Last year, God worked with me on something I really struggled with: The performance treadmill.
I felt a constant need to perform well so I could feel worthy enough to be loved by others. And if I performed poorly, I felt that people would love me less.
I guess it’s something many of us may face, living in a culture where results and achievements are emphasised. Growing up, it was normal to do my best in everything. I strove in school work, competitive sports – even in Church. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I was capable.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t aim for excellence in the things that we do. We should put wholehearted effort (Colossians 3:23) into our work. My issue was that I equated my sense of self-worth with my ability to do things well.
As a result, there were many times I felt trapped by a sense of obligation to others, and I didn’t want to let them down by failing to do what I thought they expected of me.
This spilled over into my relationship with God as well.
I struggled with receiving His love for me. I knew it in my head, but somehow it didn’t sink into my heart and soul.
Does He really know, love and accept me fully – in spite of myself?
Even when I’m not performing up to expectations? My service in ministry often became another indicator of my “performance”, and I felt like I had to constantly strive so I could be found acceptable.
In the summer, God revealed Himself to me through two episodes which gave me a newfound sense of freedom in this struggle. The first was on a mission trip in June. The nagging sense of needing to perform – in making conversation, asking good questions, being able to connect with others – made me feel discouraged and frustrated whenever I failed.
But during our team devotions on Galatians and Ephesians, I was reminded that in our relationship with God, salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone – not by works or anything we can do (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). His love is not dependent on my performance.
Our team leader reminded us that our motivation and true “KPI” should be whether we were growing in our love for the lost – desperate for our new friends to know Christ. God taught me to rely on the Holy Spirit in connecting with the locals, and shifting the focus of my efforts to building friendships and showing love to them.
Though I thought I had learnt a lesson well, God knew there was more to be (un)done.
During our summer exchange last July, my friend and I had lunch with a local campus ministry staff there. We wanted to get know him and find out more about the ministry there. However, as I started sharing some of the personal challenges I was facing serving in campus ministry back home, he sensed that there was something more behind how stressed I seemed.
I admitted that it might have been related to my struggle with the need to perform, and that God had been trying to address this issue in my life. He began speaking straight into my life. I felt his words go straight to the heart, especially when he said, “You’re not unloved if you don’t do things well”. That got me sobbing – ten minutes before our next class.
I faced a choice then: Trust Jesus, or keep chasing the idol of performance. I could choose to trust what God says about my identity, that I’m already accepted because of Jesus’ sacrifice and only His opinion of me ultimately matters. Or, I could continue trusting the lies which tell me that I need to keep working to gain the approval of men in order to be valued.
After a few more meet-ups with the campus staff, he told me that I was no longer the same person he met who ended up crying after one conversation. He recognised the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, and took us through a simple framework of responding and partnering with Him.
1. Recognise that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life
There are areas He wants you to take note of and to change. He will prompt you in certain ways – you can choose to ignore or respond.
2. Remember the Gospel and orient your heart towards God
Agreeing with the Holy Spirit, identify what Biblical truths and promises may be applied in your situation. For instance, I declared the truth that I am already accepted in Christ against the lie of needing to keep striving for approval from others. You either choose to trust God more or less.
3. Once you choose to trust Him, you can respond
Don’t ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Your actions will take you one of either two ways: Obey or disobey.
I was amazed by God at how divine the appointment was.
I believe that it was the Holy Spirit who guided me into the truth (John 16:13), shaking the false foundations I had lived my life on for so long.
This refining process was (and is) definitely painful, especially for something so embedded in my identity. Letting go of the guilt, fear and pressure to perform is not easy. It’s also not easy to deliberately choose to trust Jesus every time. But “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
I thank God that I can now say “yes”. And though I will fail again somewhere and somehow, I no longer need to strive to perform to feel loved. Nothing I do can subtract or add to God’s love for me. The only striving left I must do is to strive to enter His rest (Hebrews 4:11) and to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9) instead of others. These are truths I cling on to when I’m tempted to trust in the lies again – rather than in Him and His Word.
May we all experience the truth that we are accepted and dearly loved by Him. What a glorious thing it is, to live freely, knowing you are loved by Him!
This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway. From now till the end of March 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story. Stories must have a personal/local angle and be of 800-1000 words. Send us yours here.