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Dangers of Performance

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am competitive. I love opportunities to test myself against some obstacle or opponent, often to a fault. I’m sure some of you can relate. I find that I just crave a way to evaluate myself - a metric to know where I stand. When I was in school, it was grades. In sports it’s not just the final score but my individual performance that helped or hurt the team. Even in something as trivial as cooking a meal for my wife, it’s how she thinks the egg sandwich tastes. The potential negative effects of this might be obvious to you: often my sense of value and worth is directly correlated to how I am performing or what I am doing. It is something that has been a struggle spiritually for me since I started walking with the Lord almost eight years ago, and it is exacerbated by the pandemic we are in currently. Staying at home with not much to go do is hard to handle. How do I know where I stand if I’m not out interacting with people, planning and meeting with students? Often I don’t know what to do with myself when life has slowed down so much. Again, I would imagine some of you are in a similar boat. While most of you are still taking your full course-load online, I’m sure your life has slowed down radically and with that your productivity. Through this pandemic, there have been two major areas where I have struggled with my performance driven mindset but where God has also been patiently teaching me truth in the midst of it. I want to share them with you.

One of these major areas I earlier touched on briefly: my sense of worth before God, others, and myself has diminished because of how much less I feel like I am accomplishing. For those of us who are performance driven people, it is hard for us to imagine that God is pleased with us when we screw up, fall into sin, or even have a day where we don’t do much of anything besides eat and watch TV. The slowness and quietness of life can be uncomfortable because it reveals those voices in our hearts telling us we are nothing because we are doing nothing. For me lately this has led to different attempts to drown out those voices with distraction through movies, video games, or social media. I have been re-reading Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child, and in it, Manning describes what this false-identity in performance produces:

“many of us continue to cultivate such an artificial identity that the liberating truth of our belovedness fails to break through. So we become legalistic, We hide our pettiness and wallow in guilt. We huff and puff to impress God, scramble for brownie points, thrash about trying to fix ourselves, and live in joyless fashion.”

This passage struck home for me. I had been trying so hard to fix myself and impress God that when there was nothing to do with which to impress him, I didn’t know what to do. But in this quote there is a hint at the solution: our belovedness. Manning talks about how we need to let the truth of God’s love for us speak to the depth of our souls, beyond any attempt to earn it. Later in the same chapter Manning says: “Define yourself radically as one beloved of God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” God loves us and delights in us for exactly who we are. A helpful weapon against this performance driven false-identity is repeating to oneself throughout the day: “I am His beloved.” Psalm 42:8 says “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me.” God is always directing his love to us even when we are doing nothing for Him. All we have to do is hear the song He’s singing.

Another possible outcome of having a performance driven mindset is to believe that we can handle some aspects of our life on our own. In my mind it goes something like this: “alright God, thanks so much for forgiving my sin and giving me a relationship with you through grace. Now I can handle this bible study on my own, my marriage on my own, etc..” In my pride I desperately want to have done something on my own to deserve credit or attention instead of giving God all the glory. The truth is though that because of our sin and brokenness we can’t produce fruit and even if we did, we would try to steal credit from God. I needed reminding during this pandemic that any fruit I have produced personally or in my ministry was God working in me. Psalm 44:3 says this in relation to Israel’s victories over its enemies in the past: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” The author is reminding himself and the nation of Israel that it was God who had done these great things for them; they hadn’t done it themselves. This truth has given me a sense of peace because it takes the pressure away from me to produce and “be enough.” God never changes, and just as he has worked in me and through me in the past, he will continue to in the future. None of my weaknesses and sin can change that.

I hope in the midst of this slower paced and tumultuous period of time you are reminded of two things: You are the beloved, and God has and will produce the fruit in you that you so desperately desire.

You are (be)loved,

Bryan Kane