Whispers of Faith

Caught in the Act – When You Get So Tired of Performing

The pastor quietly asks this morning, “How are you doing with God today?” and immediately my brain begins its automated checklist, and I feel comfortable answering that question. God & I are doing well because I have had great quiet times and lots of prayer this week, I have journaled about my quest to love, and I have been responsible in every area just like I’m supposed to.

Next thing he says, though, blows that comfortableness right out of the water.

“If you are answering that question based on things that you have done, then you are putting your trust in the wrong thing.

“The next question is, ‘Who are you trusting?’ And the answer to that will give you the answer to the first question.”

My neat and tidy kingdom has its base completely destroyed, as I realize that he’s right. Even in the midst of my best intentions, even when my heart motives were declared before God as wanting to please Him, I had let performance once again triumph over humility and trust. I had been trusting myself to do well with God, and the results? Well, to be honest, they were exhausting.

As an actress, I have been highly trained to tell the difference between “performing” and “expressing personal truth through the lens of a role.” One is fake – and we’ve all spotted this in bad actors a mile away. They look like they are pretending, because they are. They’ve taken on a persona or a caricature and we don’t identify with it at all.

The other is living your character’s truth in the moment and it’s believable. These are the actors to which we are drawn – because they are expressing something real and true – something that we all experience as part of humanity.

I myself have felt the difference between performing and acting with believability onstage, and, of course, one is so much stronger than the other. Because I believe in what I am living onstage in that particular moment, my audience does as well.

So you would think that if I know the difference in the realm of theater, I’d know the difference in real life – the difference between me performing my Christian role and living it out in truthfulness.

It’s not always that easy, though. There are two things that kind of get in the way and inhibit my judgment … two ugly things called pride and the devil’s lies.

Pride keeps me from admitting that I need help. It keeps me on the “all is well, no need to fret” train, and as long as I am checking boxes off my list, I feel secure and comfortable. Life is not messy, it’s completely in my control, and that’s how I like it. How dare I admit that I’ve been performing, because then people will know I’m not perfect!

The devil’s lies keep me complacent by whispering reinforcement in my ear: “You are such a good person. Your life is so great. You have nothing to worry about. Keep it up, sister! You’re an inspiration to many.” And those lies of superiority feel great to my ego, so pride is fed again, and I wander farther away from the truth.

It’s not until I’m sitting in church, dutifully copying down my notes from the sermon when the pastor’s words prick my conscience, and I suddenly realize the mental exhaustion that I’m suffering from – the exhaustion that can only come from constantly doing. When I’m trusting in myself, I’m performance-driven. Loving others, yes, requires a lot of mental discipline and forethought. But at the end of the day, it’s not like I “won” or “lost” depending on how much effort I put forth in reaching out to others.

There is no point system with God – there are only points of grace.

And I’ve forgotten how to receive that grace because I’m so worried about all that I must do to do the Christian life right. It’s still possible to become the Pharisee while proclaiming to be the sinner, and that’s precisely what I was doing. Words don’t actually define a person – the heart does. And my heart thought I was fine till its messiness was once again exposed by the cross.

Does this mean I’m defeated, though? On the contrary … it means I am blessedly relieved! Relieved to find that it’s not my job to keep a “Lydia’s Success in Righteousness Tally” … relieved to realize again the depths of God’s great love for this sinner’s heart … relieved to let go of my mental burdens and just accept that God will work through me the way He wants to and all I have to do is let Him.

Holiness only comes with humility. Holiness doesn’t come with me proclaiming how great I am … it doesn’t even come with me proclaiming how awful I am. It comes in proclaiming how great He is that He saved a sinner like me, and giving thanks for daily grace extended.

How many times will I have to learn this? Every single day – from now until I die, for I am a forgetful soul so much more prone to performing tasks than to being a genuine, honest soul living in constant redeemed love. But He whispers grace to my exhausted self once again, and once again, I take the bread and the juice, broken and poured out for me, and I give Him thanks that in Him, I don’t have to perform.

I only have to let go and let Him invade my soul with the wildfires of His love.

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