New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has done several things recently that have impressed me quite a bit. I don't know his politics much and haven't taken much time to study his positions on the issues that matter to me. But I know that as a leader and as a human being, I am really coming to respect him.
The first thing moment that greatly impressed me was when Christie appointed a Muslim-American lawyer who had defended terrorism suspects (who never ended up being charged) as a New Jersey Superior Court judge. The pick was criticized by certain bloggers and columnists, charging that the judge would be more likely to attempt to follow Shariah law. To this, Chris Christie responded, "This Shariah law business is crap. It’s just crazy and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies." He knew the judge personally and defended his character and reputation. This reply to the controversy from a Republican made me sit up and pay attention. Yes, both parties have their problems, but I have seen all too many "fear-mongering" techniques to gain votes coming from the Republican party lately. It's not necessarily a popular Republican position to suggest that a Muslim judge could be a great judge. Christie didn't care. He spoke the truth as he saw it. That takes guts.
The second thing that Christie did that caused me to sit up and pay attention happened this week. Despite intense pressure from important and ordinary people alike, Chris Christie decided not to run for President at this time. A lot of people would probably yield to the pressure. A lot of politicians are so lacking in a personal compass and so lacking in an internal sense of purpose and worth that they will jump at being asked to doing something important, even if the timing is wrong, even if it means abdicating important commitments, even if they feel unprepared, even if people are trodden underfoot. Because their sense of importance is tied to achievement and opportunity, they just can't say no.
Christie showed a different example for us all. Despite the extremely flattering attempts of powerful and everyday people to get him to run, Christie considered it carefully, but in the end decided that he needed to finish his commitment to New Jersey. He said that he worked hard to get that job and wanted to be true to his commitment. I think this shows character, something I always look for in the people I vote for.
But Christie's response to this opportunity left me thinking even more about the character I am attempting to develop in my own life. The character to do things because I feel called to do them, not because I feel pressured to do them. It has been a hard realization for me that I am a people-pleaser. Oh, how disappointing! I always thought I was more hard-core than that! But no, I often do things to get people to approve of me. I often do things in order to gain the success that I use to feed my self-esteem. Rather, than living out of a sense of purpose and giftedness, I often find myself doing things in order to fit the mold of what people expect of me.
This was a big problem for me as a young pastor because I had 600 bosses and was always worried that I was not doing things correctly enough, that I was not filling the picture people had of what a pastor should be, that I was not giving people enough of their money's worth. It turned into a crazy treadmill as I tried hard to please but felt it falling flat sometimes because I wasn't always being true to myself. I often thought of myself as putting on the "proper pastor" mask. I had things to say, challenges to make, a different way of living that I was often afraid to express because of the fear of social disapproval. But really, it isn't other people's fault that I felt this way. It's mine. I idolized people above God because of my own inner uncertainty about myself. Getting approval from people can easily become more important than getting God's approval. (And maybe that's because we can see other people, but we can't see God. But that's why Scripture teaches us to live by faith.)
I was worried that I would fall into this same tendency as I now serve as a pastor's wife. There are plenty of ideas of what a pastor's wife should be like and I knew my tendency to people-please by now. I also know my tendency to over-commit myself in order to feed my self-esteem.
Well, I have been working hard on this problem. First of all, I actually took a "big gulp moment" and told the council and call committee about my struggles with people pleasing and my worries about being a pastor's wife. And it was so freeing! To be real about those struggles!
And I am working hard on how I respond to others. I won't say that I am always successful in resisting the urges to be a people-pleaser, but I am getting a little better at it. I have said "no" to a couple of big opportunities lately. I think that a few years ago, I probably would have said yes, because I would have thought, "If I don't do this now, another opportunity will never roll around again!" I would have thought, "If I don't do this (even though I don't feel ready or even though it doesn't feel right), the success train will pass me by." Now, I am learning (emphasis on the learning) to say no and trust God instead of my own achievement. I am learning to trust that if I am true to what I can handle and do a quality job at now, if I put my priorities in the right place, if I tell the truth, if I dare to ask for what I'm worth in work matters, I will find peace. It is so freeing to say no to opportunities! It is freeing to know that I don't have to be God and do everything. I just need to do what I'm called to do and do it well.
I'm grateful to Gov. Christie for putting his ego aside and making a decision that was best for his state, his family, and ultimately himself. I don't know if he had any faith reason for making this decision. I know that faith in Christ has helped me greatly in finding the inner worth that I long for and that I have too often tried to find in achievement and pleasing people. I am worthy though I am a sinner because Christ loved me and died for me. Because I am already worthy, I am free to make decisions based on good reasons to do things, instead of reasons like "if I don't do this, I will never get another chance!" I don't always remember that I am free. But I am learning to remember.