasing.
God wants a version of “one another-Ing,” in its proper place. Scripture encourages other-oriented activities that flow from Christ-centered focus, distinguishing interdependence from codependency.
Living interdependently, as members one to another, sees the Body of Christ as vibrant and functioning, as each unit contributes to the others, causing the whole to thrive. We are empowered for healthy interdependence: to love, serve, teach, admonish, forgive, and pray for one another.
Affirmation and Next Steps
Tend your garden. Steward your God-given purpose and responsibility without overreaching and robbing people of the opportunity to make their own choices and engage in their relationship with Jesus Christ, the only Savior. Cheer others on. Afford them the agency of owning their choices by living dependently on God as Father and interdependently with you as sister or brother in Christ.
Nurture the good God has placed in you. How effective can you be for God, yourself, and the others you may be codependently addicted to pleasing? Embrace the discomfort and delight of allowing your own unique light to shine, bringing God’s heat and warmth to cold and dark spaces by simply being yourself, with no performance motives attached. You are enough, as who He created and called, apart from what you can do for others.
Performance will never harness more of the Father’s love or acceptance, and lack of performance will never diminish or dilute it. God is concerned with conforming you to Christ’s image. He desires that you maximize your godly potential by being all you were created to be.
Maybe bringing the change that’s needed in others first appears by being the change for your own life, without trying to produce an internal or external change in others. Trust them and yourself to God’s capable hands. Are you ready to live free from codependency? Reach out to us today to activate that momentum. Our therapists are equipped to journey the next leap with you.
“Meadow Flowers” Courtesy of Jakub Kriz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Free Spirit”, Courtesy of Javier Allegue Barros, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “At the Cliff’s Edge”, Courtesy of Kal Visuals, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Boardwalk”, Courtesy of Todd Quackenbush, Unsplash.com, CC0 License