Striving: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
To strive is to “make great efforts to achieve or obtain something” When I read this definition, I envision people like runners, warriors, and entrepreneurs all hoping to be the best and achieve great things.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “That is why we labor and strive because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
Hebrews 12:1 has the same idea: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
To strive for what is good, to learn, to accomplish, and even to win are good things! But how we perceive what is expected of us depends on our self-image. With synonyms like “try, toil, struggle, fight”, striving isn’t necessarily negative unless it is combined with fear.
Most of my life I’ve demonstrated an over-responsibility for what I do and for those around me. As a first-born, some of that comes naturally, but mine seemed to develop into something more like striving to make sure I was smart enough, good enough, strong enough, or… just enough.
I define this kind of striving as a determined, prolonged effort to get it right, to prove you’re good enough, to show the world you really can be something more while secretly doubting the slim possibility of a good outcome.
After 37 years, I moved back to my hometown. When you return to a place you’ve previously lived, you can pick up the same kinds of behavior you practiced before. The mind remembers and the automatic pilot switches on, for better or for worse. I began to strive negatively in my work. When I asked the Lord to show me where this mindset and behavior began, I heard, “The 3rd grade.”
In the 3rd-grade, my parents enrolled my sister and me into a new private school in town. I had done well previously and had no idea how I would be influenced about my potential and performance in this new place. Some teachers seriously pushed students in a negative way to achieve, assigning 2 or 3 hours of homework a night, and built a performance mentality into very malleable minds. Especially very responsible minds like mine.
My grades were mostly B’s and C’s and I dreaded taking my report card home. My parents would look at it, then look at me. My mother would say, “Did you do your best? Because if you tell us you did your best, then it’s fine.” I would answer a feeble “Yes, ma’am” while thinking, “I know she’s trying to reassure me but it’s obviously not fine! My best is not good enough. I am not smart enough.”
We have all experienced forming negative beliefs about ourselves. What we come away believing may not be what someone like our parents intended to convey. I knew what they were saying, but it felt and looked differently to me and the fact that I had done my best didn’t bring my grades up any. I self-judged and found myself lacking.
I carried this into my adult life. That’s what we do. The beliefs we form are carried around in us all our lives whether they are true or not. This is why Romans 12:2 is so important. This one little verse is the answer to the pain of wrong beliefs and rightly applied, can be a seriously life-changing experience for the better.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
When we discover a belief that is causing us pain, negative thinking, or wrong behavior, we need to take that to God and find the truth in the Bible. When I did, I remembered verses like those in Psalm 139 that say I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Ephesians 2:10 is even better: “For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So what if I struggled in Math – I was great in Language Arts! I don’t have to be great at everything. And this whole “striving to be enough” was also a wrong belief. I was never created to be enough, to be all I or others needed. There’s only One who can fill that – Jesus. Jesus is enough. So when I am feeling small, that’s okay, because Jesus is really big. When I am feeling like I don’t know enough, I can remember that I “have the mind of Christ” and the Holy Spirit to help me. When I feel like I have to prove something to the world, I can remember that I really don’t have to prove anything. I just need to keep walking close to my Father God and becoming the person He created me to be.
Striving in our own strength, we get tired. Really tired. But if we focus on the godly truth of who we really are and let it renew our minds, we are then walking in the strength of the Lord. Guess what that produces? Joy! And remember what joy does?
The joy of the Lord is my strength. – Nehemiah 8:10
When we really know the truth and make it part of our being, it really does set us free. Jennie Allen, the author of Nothing to Prove, writes, “The reason we are so tired is because instead of resting in God- we are actually striving against God.
What is striving?
-Striving is the evidence of a power struggle. Do I trust in my power or in Jesus’s power?
-Striving is not effort, it’s desperation
-Striving will drive people to insanity… because their identity and worth depend on measuring up…
What is rest?
-Rest is working, in reliance on Jesus’ power, to accomplish the humanly impossible.
-Rest is saying, “My identity is secure in Christ. It’s His word, His spirit, His power that changes lives, and what a privilege to get to be part of His work on this planet.”
When we know we don’t have to strive to be enough or to prove anything, we can know we are walking in our right identity as one little small person on earth, but one who belongs to the Creator of the Universe! Then we can “Cease striving and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10). Because when we know that He really is all we need, there’s no motivation to strive out of fear.
We don’t need validation from others when we know our identity and strength is found in the Lord. If your mind needs renewing about your identity and effort, use the images below to print, cut out, and place where you’ll see them daily. Read them aloud every day and renew your mind with God’s truth. It really does set us free.
You are loved, dear one. So loved.
From the desk by the window under the pine trees where I hear the husband starting supper in the kitchen.
(c) July 18, 2017 – Robin Lewis / Sozo Life & Leadership, LLC