The problem with performance.

At my worst, I’m obsessed with improvement. Addicted to movement. My allegiance is to the forward progression. I find solidarity with the ones who believe they can be better tomorrow than they are today. One step forward, even a shaky step or a baby step, feels better than standing still (forget about sliding backwards).

Part of this mindset is due to the way I was raised. Part of it comes from the way I was wired. None of it is wrong, unless or until it comes from the wrong place. And for most of my life, it has come from the wrong place.

I recently sat across from a friend and told her that if my flesh was given the option, it would choose to follow a guru with a ten-step plan to fulfillment over a Savior who promises only His presence as I stumble through this life.

“But when you got to the end of those steps, you’d still feel empty, right?”

Of course, I told her. But I’d be happy to start over. A hamster on a wheel doesn’t repulse or repel me. My flesh is happy to be a hamster on a wheel. My flesh wouldn’t mind waking up each day with a to-do list that leads nowhere.

Why? Because the journey of walking with Jesus can be a long one. Aside from the very small (very important) salvation part, it doesn’t produce instant results. And thinking about it like that? Thinking about the life-long process discipleship entails? It makes me tired. It makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit neatly into my predilection for improvement, movement, and forward progress.

Much of my journey as a Christ-follower has consisted of trying to unlock and achieve the next level, whatever I’ve made up for that to mean. I’ve been following Jesus my entire life, and it’s looked different but the same at every stage. Early on, I tried to just stay out of hell. In my teen and young adult years, it became about fixing my problems so that God could use me. Later on, I scolded myself for needing Him daily. I hid my sin from the people I loved most. I felt that for the sake of movement and progress, I should only have to apply the gospel to my life one time, not every waking moment. That would be weak and needy. And God didn’t need weak and needy. He needed me to perform, right?

To look back at this point is hilarious, considering I perceived my worldview to be a less tiring option than abiding with Jesus daily. And what’s worse, I thought my performance-based living actually saved God some time and effort on me. You know, for when I’d really need it.

Pointless? Yes. Wrong? Sure. Twisted? Absolutely. But for some reason, none of those things changed my heart. Exhausting? That’s what did it. I got too tired. God let me wear myself out, like a toddler after a tantrum. And then he scooped me up and wiped my tears and smoothed my hair and whispered sweet somethings in my ear. Stuff about grace, abundance, and transformation.

Improvement and movement and forward progress are not bad things. They are typically part of the package of walking with Jesus. But the idea that I can do it on my own, without ever screwing up or taking a time-out or backing up a few steps… that is just ludicrous. Because even at my best, I am weak and needy. I always need the gospel, the good news that God is only too happy to remind me of, every waking moment. Praise Him for that.