Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stop Trying So Hard!

            I said something in the last post that I want to pick up on.  I said that I was “tired of pursuing God so much.”  And my thought today is “Is it possible to pursue Him too much?”  Now, most Christians probably don’t pursue Him enough.  And many pursue Him just enough.  But is it possible to run after Him too much, too hard?
            I think “yes.”
            And the reason I think this is because I am beginning to realize that this is exactly what I do.  As a first-born, over-achieving perfectionist, I never really rest emotionally.  I always feel like I can’t do enough or that I have to do better.  I am never satisfied with myself or my efforts.  (I didn’t always used to be this way.  Maybe I did . . . I don’t know.  I used to rewrite full pages of notes if one word looked a little sloppy.)  And I can never simply relax.  Because when I do, I feel like I am wasting time or failing at something.  Like I don’t deserve to rest because things are still crooked in my life.  And I can’t rest until they are straight.  In many ways, I expect too much out of myself. 

            And in some ways, I think I expect too much out of God.  I expect Him to show Himself in great ways, instead of in the many little ways that He more often does.  I expect Him to speak to me regularly, instead of through the silence that so often comes.  I expect Him to answer prayers the way I think He should, especially when I am trying so hard to follow biblical principles on prayer and righteous living.  And I expect Him to fix so many of the problems that I have and to spare me certain pain, instead of accepting that it’s more likely that He will walk with us and teach us through the pain than spare us from it. 
            And I expect Him to always be just beyond my grasp and to be just unpleased with me enough that I have to keep working to make myself better before He will really accept me and meet with me.  In my relationship with Him, I am always pursuing.  Always seeking Biblical truths and trying to apply them.  Desperately trying to pray as effectively as I can.  Always trying to listen.  Always waiting for Him to talk.  Always hanging in there, hoping for answers to prayers that don’t seem to be coming (. . . because God values persistence and perseverance, right?).  Always polishing myself up, developing my trust in Him, and examining my heart and mind, looking for obstacles between us.  Always striving.  Always trying.  Always working so dang hard. 
            And, yes, all of this is good for the most part.  But it becomes unhealthy when all I do is strive and pursue without being able to “be still and know that He is God.”  I miss the forest when I am too busy analyzing the trees.  I miss out on enjoying God now when I think that I have to always make my life and my faith better before I can really have a good relationship with Him.  Does this make any sense?
            I think it is possible to put so much pressure on ourselves to “be a better Christian” that we fail to find God in the here-and-now.  We fail to find Him in the life we have now because we are too busy trying to make our lives – our faith - something different.  Too busy trying to polish ourselves up and make ourselves more presentable.  We strive so much that we can’t simply rest in His arms.  We can’t relax in Him and just be with Him.  We can’t enjoy a rose or a rainbow when we are so busy trying to analyze it and find ways to make it better.  And this is what I do with God sometimes.  I try so hard to create the right conditions for the best relationship with Him possible (the best faith) that I fail to simply enjoy Him now. 
            Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s great and essential to mature in our faith, to improve our relationship with God.  And most of us need to spend more time doing this.  And all of us need to do it regularly throughout our lives.  But sometimes, when we work so hard yet still find ourselves getting really discouraged with life and faith and our pathetic selves, we may just need to stop trying so hard and simply “be still.” 

            “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

            “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”  (Exodus 14:13-14)

            “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. . .”  (Psalm 37:7)        
            Be still!  It sounds like such an easy thing, but it is so hard to do sometimes.  Especially for those of us who push ourselves and push ourselves and are never happy with who we are and what we do.  I know that most of my “depression” has to do with all the pressure I put on myself to do more and be better.  And if I fail – as I am in so many areas right now (at least in my own eyes) – I beat myself up and feel like I’m letting God down. 
            But maybe what He wants from me at this time is not to try harder to be more successful in my life and my faith, but to be still and simply rest in Him right now.  Enjoy Him right now, even with all the messiness in my life.  Admit that I am weak and that I fail, and let Him work with and through my weaknesses and shortcomings.  Wait patiently for Him to deliver me, to fight for me, to reveal Himself afresh to me, and to create something useful and beautiful out of all my inadequate efforts, instead of trying so hard to force His hand and to create “success.”  Know that He is God and He will be exalted!    
            Maybe the faith that I am looking for has more to do with walking this journey with Him – crookedness, problems, shortcomings and all – instead of trying to polish myself up before I let Him near.  Maybe it’s more about letting Him into my here-and-now instead of thinking that He’s always just outside my grasp, always waiting for me to “do just a little bit better.” 
            As I think of all the things about myself and my life that discourage me and disappoint me, I realize that I am going to die young if I keep up this level of striving.  Maybe I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself.  Maybe I just need to stop trying so hard!  Stop acting like everything is up to me, like the burden rests on my shoulders alone!  And stop whining and acting like the sky is falling with every failure of mine! 
            Satan seems to get to me best not with a bold, frontal assault, but by quietly standing beside me and simply whispering in my ear, “Oops, you see that burden there.  You dropped it.  Better pick it up again. . . . What about this new concern or problem?  You better hold tightly onto that.  After all, if you don’t worry about it and try to fix it, who will? . . . Better not relax yet; things go wrong when you relax . . . You really messed up again, didn’t you?  That’s typical! . . . You’re on your own.  There’s no one that really cares. . . . Maybe if you try a little bit harder, you can get the satisfaction or the results that you are looking for. . . .”
            Of course, there are times to strive and work hard.  But for the time being, I need to go the other way.  I need to practice “being still and knowing that He is God.”  I need to follow, not lead.  And I need to say, “Okay, God, I’ve tried my hardest and I still fell short.  Now I’m ready to give the controls over to You and see what You can do.”  And this is a good thing!  A very good thing!