Why do we live our days worn out, fearful, and anxiously striving, as if we are lacking and unable to measure up? This is the question I’ve wrestled with for the past several years.
Why do we live as if we are lacking resources, time, achievement, clarity, purpose, energy, confidence, or acceptance and welcome from a holy God?
Why do we live as if we are unable to measure up as friends, as colleagues, as mothers, as wives, as daughters, with our appearance, in our current season of life, as Christ’s followers?
An unprecedented number of Christian self-help books populate bestseller lists. If we were to judge our generation by the covers that line our shelves, we’d gather that, while women have unhindered opportunities for self-made success, empowerment, and freedom to break molds in this generation, we are also more anxious, overwhelmed, and weighed down than ever.
For some of us, these feelings can seem like the soundtrack playing in the background of our daily lives. Sometimes we sing along: What does it take to not miss my purpose? To not miss my potential? To meet expectations? To not waste my life? What does it take to feel like I’ve done enough? What must I do to be enough?
I may not admit it openly, but so often I’m looking for a formula that ensures my “arrival.” I want a fix for the fear of not getting it right. I want to know what I can do to ensure I hit the mark.
Is it just me? I don’t think so.
Striving in Our Own Strength
We’re a culture obsessed with measuring achievement and striving to control our results, our approval ratings, our sense of belonging. We’re stuck on the hamster wheel of striving in our own strength, when we were created for so much more.
If someone offers you a prescription for what ails you, but the prescription leaves your condition unchanged, it usually means something isn’t quite right about either the prescription or the diagnosis. If what we really need—in order to stop feeling worn out and pressed to perform—is a better strategy, why are the prescriptions not working?
We continue reaching for formulas for success, strategies for life direction, or feel-good pep talks that we think must be the fix for our feelings of inadequacy. But God has given us a better way, one that may make you think, What? How does that make sense?
What changed everything for me in this unending search for adequacy was truly understanding God’s grace.
What actually changed everything for me in this search for adequacy was truly grasping God’s grace. I reclaimed the concept from its trite usage and examined it from a biblical perspective. I’ve learned that what I needed was more than the latest prescriptions. I needed a proper diagnosis and a true solution for my endless striving.
In What’s Wrong with the World, G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” His thought comforts me as I think about all the ways I can feel discouraged in my relationship with God and want to give up. Do you feel confused at times between what is God’s job and what is yours? It could be because the truth of God’s grace, when you really think about it, is outrageous.
So we downplay grace, sometimes subconsciously, and tend to want to lean back on ourselves. We look at the outlandish claim of the gospel—that Jesus accomplishes what we can’t—and deem it as less than sufficient for transformation and change. We figure we must add something to it.
True Means for Change
We might not say we believe in Jesus plus our efforts, but when we rest in our performance (or lack thereof), we’re not relying on the grace of God. We’re worshiping the gospel of self-reliance. Self-reliance is something we can control, manipulate, and measure according to our efforts. Grace, on the other hand, is countercultural with its rejection of self-sufficiency and its relinquishing of power.
The amazing grace of God is that he fulfilled his own standards on our behalf through the finished work of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. The result of Christ’s redemptive work was that we’d be made wholly fit for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, enabling us to no longer work to gain access to the Father—but to be children, trained and equipped to do as he instructs.
Whether we recognize it or not, our culture is sadly intoxicated with the lure of self-reliance, even for those who claim to represent the gospel of Christ. We say we trust that Jesus is enough, but we spend our lives trying to prove that we are. We end up substituting self-help and formulas for our true means for change: the transforming grace of God.
We say we trust that Jesus is enough, but we spend our lives trying to prove that we are.
What wears you out today? Is it impossible standards? The comparison? The baggage of trying your best and it not being “good enough”?
I see you, mama—working to keep up with the latest strategies in parenting so your kids will “turn out right.”
I see you, college grad—setting goals and strategizing life, seeking ways to use your gifts and talents for fear of wasting your life.
I see you, sister—feeling behind before you’ve even started.
I see you, and I am you.
I’ve been in those places more than once, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to keep living there. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of striving for grace rather than striving in grace.
Grace makes it possible for you to stop striving for yourself and to strive out of love for God instead. Grace isn’t an excuse to be lazy or apathetic about the marks of a Christian life; it’s the catalyst by which we can partake in it. Your loving Father has good work for you to do when you stop striving to produce the fruit on your own (Eph. 2:8–10). Grace really does fuel what striving cannot.
Ruth Chou Simons will lead a workshop on “When Strivings Cease” and speak on the panels “Creativity, Art, and our Christian Witness” and “Motherhood & Marriage: Balancing your Priorities” at our 2022 Women’s Conference, June 16 to 18 in Indianapolis. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakers. Register soon! This article is adapted from Ruth Chou Simons’s When Strivings Cease: Replacing the Gospel of Self-Improvement with the Gospel of Life-Transforming Grace.