When I heard the title of Karen Ehman’s latest book, I knew I needed to read it. Without even seeing the subtitle I knew the content was applicable to me and my lifelong struggle of making choices to prevent conflict and make people like me. And if you’ve read anything from Karen, you know you’ll hear truth like she’s sitting at the table with you to talk about it.
When Making Others Happy is Making You Miserable starts with Karen’s own personal journey of taking three months for “the necessary and the no”. She spent a summer ONLY saying yes to the things that were necessary for her family and ministry; everything else was a “no”. Through this exercise she learned just how often she said yes to things she shouldn’t – all so she could avoid conflict or meet the expectations of those around her.
I know that many of my readers will resonate with this topic. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a people pleaser, you might be surprised at how some of the things in this book convict you and draw you to be clearer than ever on what God, not people, is asking you to do.
This is not a theology book; it’s not meant to be. This is a book speaking to a specific mental and behavioral issue through the lens of Scripture. It’s topical, so readers should come to it with that expectation. It’s also very personal and filled with anecdotal stories and illustrations to usher the reader toward the point Karen is making. Some of my readers have very high standards for Christian books – which can be good – but I always caution against a critical spirit. Topical Christian books serve a purpose too!
Though the chapters contain a lot of stories to illustrate examples of people-pleasing and fear of man. they are also Scripture rich. Karen points the reader back to Christ as the ultimate source of our identity and purpose, encouraging us to serve HIM first. Only when we are clear on what God wants from us will we know what to say yes to and what needs our “no”.
One point in the book really impacted me; people pleasers are often liars. This was shocking to me, but I quickly recognized the truth of it. Karen writes:
“Deception in the life of the people pleaser gets cleverly cloaked in concern and care. After all, we’re only shading the truth ever-so-slightly in order to not hurt someone’s feelings, right? Or maybe we’re afraid they can’t handle the truth and we don’t want to cause them mental distress. Or, if we were totally forthright with them, our truthful words would cause them sadness or maybe even anger. We’re only twisting the truth a teeny bit and we are doing it for them, not for us. But are we?”
At the end of each chapter Karen often includes verses to memorize, truths to speak over your heart, and ideas to start implementing boundaries and truth-telling in a kind way. I think the hardest part of this book for most readers will be the mental adjustment to seeing boundaries and honesty as a GOOD thing. People pleasers truly do deceive themselves into believing that lies/fibs are benefiting other people. Even as I was reading, I was convicted of my own tendency to color the truth to prevent conflict.
Final point on doctrine: Karen is also a speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries and you can read many of her other books and posts through P31 if you want to check out her work.
I don’t have any cautions with this book, partially because I found nothing to raise my eyebrows when I read it but also because I’ve read other books by Karen and am blessed to know her in real life. I know she practices what she teaches and that she loves the Lord deeply and dearly. I will note that I was truly amazed at how many personal examples Karen was able to include to help illustrate the points in the book. I think that takes a high level of vulnerability to share personal examples of your own growth and development. I think it also helps the reader put herself in the author’s shoes and imagine what this might look like in her own life!
I think this book would help with boundary setting, as long as the person setting the boundaries remembers they are still to show love and walk by the Spirit; boundaries don’t mean we stop serving others, we just do so because of the Lord’s leading, not because of guilt. (Then again, if someone isn’t acting in love that’s a personal issue, not the fault of the book!)
This book spoke to me as a seasoned believer, but I also think it could be a good resource for a young Christian who is learning to walk out her faith. I could see it being a great discipleship resource for older and young women together and even a good discussion for groups of women in a book club. I will definitely be writing down some of the verses and statements to remember, keeping them where I can see them as a reminder that we serve Christ, not man!