A few years ago, I was working to receive a Ministry Degree at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul. In one of my classes, we were required to attend a spiritual retreat. As I was preparing to leave for the retreat, I felt the Lord speak to my heart. I felt Him say, at the retreat, I was going to face my biggest fear. Immediately, what I thought were my biggest fears, surfaced in my mind.
What are your biggest fears?
I thought my biggest fears were of losing one of my family members or one of us being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I went to the retreat with a sense of foreboding and dread. I believed I was about to face an awful tragedy in my life.
At the retreat, we went through several exercises as a group, but we also had specific time alone with God. During one of my times alone in prayer, I felt Him say in my spirit, “Your biggest fear is that you are afraid you are not good enough.” At first, I sat stunned. It was not what I expected to learn. After I sat for a little while, I felt overcome with disappointment in who I am. I felt self-focused and prideful.
Was this really my greatest fear?
I went home quiet and sullen. I realized how much I disliked myself. Over the next two years, God gently and patiently worked to show me how this fear presented itself in my life. He also showed me how I had gotten to this place in my journey.
Due to the circumstances I experienced growing up, I felt unloved. These circumstances also created a place in me in which I felt I was not good enough. I felt less than. I felt everyone was better than me, and I needed to work hard to measure up. I internalized these feelings and lived them out without even realizing this was what I was doing.
These feelings of not being good enough caused me to feel like I needed to perform for acceptance. I learned how to be proficient at perceiving what other people wanted of me, and I worked hard to be acceptable in their eyes. I worked myself sick at times, trying to prove myself worthy of love, worthy of acceptance, and approval. Over and over, I denied what was important to me, and I worked hard to be pleasing to others.
When I became a Christian as an adult, I unknowingly did this same thing with God. I began a path of proving my worth to Him through service. I worked hard in service, hoping that my work would make me acceptable to Him. This is a devastating path that leads to despair and disillusionment. When you take this path, you burn yourself out and end up in a crisis of faith. This is what happened to me.
God wants us to grow in connection with Him. He wants us to delight in Him and enjoy being in His Presence. It is impossible to delight in God if we feel we must perform for Him. In fact, this is the opposite of what He wants of us as His children.
The world around us wants us to prove our worth, but God does not. God wants us to understand His love and love Him in return. If we feel like we need to perform for Him, we will neglect sitting with Him, spending time with Him in prayer and His word.
Sometimes unknowingly, we can let rules and religion take us down this pathway. We can turn worship into following rules and relationships into a place of proving our worth. I know because I did this too. When I first became a Christian, I mistakenly thought this is what it meant to be a Christian. I took my background and this false idea that Christianity meant perfection, and I went full force into trying to become perfect all on my own. It is easy to do if we aren’t aware this is what we are doing.
Eventually, we crash. We look at what feels like a list of rules in front of us, and we decide we will never measure up.
Have you fallen into any of these traps in your own life?
It is hard to believe we are acceptable to God. The truth we must understand is that we are good enough not because of anything we do but because of Christ. We are good enough in Him. In Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection, we are given a new life before God. When God looks at us, He looks at us through the work Jesus did on the cross. He sees our belief in His Son, and we are righteous not because of our works but because of our belief. He loves us with a deep and abiding love.
This journey led me to a deeper place of searching out the whys of my thoughts, feelings, and actions. Some examples of my why questions: Why do I perform for acceptance? Why do I live like I have to earn my place? Why do I work hard for the approval of others? Why do I feel less than others?
Taking time to discover our whys, opens a place for God to work in the innermost places of our heart.
What are your whys?