Busyness: the Need to Achieve

Oct20

I recently overheard a woman describe how her family had helped her while she recovered from surgery. “They did everything for me, took over all my responsibilities.” Then she continued, “I felt so worthless—I finally had to get up and do something useful.”

Her statements reveal the second lie that I believe keeps us so frantically busy. For most of us our self-worth is tied up in what we accomplish, what we do.

This idea is reinforced in every facet of our society. In the workplace, in school, in sports and hobbies, and even in the home we are encouraged to excel and achieve. The mantra goes something like this: the more you acquire, the more you produce, the more you succeed—the more you are praised, valued, emulated.

One would hope to find something very different within the church system. However, we have actually amplified this compulsion to over-achieve by spiritualizing it. Verses such as “Whatever you do, do it heartily…”, “…make the most of every opportunity”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” leave us in fear of wasting time, doing anything half-way, or showing weakness. While we reject striving for material gain or personal glory, our faith all too easily can become performance-based.

The danger is that it is tempting to confuse a life full of church-going and Christian activity with a vital, growing relationship with God. Others looking on will certainly make that assumption. And we can deceive ourselves, thinking, “My service pleases God and proves my love for Him.” Secure in our religious busyness, we often settle for shallow, fleeting experiences of God. Usually that’s all we have time for! But as Richard Foster put it in his book Prayer, God “…aches over our distance and preoccupation.…He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (pg. 1)

I think it is very telling that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) It wasn’t about doing or performing. It was about relationship, about being.

The thing about getting deep and knowing someone on an intimate, heart level is that it takes time. A lot of it. And it doesn’t actually look like much is being accomplished. One author, in his attempt to get to know Jesus more personally, began meditating on passages about Jesus’ life. The problem, as he states it, was, “I wanted to judge it by what I got out of it. When I did, it often seemed to be a dreadfully inefficient spiritual practice. But productivity and efficiency miss the point. What God wants is simply our presence… That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other.” (David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, we often have trouble stopping long enough to truly commune with God. To sit still and hear Him. To open our hearts to Him in a vulnerable way and experience His passionate love in return. The inactivity chafes, the quietness is uncomfortable. It is hard to measure progress or find tangible results.

But gradually something does happen. Our sense of significance begins to take root in and grow out of this supernatural relationship; our value comes to be based solely on the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe—unconditionally, dizzyingly, consumingly.

And then, as Myra Perrine writes in her book, What’s Your God Language?, “When we live our lives…knowing the truth that we are already loved as much as we will ever be… then we will not constantly be trying to get it right, striving to do it better, working hard to please God and secure His love… We will be at peace knowing we are fully known, fully wanted, and fully enjoyed.” (pg. 148)

In other words, we will be freed from the lies of performance and achievement. We will find our worth in the arms of God alone. We will learn what it really means to be at rest.

Advertisements

Loving Her

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I spent the month of August living with and caring for my grandma, who is in the early stages of dementia. It was a bittersweet time as I grieved to see how this disease was robbing someone I loved of reason and functionality, while at the same time enjoying the moments when her old spark and personality shone through.

I grew up near my grandparents, and we were very close. In their presence I always felt completely loved and secure; they showed me what a healthy marriage looked like; they impressed on me so many of the life values that I carry to this day. My grandpa, even more than my grandma, played a vital part in my formation as he stepped in and took on roles that my own father left unfilled. Grandpa has been gone six years now and we all miss him. Especially grandma. We can trace the beginnings of her decline to the dark days after my grandpa died.

As I cared for grandma I did it in honor of the person she has been, and in love for the ways she touched my life. But some days were more difficult than others. Sometimes she was unreasonable. Sometimes she was despondent. Sometimes—out of her confusion and growing inability to regulate her emotions—she became angry and hurtful. At those times I felt my patience and resolve wearing thin.

But then I thought of my grandpa. I thought of how he had worked hard to provide for her. How he had shielded her from some of the harsher realities of life. How he had loved her tenderly as a soul mate and friend. I thought of how he would grieve to see her present decline and I could picture how gently he would treat her if he were here. And in those difficult moments I could still care for her because I loved him. Because I honored him. I would think, “This one is for you, grandpa.”

As time went by, I began to realize a deeper application for this lesson. You see, I have been struggling with the church for a while. With growing alarm I am coming to see that the body of Christ is sick. Disease and dysfunction rob it of reason and vitality. It can be viciously hurtful to both insiders and outsiders alike. And my response has been to become disillusioned and distant.

But in that month with my grandma, I heard Jesus asking me to love the church, His bride.

I must first of all love her because I am her offspring. There are still glimmers of life—still hope—because something dead could never reproduce. And, as imperfect as she might be, I have been formed and shaped by her.

But even more than that, I must love her because I love Him. He who is so dear to my soul gave Himself for her existence. She is His cherished and precious bride, who He longs for and continually nurtures. With eyes of love He sees her potential beauty, even when she is being downright ugly.

So many questions remain as I consider loving the bride of Christ. What is the essence of the church? How do I recognize it? Is it a building? An event? An institution? No way. Is it the individuals, is it the group? Yes and yes, but… ???

And what does love actually look like? How do I love this schizophrenic, harsh and healing, deeply damaging and sometimes life-giving entity that I can’t even define? Is love tough? Is love tender? Yes and yes, but… ???

I am at a loss for answers. But I do know that as I sat by the pond behind my grandparents’ house I found myself walking along another shore with my Lord and Lover, and I heard Him asking quietly, earnestly:

“Do you love Me? …Tend My lambs.”

“Do you love Me? …Shepherd my sheep.”

“Do you love Me? …Take care of my bride. Love her.”