You have heard the term “Minnesota Nice,” haven’t you? Well, I need to let you in on a little secret. The more appropriate phrase for me and many of my northern neighbors is “Minnesota Passive-Aggressive.” Our strong reputation as placid, easy–going folks without opinions can have a devastating impact on our God-given identities.
My mother was the world’s greatest people pleaser, and everyone loved her for it. Life of the party, she always made people feel special, comfortable, and important. She never talked about herself, but rather would encourage others to share their lives and interests. After all, the favorite subject of most people is themselves.
You would never know by looking at my mother or casually observing her that she lived with an active alcoholic for more than thirty years. She was just that good at smoothing things over – few on the outside knew my family was dysfunctional. Mom became a master at hiding the pink elephant in the middle of the living room, and was an expert at diverting attention away from my father’s alcohol-induced antics. Years of abandoning herself and always prioritizing others’ needs, feelings, and requests took a devastating toll.
As children do, I learned to navigate life largely through my family of origin, and early on it became clear that people-pleasing, willingness, and a helpful attitude seemed to be the way to win acceptance, value, and love. I don’t share these things to assign blame, but simply to recognize some of the factors which helped to shape my personality.
Before long, gauging what others wanted me to be (and morphing into just that) became a common practice. Time after time, I compromised myself by disregarding my own feelings, keeping my mouth shut when something really needed to be said, and running haphazardly after the crowd – meanwhile, slowly and insidiously chipping away at my identity as a child of Jesus Christ.
The first time I got drunk, I was fifteen years old, and wanted so badly to impress an older guy in my high school. I’d made many agreements with the devil which included beliefs that I was inferior, inadequate, and unworthy. I truly believed that alcohol would make me better, more attractive, and less awkward – everything I was convinced I was not. I wanted to drink away the Melissa who was quirky, goofy, anxious, and clumsy.
I talked too fast. I laughed hysterically at things others didn’t find funny. I was socially awkward, I filled uncomfortable silences with tangential rants my peers didn’t find smooth or alluring.
But when I was fifteen, alcohol made all of that go away. That first experience of euphoria was powerfully branded into the reward center of my brain, and it seemed as though something magical had taken place. Suddenly, I was smooth, sexy, and witty. I had just the right amount of sarcasm and perfectly timed quips, no longer desperate or trying so hard. Alcohol was the magic elixir that filled in all the uncomfortable gaps and creases; it made me so much more than an underage girl clutching a red plastic Solo cup.
When the pleasant arc of the beer buzz faded into stumbling, slobbering – blacking out – I suffered with paralyzing shame, my mind firmly planted upon the next gravel pit party where relief certainly awaited. When, oh when? How many days would I have to struggle through being me?
To ease the pain of the self I begged to escape, I’d do just about anything to gain temporary acceptance. “Do you want some gum?” “Let me buy you a Slurpee at the 7-Eleven.” “Yeah, I brought a case of beer!” “You can all come over to my house, my parents are gone.”
What did I have to show for all my Minnesota Nice, all my years of stuffing my feelings, bowing to the mob, doing anything for approval? Emptiness, disempowerment, victimization, and a sad lack of knowing myself and my own worth.
A dear woman I respect and love very much was the reason why I came to Jesus many years ago, and in a recent phone conversation where I was lamenting some trivial aspect of my life or perceived injustice perpetrated by someone else, she just blurted out, “Isn’t it great to be a daughter of the King?”
I’d never quite thought of it that way. We who have accepted Christ truly are heirs to his throne, though the will struggle mightily every day to convince us otherwise. He wants us to buy the lies he spews in hopes we will believe we need human approval, worldly recognition, or lots of toys in order to gain a life worth living.
Could it possibly be as easy as believing I AM WHO GOD SAYS I AM? His beloved child?
Hundreds of times per day it seems, I fall back into agreement with the lie that I am not worthy, I’ll eventually fail, and if I get too comfortable, the proverbial carpet will be yanked from beneath my feet. These perceived fears prevent me from enjoying the moment – any moment.
A favorite Bible verse of mine is John 16:33. It brings everything around and makes it simple again. Jesus has just explained to his closest friends what will happen when he is handed over to the authorities. His followers are devastated and terrified. Jesus offers comfort by saying, “I have told you all of this so that you may have PEACE IN ME. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
Whoa, there it is. The nugget of truth needed to bring everything into focus. HE has overcome IT ALL. Whatever you’re presently struggling with, He gets it, having been a human who never sinned, after all. The question is, can you trust that He has a better plan for your own life than you do?
When I begin to struggle, it is always because I take my eyes off Jesus and I doubt His ability (or maybe even his desire) to carry me through tough times, and I start to question whether he truly IS guiding my path.
I’ve spent too much time trying to be what I thought everyone else wanted. I know this is a story that’s older than dirt, especially for women. I had a terrible time believing I could be “good enough” AS IS. That Christ could USE ME like he would a used car – “AS IS.” Each one of us is constantly evolving until we take our last breath: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
He began a good work in me, and in you – the day we were born – and even when we didn’t know him and weren’t pursuing him – he was coming for us.
He came for me through all my years of binge drinking, blackouts, misguided choices and even in all the times I tried to MAKE things happen. He patiently waited. He didn’t stop trying to get my attention, didn’t stop gently convicting, didn’t stop speaking through his Holy Spirit during those desperate moments when I really didn’t want to listen.
We can trust Him. He knows us, He loves us – better than anyone. So WHY do we think we can “do it better” on our own?
I used to think I could do some things, and God did the rest. Then I realized that truly, He gives me breath and life, so honestly, I cannot do a blasted thing WITHOUT HIM!
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me YOU CAN DO NOTHING.” John 15:4-11
After so many years trying to be something else, I am finally surrendering – even though I have to do it several times per day. I am finally trusting that I don’t have to try so hard or strive so much to be ‘perfect,’ to be what the world wants. How freeing it is when we let Him take the reins!
When I remember to abide in Him, everything becomes simple again, and I stop my pointless striving. When I stop and listen, He gives me all the wisdom I need in each moment. He tells me when to speak up, when to remain silent, when to move forward and when to just rest. And wait. I hate waiting. But I’m getting better.
Minnesota Nice isn’t all bad, but Minnesota-let-people-walk-all-over you has got to go. Once you truly let Jesus take the wheel, you can stop worrying about what people think and start focusing on His plans.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Galatians 1:10