I grew up in a magnet school program that emphasized excellence. We were instructed to do our best at everything we did at all times, because we were the bright, shining example of academic excellence in our school district. If we failed, then who would the other kids in the district have to look up to?
I took this instruction to excel to heart and worked longer, harder, and smarter than your average student. I spent hours on homework after being in school every day, because excellence was my job description. I had to live up to that expectation.
I grew up in a church that emphasized our Christian duty to evangelize. We were instructed to do our best at sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all times, because we were the bright, shining example of Christianity in this lost world. We were likely the only Bible these lost folks would read. If we failed to share Christ, then who would the lost kids have to look up to?
I took this instruction to excel at evangelizing to heart and worked longer, harder, and smarter than your average young Christian. I spent hours reading the Bible, journaling, rereading sermon notes, listening to Christian music, thinking about God, and meticulously assessing my godliness, because being an example was my job description. I had to live up to that expectation.
Everything came crashing down when I was 14 and found myself in a pit of despair so deep that I wanted to kill myself so I could finally get to Heaven where I would be perfect all the time and never would have to say I was sorry for my failure again. Yes, I was suicidal, because I wanted to get to Heaven where I could be perfect once and for all. Exteriorly, I looked like the ideal Christian kid in public school. I wore Christian T-shirts almost every day. I was called a “Jesus Freak” behind my back. Everyone knew Amanda loved Jesus. Inside, I was dying as I was frantically trying to keep it all together for all the people all the time.
I understand at an elemental level the pressure to perform with excellence academically and spiritually.
I also understand at an elemental level what that pressure to perform with excellence can do to a young person and the ramifications it can have in adulthood.
I am just now, at 33 years old, being able to let go of the compulsion to perform with excellence. I am just now figuring out how to let good enough actually be good enough. I am just now figuring out how to live from a deeper source, from a truer motivation, from an actual place of godliness rather than a compulsion to do all the things all the time because that is what this world expects.
When we tell our kids, Who you are in Christ is what matters most and then turn around and say through our actions, our facial expressions, our discipline, and our expectations that What you do is what matters most, we are setting them up to perform in a game that they cannot win and that chips away at their very being bit by bit. When we are so focused on their output – what they produce – we are communicating to them that their product is more important than they are. We are putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and that is spiritually unproductive at best and downright destructive at worst.
We live in a doing world – a world that emphasizes product and busyness and excellence and improvement. Nothing is good enough in 21st century America. If it were good enough, we’d still have the original iPhone, but we don’t, because there is always room for improvement. That is what this world is telling our kids every hour of every day. Their product is not good enough, because there is always something about it that can be improved. This proclamation of what is and is not worthy that beats in the very hearts of our kids is what drives them to compulsively perform – to grasp for what will improve what they’ve already done just a little bit more.
Do you remember what Jesus said to the anxious – to those who worried about life? To those who fixated on every little detail, trying to figure out what to do and where to be and how to get more and do more and be more?
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34).
It’s a statement of fact. Look at where your heart is. That’s what your treasure is. You can say all the live long day that your treasure is Jesus, but if your heart is bent on performance, then your treasure isn’t really Jesus. Your treasure is your product.
It’s a horrifying revelation, isn’t it? This realization that your treasure is your product. It’s downright embarrassing. I know. I’ve been there. Just this week. Just yesterday. Just this morning. My treasure is, more often than not, my product. What I do is what defines me. What I produce is what makes me worthwhile, so I do all the things all the time for all the people, because I have to be worth something.
Enough is enough.
Good enough is good enough.
We are human beings, not human doings.
We are made for something far greater than perfecting an essay or our understanding of Romeo and Juliet.
We have to remember what we have disremembered: Jesus is our sufficiency. Jesus declares our worth. Jesus is our completion. Jesus is our perfection.
We don’t have to prove ourselves to Him, and that means we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone else either, because His opinion is the only one that actually matters.
“But what about this world we live in? It’s a doing world! We can’t just stop performing when the world we live in demands that we perform! We can’t stop performing when grades determine our kids’ future.”
Yes. We can.
We can stop performing.
We can stop performing, because our kids’ grades do not determine their future.
The Lord determines their future, not their grades. The Lord determines their future, not their athletic prowess. The Lord determines their future, not their scholarships or trust fund.
The Lord is their portion. He is their cup of blessing. He holds their future. The boundary lines have fallen for them in pleasant places. Indeed, they have a beautiful inheritance. That is the truth. That is fact. That is what you can bank on. God’s got this. He knows what is around the bend, and He’s got it handled. There is not a grade in this universe that can undo or outwit the plans that Almighty God has for your kid.
We can make the decision to live from the wellspring of being – to live from a place of satisfaction in the Lord. We can choose to remember what we’ve disremembered: that He is delighted with us. That He thinks we’re spectacular. That He is just downright crazy about us. And His satisfaction with us has nothing to do with what we produce. He is satisfied with us, because we are His kids. Our existence as His sons and daughters is enough for Him. We cannot make Him any happier with us than He already is, because His happiness with us isn’t dependent upon our behavior. His delight in us is dependent upon Christ’s redeeming work in us, and that work is done. Tetelestai! He proclaimed as He bled on the cross. It is finished!
When we live from this wellspring of truth – this place of rest – then we can cease our striving. We can stop this performance-based death-life that is killing us. We can produce work from a place of knowing that we are deeply loved and wholly wanted and eternally accepted. And working from that place? It transforms our eyes to see that good enough really is good enough. That we can stop this quest for perfection, because we can’t get to perfect anyway. That we can do what we can that is reasonable and that our loving Father will grace the rest.
He holds our future. Our lot is secure. He is our portion. He is our cup of blessing. Indeed, we have a beautiful inheritance.
Whatever circumstances this life throws at us –
those are not our lot.
Those are not our boundary lines.
Those are not our portion.
Our portion, our boundary lines, our lot – is Jesus.
Our inheritance is Him.
And no grade, no research paper, no scholarship, no college acceptance can change that our future is secure in Him.