My son is in kindergarten and he is just starting to experience the love/hate relationship with learning. He puts so much pressure on himself to get his schoolwork right, and yesterday broke down crying because he couldn’t remember how to spell a word. I talked to him for a while about giving himself a break and understanding that how he does in school has no bearing on how loved he is or how smart he is. It is shocking how quickly the performance lie shows up in a child.
There is something about being a human that makes us think we need to perform for everyone around us, and for God. We need to clean up and act right especially with God. We are convinced that He will not love us if we mess up. I think it often starts with our own parents. Some drive their kids to perform and tie love to that, or some give no love at all and kids assume if they could just get it right then they would be loved. We try so hard to perform, entertain, impress or outdo others so that they will look on us with love and acceptance. The trick is that you have to do it all again the next day—this isn’t a lasting acceptance. And we transfer all of this to God, assuming we have to do the same thing for Him. All that jumping around we do is incredibly exhausting.
But this is rooted in a lie. Scripture clearly teaches that we cannot earn salvation. I will never work hard enough or perform enough to deserve Jesus dying for me. In fact, Romans 5:8 says that while we were sinners (as in, doing nothing right or holy), He still sent Jesus to die for us. That’s some crazy love. Yet after this acceptance of the gift of Jesus’ life, we turn to trying to keep God happy again.
The religious mess has definitely contributed to this. You look at the religious people of Jesus’ day and they were just piling on more and more responsibilities for the people. Everything was about what I did for God and how I fixed all the bad things I did wrong by trying to placate God. I talk more about religion versus faith in this post.
I have been so stuck in this performance trap that I worked myself to the point of illness, exhaustion, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts because I thought there was a standard I had to reach and just couldn’t quite get there. I was never enough, no matter how hard I worked.
But the Bible doesn’t teach this performance! Jesus likens our relationship with Him to a branch on the Vine. A branch doesn’t strain and strive—it rests in the Vine and the life of the Vine flows through it to produce fruit. A branch’s job is to stay put and let the Vine be all that it is.
That doesn’t mean that we do nothing. It means our source for the doing is a Source much bigger than our own willpower or guilt. It means that as I remain in Jesus, the natural outflow of His Life will be good stuff.
So, no more performing today. It doesn’t bring the desired result. Instead, be a branch. Rest. Remain. Bear fruit. Breathe a little and let the performance go. It doesn’t define you before God, and it doesn’t make you loved.