My mom enrolled me in gymnastics at eighteen months old, and we took “Mommy and Me” classes. From that point on, there was no turning back. Gymnastics was my life. It consumed my every breath. I started homeschooling in the fourth grade so that I could devote more of my life to training.
I also loved Jesus. I received Jesus into my heart at an early age and desired to follow Him and serve him and glorify him through the sport of gymnastics. I had dreams to stand on the Olympic podium one day with a gold medal around my neck and give all the glory to him. But although I loved Jesus with everything, I learned to “earn” love instead of just receiving the love that had already been given to me.
I was always told to not let gymnastics become my identity, but there were definitely times it did indeed define who I was as a person. I remember thinking at one point, “ I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a gymnast.” My purpose, in my teenage mind, was being a gymnast for the glory of God. I thought that if I always performed to the best of my ability, the Lord would be proud of me. I never grasped that my real purpose in life was simply to love and be loved.
I don’t think I was ever directly told, “The Lord loves you because you’re an incredible gymnast,” but I don’t think I was ever told, “Hey, even if you didn’t do gymnastics, even if you didn’t do anything, the Lord will still love you just as much.” My life was a performance. If you did well, you got recognized. You won first place. You qualified to Nationals. And if I worked my tail off and made it to the top, all the glory went to God. If I worked my tail off and didn’t make it, I knew the Lord was still proud of me for doing my best for his glory.
Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with that view. You work hard; God gets all the glory. The Bible even says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “…Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” But in “doing everything for the glory of God,” I missed the foundational truth that I wasn’t loved for “doing.” I was loved for simply “being.”
Perfection is the goal of gymnastics. You’re always striving for that unrealistic goal of getting a perfect score. As a gymnast, you eventually come to the conclusion that getting a 10.0 on everything is just not possible. But that doesn’t mean you won’t try your hardest to get as close as possible. Your sport, and your life if you train thirty hours a week like I did, become about striving for perfection. Day in and day out. Over and over and over again. Tears, frustration, and pain are what drive you. And then every once in a while, your hard work pays off. You get that skill. You win that competition. You’re overcome with joy! But then, it starts all over again the next day. A new skill, a new competition, a new goal to strive for. Naturally, you begin to learn that you earn by striving. You receive by doing something. And eventually, that became the story of my life.
Because of the very nature of the sport to which I dedicated my life, I never saw anything wrong with striving for perfection. I even let it bleed over into other aspects of my life and labeled it “excellence.” I remember crying during my schoolwork so many times because I didn’t fully understand the math concept I had just learned three minutes earlier. I gave myself no grace or room to fail. But that was okay because I was “doing everything for the glory of God.”
When your life goal becomes perfection, pride and arrogance begin to take root. You take pride in the things you’ve done or accomplished, and those “things” begin to define you. Then, when you feel as if you’ve failed or done nothing noteworthy, you label yourself as not good enough. You label yourself as a failure. And as this pattern continues, pride takes over. Piece by piece.
I noticed this pattern in my life when I became an adult. Every time I made a mistake, I felt like a mess. I felt unworthy. I felt as if I had some serious cleaning up to do. The perfection I had strived for in gymnastics wasn’t just because I was a gymnast. Perfection had become my goal, my aim in life. And if I didn’t hit the bull’s-eye, then I had failed. I had essentially started “scoring” all the areas of my life. My relationships: 9.3. My dating relationship: 8.7. My job and my work: 9.5. My love for God: 9.2. Showing God that I love Him: 8.5.
I looked at these areas of my life and if they weren’t close to a 10.0, then I could do better. I projected this idea of scoring onto the Lord, and if the Lord thought I could do better, then that meant I wasn’t doing well enough. That meant, in my mind, that I wasn’t good enough. And I started to wonder if I ever would be. I started thinking that I had to do something to improve my scores. What could I do for the Lord so he would raise my scores and see me as “enough” again?
It’s so easy to get caught up in a life of performance. I certainly did. Maybe it was how you were raised. Maybe an A on a test isn’t good enough, and if it isn’t an A+, you get a lecture, or worse. Maybe if you don’t win first place in a sport, you feel worthless. Maybe a parent or coach even told you that you were.
One of the biggest struggles of my life has been trying to understand how God isn’t like that. People told me, “Your Father doesn’t operate like that. He loves you for you. You don’t have to do anything to earn his love. In fact, you can’t earn it. And you don’t have to perform for him to show him that you love him.” But it made no sense to me. I had so many questions. “How do I love God then? How does he know that I love him? Why does he love me? I’m certainly not worth it. Have you seen me? Have you seen the mess I’ve made? Why would he love me?”
The words “I don’t understand” came out of my mouth so many times. Proverbs 3:5 had never been so real: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” “What? Don’t lean on my own understanding? Then how do I understand?!” As confusing as it was, there was a certain peace in knowing that I didn’t have to understand. But there was so much fear attached to that word trust. I had been relying on myself and trusting myself and my knowledge for so long that I didn’t even know where to begin with just trusting. Trusting the Lord, trusting in His character, trusting in His love, trusting the people around me that the Lord had placed in my life.
It seemed so much safer to just trust myself. Fear came crashing in full force. I spent several years of my life absolutely terrified. “What if I trust and then end up making the wrong decision? What if I make a mistake and the Lord is disappointed in me?” But that’s what trust is. Trusting by understanding and knowing isn’t trusting. I have to trust that the Lord loves me. No matter what. And it’s not based on doing. It’s based simply on being his daughter. I have to trust that the Lord has strategically placed people in my life to speak the truth over me. If they’re all saying the same thing and I’m stuck over here in my head thinking that I’m right and they’re all wrong, then I’m just being plain prideful.
I’m learning that trusting is an integral part of life. Its not just part of some worship songs. It’s not some nice little phrase we say. It’s peace that we’ve wrapped in fear. It’s so simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Trusting isn’t about understanding first. Trust comes first, then the understanding. The Lord is faithful. He’s been faithful to my heart. He will continue to be. And He’ll be faithful to yours too. Because he loves you for YOU. Not for your performance.