If we stop to think about it, I think we would be surprised to realize just how much of our lives revolve around performance. I know that, for me, my whole life could become a performance if I’m not careful. At work, I am a teacher, so I can all too easily find myself in a place of “performing” both for my students and my administrators, always trying to perfect my skills and techniques. At church, I am a music minister and teacher of the Bible—frequently in the spotlight, and frequently in a position where a performance could be the natural outcome. Then there’s my private life, in which you might think that I would just let down my hair and relax. Yet, even at these times, I find a performance mindset try to creep in, trying to put on some kind of performance for my family and friends.
To top that all off, one of my greatest strengths is that I am an achiever; yet, this strength has a tendency to overpower itself and morph into a perfectionist mindset if I’m not careful. I can do these things in the name of excellence, which is a great goal in and of itself. I believe the Lord does call us to excellence. However, before I know it, what I define as excellence can become an obsession—an obsession I was never meant to carry.
The biggest danger of a performance mindset is that it compels us to measure our worth by our achievements. Thus, to feel valued and worthy, we have to be constantly performing and achieving the next thing. If we don’t meet expectations, we don’t feel valued or loved. Well, here’s a newsflash: People’s expectations of are often unrealistic and higher than we can ever hope to achieve. If we live a life that revolves around performing for people, we will ultimately fail at trying to meet everyone’s expectations. We can’t always please people. At some point, we will let them down either because (a) we make a mistake or (b) their expectations of us are unrealistically high and totally unattainable.
But here is the good news: We were never meant to live this way. God didn’t make us for performance; He made us for relationship. When He created man, He didn’t want someone to put on a show for Him; He wanted someone who would walk in deep connection and relationship with Him. We were not made for perfection; we were made for connection.
About a year ago, I remember taking some time to listen to the Lord, and I sensed Him so clearly speak to my spirit: “The pressure is off.” He spoke this to me at a time when I was heavily relying on my performance to get me through that season of life. Yet, what He spoke to me so clearly was that my performance would fail me sooner or later. I needed to stop building my foundation on a performance and instead build it on His love, because His love never fails. True love never involves striving. The more we strive for love, the more we deny ourselves the very freedom that love brings.
God is calling us to a place of less “doing” and more “being.” If our worth is based on what we do, we will find that we can never do enough. We have to realize that our worth is not based on what we do but who we are. We are children of God. He loves us because of who we are. He values us because of who we are. Our achievements may seem significant in the eyes of man, but soon those achievements will only fade and have to be replaced by more achievements. The Lord does not look at what man looks at, for man looks at the external factors, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). As He looks at our hearts, may He not find a mindset of striving for perfection; rather, may He find true love for Him and for other people. That kind of love is what the Scripture tells us will never fail (1 Cor. 13:8). After all, we can never find excellence apart from the pursuit of love, for love is the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).
Let’s agree to cease our striving. This only leads to exhaustion and burnout. Let’s agree instead to be ever on a journey of learning more about how to love and how to live in connection with our Lord and Savior, Who loves us for who we are, not for what we have or haven’t done. As we do this, we will surely find that the pressure is off.