-To make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
-To struggle or fight vigorously.
I am a recovering over-achiever. I say this not in a back-door brag kind of way, but in an embarrassed, slightly traumatized kind of way. As in, achievement has shaped and impacted the ways that I have lived my life and the way I have felt about myself for as long as I remember.
As a child, I excelled to prove my worth to myself and others. I was addicted to the words "Good Job!" and to the feeling of straight A's. Achievement made me feel special, important, worthy.
I wonder if you resonate with achievement "addiction." I know so many of us do. Or, perhaps you relate to its more subtle and insidious form--the paralyzing fear of failing to achieve that stops us from doing anything at all. Yep, that's called perfectionism.
Then, when I was a teenager, I found God. Suddenly, I learned I didn't need to achieve to prove my worth, because I would never be worthy. Instead, it was Jesus' achievement, death on a cross, that meant everything. His scars were now the measure of my value, and they were undeniable. My worth couldn't be measured; instead I had inherent worth as a child of God.
That all sounds pretty good, right?
But here's the scary truth:
I know I don't need to achieve to be loved by God intellectually, but sometimes that doesn't translate emotionally.
I believe that there are many people, many Christians just like me, who are living as addicted to achievement as those who don't know Christ. Ouch--the truth hurts!
Achievement itself is not the enemy. After all, God has given us gifts to use, dreams to fulfill, jobs to do. He needs people on this earth who will act as His hands and feet.
I believe the true problem lies instead in the posture of our hearts, the condition of our souls--towards achievement.
What's your "why?"
Why do you need to rack up personal and professional accomplishments in order to feel good about yourself? Why does it hurt when we feel like others we see on Instagram or Facebook are "doing" more or better than us?
God has come to bring our souls deep, personal, real peace. A peace that feels like rest.
The Word promises that, God will "keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3).
Yet for many of us, our need to achieve comes from a deep-seated discontentedness. An always-brewing-under-the-surface kind of anxiety. A restlessness. A need to strive.
To strive means to make great efforts to achieve, to struggle or fight to obtain something. And therein lies the heart of our issue as Christians. It's okay to achieve. But we are not achieving out of a place of purpose, of peace, of resilient self-worth. Instead...
we are achieving as a result of a constant internal battle that tells us we are not good enough if we fail, or fail to do.
I remember watching the shape of Princeton's Ivy'ed silhouette disappearing behind me in the rearview mirror the day I graduated from college. On that day, I thought my issues with achievement were over. After all, what could be a harder test for an over-achiever than an Ivy League education, right?
But in the two years since I've graduated--since I've gotten married, had a baby, worked, and began living in the "real world"--I have found over-achieving rears its ugly, insidious head just as often.
I was talking on the phone with a friend the other day, and I confided in her that I was having a "bad day."
Why was it a bad day? she asked.
Well, I had a whole list of reasons. I failed to get a workout in. I wrote goals in my planner but got far less "done" than I wanted. I wasn't focused on God. I felt impatient and frustrated with my son.
It was only after I spoke these reasons out loud into the air that I realized they all came back to one thing: achievement. I felt I wasn't "achieving" as a mother, or a woman of God, or an employee.
Darn it--can I still be basing how I feel about my day, my role as a mom, my marriage, myself on what I got "done?!"
I want to ask you a question, one I've been challenging myself to ask myself every single day, especially on the "bad days."
Do you believe that you are inherently loved by God, just for existing?
Do you really believe you have value to God, just because you are His child?
Because the answer is undeniably, firmly, yes.
In Psalm 46:10, God commands us, "Be still, and know that I am God."
Another translation says: "Cease striving, and know that I am God."
Cease striving! God is asking you to stop struggling. To stop trying so hard. To stop the restlessness. To sit still for a moment. To stop refreshing your emails.
Can you take a second, and sit in God's presence? Don't tell me you don't have time--if you have time to scroll on Instagram for 30 seconds, you have time to refresh yourself at the feet of the Father. Just take that 30 seconds to take a deep breath. Remember who your Father is. Remember how much your Creator loves you. Feel deep down in your bones that you are ENOUGH.
If I'm honest, some days I feel like existing as God's child, as His treasured creation, is simply enough. Some days I believe that if I didn't do another thing for "ministry," another productive thing, another fruitful thing in my life, that He would love me all the same. I have to believe this--after all, do people who are differently abled have less inherent worth? The answer is clearly no. Do people who are tragically unable to speak, or move due to an injury, illness, or accident have less "worth" to God? Are they any less loved for being any less able to "achieve?" The answer is clearly no.
Yet that I am loved so radically is a hard truth to accept, and a harder truth to truly feel for me most days, if I'm honest.
So, are you ready for it? For the antidote to over-achievement?
First, we must admit we have a problem. We must stop constantly refreshing our email. We must acknowledge that right now, our moods are dictated by a performance review or a conversation with our boss or a grade on a test. We must unfollow the people on Instagram that stoke our jealousy, our restlessness, and our anxiety until we can handle it.
Then, we must simply practice being loved. It sounds so simple. But I invite you on this journey with me, this journey to align our hearts and minds with the truth. If you want, I invite you to wake up every morning, look at yourself, and say:
"YOU are loved by God.
You are trying your best, and that's enough.
YOU are enough.
You please God just by existing."
Can you be still, and remind yourself who God is, and who you are in Him? I believe you can. I am praying that you can. I am praying for a church that lights this world on fire--not with a long list of our accomplishments, but with the radical nature of God's inherent love.