The Performance Trap

When God considers you, does He deceive Himself in some way or does He know who you truly are?

If He knows who we truly are, then why do we preface His understanding of us with phrases such as “in God’s eyes we are righteous” or “forgiven” or “loved” or “pleasing” and so on? Are we trying to say that God is not living in reality? That He is somehow involved in self-deception? Is he just some old grandparent type who wants to overlook the faults of His grandchildren? Either He really knows who you are or He doesn’t. Playing with words this way keeps us from experiencing the reality of who we are. It also dishonors who God is. 

The second question is, If you think of yourself differently than God thinks of you, who is mistaken, you or God? How often do we allow our minds to overrule what God says is true? Keep in mind, you were made by and for God. He has placed within you needs that only He can meet. If we try to have these needs met by another person or persons, we will end up frustrated, angry, and unfulfilled.  (The Search for Significance, McGee)

During our Tuesday night Qexchange meetings, we’ve been reading and discussing the book, The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee. In the book, McGee covers four deceptions that we often believe about ourselves when looking in the mirror.

McGee lists the first false deception we believe about ourselves as the performance trap.

The Performance Trap: I must meet certain standards to feel good about myself.

Ah yes, I think many of us know this one well. Being married to a soccer coach who believes in and incorporates a “no guilt, no shame, no blame” curriculum on the field, his coaching philosophy is actually a life philosophy. When I’m stuck in the performance trap, afraid to move because I might mess up, he sets me straight. Who cares if you mess up? What’s the worst that can happen?

There are so many consequences that come along with the performance trap: the fear of failure, perfectionism, anxiety, manipulation of others to achieve success, withdrawal from healthy risks…. the list goes on.

Messing up actually creates immense character, you know. Mistakes make a man! (If that’s not a “real” saying, it should be.) Andrew encourages his soccer players to get out of their comfort zones on the field. They are pushed to try new things, regardless of success or failure. When a mistake occurs, he yells out to them mid-game, “Next thing! Next thing! make it a positive and productive thing!”

God’s answer to the performance trap is justification.  He has given us a secure self-worth totally apart from our ability to perform. We have been justified and placed in right standing before God through Christ’s death on the cross, which paid for our sins. 

See, Christ became like us so we can become like Him.  He took on our sins so we can take on his righteousness.

McGee writes, “I once heard a radio preacher berate his congregation for their hidden sins. He exclaimed, ‘Don’t you know that someday you’re going to die and God is going to flash all your sins upon a giant screen in heaven for all the world to see?’ How tragically this minister misunderstood God’s gracious gift of justification!”

Justification carries no guilt with it and has no memory of past transgressions. 

Success or failure is not the basis of your self-worth! Our worth has been given to us by God and cannot be taken away by mistakes or the disapproval of others. 

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Finding Beauty in Holland

Today’s guest post is from fellow “Quester” Lisa King. Lisa is married with two beautiful children and I know you’ll love reading her story. What a story it is!

“When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

 

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

 

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

 

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

 

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

 

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

 

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

 

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

 

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley

What’s in a number?

37. It’s just a number, right? We all have “numbers” in our lives. An age. A date.

So what’s so significant about 37?

Well, when you are talking to a preemie mom, everything. Thirty-seven weeks into a pregnancy equals term. Or “Italy.” Even though 37 is really an arbitrary number decided upon by the World Health Organization, it still represents a victory over prematurity.

So, when I embarked on my journey of my 4th pregnancy, only my second to make it past 12 weeks, I had this goal in mind as my “first” goal. The one I would be “ok” with if I made it to. The one that would signify that I made it. I didn’t fail this time. But it was never a foregone conclusion that I would make it.

In fact, it was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve done. In many ways, ignorance is bliss. And knowing what I did about all of the problems in pregnancy meant I was hyper-sensitive to every sensation I experienced. Every contraction. Every pain. Every odd twinge was noticed, analyzed and either discarded or brought to my doctors attention.

That is no way to go through a pregnancy. It’s incredibly scary and nerve wracking.

And it took waking up daily, standing with my head held high, my shoulders back and the knowledge that whatever that day brought, God would help me through it.

There was no other way to get through 37 weeks of pregnancy.

A friend posted this status on Facebook recently and it rang very true:

‎~Fear of failure and fear of the unknown are always defeated by faith. Having faith in yourself, in the process of change, and in the new direction that change sets will reveal your own inner core of steel~

The question is…what is your inner core of steel? Mine? It’s God. Because, even though the things I’ve seen were not near as bad as they could have been, they had the power to break me. In my journey as a preemie mom, I’ve seen these things break many a strong woman.

Entering into another pregnancy meant I had to take a leap of faith. I didn’t know the outcome. I couldn’t ensure 37 weeks. I could only trust God that He also had this one in His hands and He would see that the baby came when the baby was ready. And that if that was significantly pre-term again, He would get me through that journey again.

Thankfully, I got my 37. I’ve been to Italy. And I thank God for letting me see both Holland and Italy. For without Holland, I don’t know that Italy would be as beautiful and unique. And without Italy, Holland would never shine as the beautiful place it also is.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Is Lisa great or what?? Now you see what I meant when I said, “What a story it is!”.

Have you been in search of Italy, but taken a detour to Holland, instead? Find the beauty, the significance, and the hope that lies in Holland. Find the all-encompassing peace that lies in God’s love for us. Even the most extreme detours are held in His hand. If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.

Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Since taking a break over the holidays, Qexchange gathered tonight to begin discussing our new book, The Search for Significance. The house was packed (not everyone in attendance goes to Quest, by the way) and we jumped right into the topic.

Chapters 1-3 introduce the premise of the book, which is that we often base our self-worth on the opinions and accomplishments of others. I’ll be the first to say that I am currently on the road to rebuilding respect for myself after not finishing college. I’m finding, slowly but surely, that I can still become someone without that degree!  In fact, you know what? I already am someone without that college degree.  A college degree wouldn’t make me important. In and of itself, it wouldn’t make me respectable, intelligent, fulfilled or happy. All of those characteristics I strive for (and believe most of us strive for) are already right here waiting for me.  I already have importance, respect, intelligence, fulfillment and happiness, I just have to accept them.

The great thing is that God’s acceptance of us works the same way.  You see, we already have God’s acceptance whether we believe it or not. He’s already given it to us. We don’t have to do any certain thing, say any certain prayer, or believe any certain stuff. God loves us already. He loves us just as we are (yes, warts and all), but loves us too much to leave us just as we are. When we let go of our comparisons and fears, we can embrace who God created us as and blossom into who He calls us to be. We can find freedom in His grace.

When I allow myself to let go of the past and believe that God created me for a purpose, to believe that I’m already living my purpose, I’ll be free to bask in the glory of life.

And the same goes for you.

What are the two great commandments in the Bible?  Come on, you know them, say it with me:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have so much trouble loving others because we can’t love ourselves!

Think about that. Allow yourself to be loved by yourself. See how much love you can then pour out for others.

We’ll do it together.

He Likes Me For Me

Andrew and I adopted a yellow lab when she was 4 years old. Named “Zoey” by her previous owners, our toddler with a language all her own renamed her “Yosie.”

Yosie is smart, calm, sweet, loyal, protective and house-broken (score!). She has never even thought about getting on the furniture and only allows the side of her head to rest upon the full dog bed we bought for her. She’s eager to please, patient when the kids pull her tail or attempt to ride her and obeys commands like “kennel” every time.

There’s just one issue. Yosie is also deathly scared of men.

When we were first getting to know Yosie, she became instantly glued to me (her new mama) and wouldn’t listen to Andrew to save her life. If the doorbell rang, you would find Yosie hiding in our bedroom. If a man entered the house, no matter what type of treats he enticed her with, she would duck and run to safety. Cowering, running away and growling in self-defense, Yosie could not and would not trust men.

Slowly but surely, Yosie has gotten a bit better over the years. She’s now willing to exchange niceties with guests, but her comfort zone lies in our bedroom, beside the bed where I sleep.

I often wonder how long it will take for her to know that there are people out there who love her and will take care of her. It’s obvious she had an abusive past, but when will she let her heart believe those days are over?

You know, there are people like that in the world. People that have been so beaten, abandoned and abused that they don’t trust anyone anymore. Maybe you know someone like that or maybe you yourself feel that way.

There are a lot of things in this world that are going to let you down, hurt you, weaken you and disappoint you. But, I promise you that there is one thing that will never leave you, never hurt you, never stop loving you. God loves you for who you are and where you’ve been. He loves you for who you used to be and who you hope to become. He loves you.

The thoroughness of God’s love reminds me of a Blessed Union of Souls song, I just replaced the word “she” with “God”

God likes me for me
Not because I look like Tyson Beckford
With the charm of Robert Redford
oozing out my ears

But what he sees
are my faults and indecisions
My insecure conditions
and the tears upon the pillow that I shed

God likes me for me
Not because I’m tough like Dirty Hairy
Make him laugh just like Jim Carrey
Unlike the Cable Guy

But what he sees
Is that I can’t live without him
My arms belong around him
And I’m so glad I found him once again
Found him once again
I’m so glad I found him once again
Once again

A Gift Wrapped in a Different Package

If you follow my personal blog, you know the story of Baby Adam.  About a month ago, Adam was considered a healthy, term baby, ready to meet the world until unexpected complications arose during labor. You see, Adam’s heart stopped beating for 9 minutes before he was born. On top of that, meconium (waste material in the uterus) made its way into Adam’s lung, causing an intense infection. More details on his birth can be found by following the link above, but Adam’s mom, Mimi, has been emailing updates periodically and granted permission to share this one with you:

     Dear Friends,
     This baby from the moment of conception was such a gift from God (as every baby is)! We had put so much effort into getting pregnant with Christopher and the girls that we assumed we could not conceive without a little help from modern medicine. So when we realized we were pregnant and made it through the first trimester, all I could think and say was, “thank you God”! This life within me was pure gift – handed to us surprisingly and freely!
      We began to imagine a future with a fourth little Harman running around. Christopher prayed for a brother and the girls practiced being big sisters on their baby dolls! With five of us around the dinner table we always had to stretch our hands to meet in prayer, this new little life would fill in the gap perfectly!
    Being of “advanced maternal age” my doctor asked if we wanted to test for genetic conditions. We chose not to do the test knowing that having it done would not change the outcome. I also have to admit that I believed it would not happen to us.
      The night of his birth while he was on a cooling treatment at Children’s Mercy, a nurse practitioner described to me Adam’s life-threatening conditions and the last thing she said was that he has Trisomy 21 or Down syndrome. This, of course, was the least of my worries. The next day as I spoke to his doctor, not knowing if he would even live or be seriously brain-damaged, I heard myself say, “Adam is a gift from God and we want him to live but we want to do God’s will and are not afraid of death.” Our wonderful doctor responded, “Yes, Adam is a gift from God.”
    In the moment I heard myself speak those words came the realization that my perception of “gift” while he was in the womb was not the same as God’s. I knew in the depth of my heart that Adam was still a gift just wrapped in a completely different package than I had ever imagined. “Adam” (named after my brother) means “made in God’s image” – of course our child is perfect – he just happens to have an extra chromosome!
     I spoke to a wonderful couple from St. Peter’s School who have 8 children, one of them is a high school student at O’Hara and has Down syndrome. It was great to hear them say, “he is just like our other children, each with their abilities and disabilities.” They also encouraged me to press upon people that he is not a “Down’s” baby but a person (child of God) first who has Down syndrome. Terminology does matter. Just as their son has been an incredible blessing to their family, St. Peter’s School and everyone he meets, we are confident that Adam will be too! He has already touched so many people in so many ways and helped us to realize what a precious miracle life is!
      Barring any last minute set backs, Adam will be home with us Saturday!!! Your prayers and support have been incredible. We are forever grateful.  And now all I can think and say is, “thank you God”!
    

This story is near and dear to my heart for many reasons, but I especially love the paragraph Mimi included about her perception of this “gift” not being the same as God’s. Sometimes we expect certain things from God, we assume He will answer our prayers just the way we think would be best. What’s so amazing in this story is the realization that God does answer prayer. He is always with us. He does not forsake us, forget us, or hurt us, but can we say the same about ourselves? When things don’t go as we think they should, do we forsake God, forget Him, or hurt Him? Do we wonder why He didn’t come through for us? Or do we take Mimi’s approach, seeing God’s perfect grace in the midst of our trials, saying “thank you, God!” for the unexpected and challenging, yet beautiful gifts He creates?

I challenge you to see your circumstances this week through God’s eyes. Ask Him to help you understand what He is doing. Look for his handiwork in the midst of your trials.

When we take a second to look around, we’ll see that God’s perfect grace is all around us.

Un-Cocoon Yourself

Yesterday’s post ended with this:

Instead of walking toward the people so in need of God’s redemptive love, I’ve seen scores of people step in to a mode of no longer wanting anything to do with them. Are we so caught up in our “goodness” that we forget the very people who need our friendship?

Notice I said friendship. I did not say “so in need of our God.” Yes, they need God. Everyone needs God! We know that and we’ll get there, but first, they need a friend. They need you to be their friend. Get to know them, listen to their stories, and then listen to God. He will prompt you when prompting is needed.

We talked about Christ-followers getting completely caught up in their own Christian circles, turning a blind eye to the real needs of the world. Bill Hybels put it this way:

The aversion to non-Christians becomes so intense that a Christ follower has to plumb to new depths of dysfunction to deal with it. “Here’s what I think I’ll do,” she says. “I’ll set my alarm so that in the morning, I’ll get up to Christian music. I’ll email my Christian girlfriends all throughout the course of the workday so that I can stay pumped up with Christian thoughts. At break time, coffee time, lunchtime, I’m going to sit by myself and read my Bible. Then I will fill up my evenings with my family and church activities and, if I watch TV at all, it’s only Christian shows for me. I’ll go to bed, wake up tomorrow, and start all over with Step One. My life will stay exactly how I want it to be: simple and safe. Spotless and uncluttered. Protected and predictable. Just the way I like it.”

Um, there’s one problem with this cocooning pattern.

It’s the polar opposite of the way of Christ.

Simple and safe was not exactly the theme of His story.

Right?

He warned us that being sent out as lambs among wolves was part of the deal. He embraced a dying, broken, weary world with radical forgiveness and actionable love.

So, the first step in un-cocooning ourselves is to develop friendships. Embrace everyone you meet with the goal of developing a friendship that may one day lead that person to Christ. Today is most-likely not that day. The truth is, if you jam Jesus down their throats, they’ll probably mark you as crazy and avoid you at all costs. Don’t do that.

Instead, Hybels sets forth a challenge in his book:

Try a little experiment with me this week. As you pull into your driveway, fight the temptation to look past your neighbor. Perhaps for the first time, stop long enough to wonder why God chose to put the two of you on the same block to begin with. When you drop off your dry cleaning, take four seconds to smile, and ask the name of the person standing behind the counter. If he or she has served you well, then say so. When you run into the drugstore to pick up your prescription, take a good look at the clerk who’s assisting you. What’s that person’s story? Will you carve out two minutes to find out? Or should you bump into your mail carrier during the day, invest a few moments in discovering if he or she has a spouse or kids- what do they like to do around town on their day off?

You can do this!

This is what 30 Deeds in 30 Days is all about.

Get out there and make a few friends this month!

The Ugliness of Christians

So, tomorrow’s the day.

Tomorrow’s the day we start our challenge.

Tomorrow’s the first of 30 days that we will intentionally perform one act of kindness for someone else.

Tomorrow the day that the 2nd annual 30 Deeds in 30 Days challenge begins!

Why do these 30 deeds?  Well, for starters, I think we’ll all agree that intentionally impacting someone else’s day for the better is fun! There’s little more satisfying than knowing you helped someone else when they least expected it. But you know what?  It goes further than that. Did you know that doing one good deed for 30 days could actually change your life?

I want to explain something that I find a bit sobering.

You may have noticed in your own life that the longer you walk with God, the more open your arms become. Instead of clenching tightly to a small circle of insiders, you throw out your arms, opening them up to those outside the circle who may need to come in. As your arms grow wider in worship, they correspondingly grow wider in acceptance.

But wait. Have you actually noticed that in your own life?

Be honest.

The brutal truth is that the longer a person attends church, the fewer interactions that person has with people on “the outside.” It’s been my experience that when a person makes a faith-decision to follow Christ, his or her contact with people outside of the Christian faith decreases significantly.

In my opinion, Christians tend to become quite inwardly focused. We find our group of Christian friends, do our Christian activities and distance ourselves from non-Christian people.

Say WHAT?!

(I’ll take this opportunity to warn you that I’m pretty passionate about this topic, so bear with me if I get a little amped. I’ve had a lot of coffee.)

Ugh. I hang my head in dismay at the ugliness and selfishness of it all.

Are we so concerned with our own well-being, our own “final destination,” our own public image that we forget the very people we are called to reach?

Do we isolate ourselves so much in our “Christianity” that we turn a blind eye to the adulterer, the prisoner, the drug addict, alcoholic, unwed mom, troubled teen, lonely woman, jobless father, sick neighbor, and depressed family member? 

Instead of walking toward the people so in need of God’s redemptive love, I’ve seen scores of people step in to a mode of no longer wanting anything to do with them. Are we so caught up in our “goodness” that we forget the very people who need our friendship?

Notice I said friendship. I did not say “so in need of our God.”  Yes, they need God. Everyone needs God! We know that and we’ll get there, but first, they need a friend. They need you to be their friend.  Get to know them, listen to their stories, and then listen to God. He will prompt you when prompting is needed.

So, do 30 Deeds in 30 Days. See where it takes you.

Let me tell you, wrapping your caring arms around someone gives back far more than it takes.

Anyone, anywhere.

Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your heart.

Change, friends, is inevitable.