Performing For Love

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.

One Step at a Time.

Freedom isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.

I decided to embark on this journey in 2015. I was riddled with anxiety. Most days you could find me curled up on the floor of my apartment bawling my eyes out. I was scared of EVERYTHING. Scared of making the wrong decision. Scared of disappointing the Lord. Scared of what I was putting the people closest to me though because of my crippling anxiety.

I came to a place where I was desperate. And I reluctantly agreed to go to counseling. But little did I know that taking that first step would take me on the most challenging, yet most beautiful journey with Jesus.

I remember being at work in October of 2015. That ever so present crippling fear washed over me. I picked up my phone to call a counselor that a mentor had recommended. I really didn’t want to. But I didn’t know where else to turn. I left a message. Got a call back. Set up my first appointment. One step.

I showed up to that first appointment extremely nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect. But I walked through the doors every week for several months. One step.

After a while, I felt stuck. I felt like every time I went, I was struggling with the same thing. I felt like I had hit a wall. I felt like my counselor was getting frustrated with me. She recommended we do a joint counseling session with one of the other counselors in the same practice because of her experience with situations similar to mine. I agreed, and we set the appointment out a couple of weeks.

I talked to Sean about what I was feeling. How I felt stuck. How I felt like I hit a wall. How I felt like I was frustrating my counselor. He asked me if I wanted to switch to someone else. “No! I can’t go through all this with someone else! I don’t want to start over!”

I showed up to that appointment a couple of weeks later. My counselor had filled her friend in on a bit of my situation. We talked for a while, and at the end, my counselor said she thought I should continue seeing her friend. All of a sudden I remembered Sean’s words. God took care of it! God was taking care of ME! He had ordained that appointment before I had even had that conversation with Sean about my counseling frustrations. And I didn’t even have to start over. I was able to continue my journey to freedom without starting back at square one. Jesus knew what I needed before I even knew. He has a way of doing that.

I loved my new counselor! I had never felt so heard, understood, and validated. She listened, she prayed, she hugged me as I cried. For the first time I felt like someone truly understood what I was going through. She walked me through my life from the beginning and helped me understand where all this fear and anxiety came from. And just understanding felt like a breath of fresh air. I realized I wasn’t crazy. There was a reason behind it all. It was another step.

There were times I felt like I took steps backwards. There were also times I felt like I ran backwards several miles. But she continued to encourage me that I would look back one day and see the progress. I, of course, didn’t believe her. I still felt miserable! Anxiety still clung to me like a garment. It would chew me up and spit me out. Progress? What progress? I was still in the tunnel and it was still dark. No light. No hope. At least that’s what it felt like. But I still showed up. I kept searching. I kept asking questions. I kept seeking freedom, even though it felt like it would never be within reach. Another step.

Then one day, in 2018, I showed up again. And as we talked, she began to tell me how she felt like I didn’t need to see her anymore. Of course, I could come in when needed, but she felt like I had learned to take control of the anxiety. I suddenly remembered her words telling me I would one day look back and see the progress. The day I never thought would come actually came. I remember sitting in her office, looking back on the last three years, and for the first time seeing how far I had come. I finally saw light. I felt hope. I got a glimpse of that freedom I had been chasing for so long. And it was beautiful. I took another step.

Fast forward to today. Do I still struggle with anxiety? Absolutely. Does it leave me on the floor in the fetal position on a daily basis? Not at all. It’s much sneakier now. Instead of throwing me to the floor in fear, it says things like, “Did you say the wrong thing? What if you offended her? What if you were inconsiderate? What if you’re not good enough? What if you failed?” I’ll be honest. Most of the time I go down those rabbit trails and end up in a place of questioning everything about myself. I certainly spend some time overthinking those things. But it doesn’t take me out for days, weeks, or months anymore. I can now, almost without any effort of my own, slowly emerge out of the anxiety. And it’s all because of that one phone call, that one step, back in 2015.

Tasting that freedom, even if it’s just a drop, helps me keep going. It pushes me to keep pursuing complete and total freedom in Jesus. I won’t settle for anything less. Jesus paid a high price for my freedom. It’s already mine. I just have to continue learning how to walk in it.

Through this journey that I’ve been on and am STILL on, I’ve learned about the gentleness of Jesus. He doesn’t ever criticize. He doesn’t push us past our limit. He takes you by the hand and leads you ever so gently. He says, “I’ve got you. I know you better than you know yourself. Trust me. Trust my process.”

I’ve seen his faithfulness in the process. He never wastes a moment. Even in the moments you feel like you’re caught in a landslide, he still leads you forward. He never lets go of your hand. The journey will include mountains and valleys, but the valleys are part of the journey. You can’t get to where you’re going without them.

Jesus is the best leader. He’s a trustworthy leader. He beautifully orchestrated, and continues to orchestrate, every step of my journey. He tailored it to me. To my heart. If he had just miraculously taken away my anxiety back in 2015 (and believe me, I prayed for that and wanted that), I would have missed out on a beautiful journey with him. Has it been easy? No. Has it been painless? Definitely not. But has it been worth it? Absolutely. Looking back on his perfect leadership in my life has created a bond of trust that couldn’t have happened any other way. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why did I tell you this long story? Because if you’re like me, and you feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, I want to encourage you to keep going. Keep pushing forward. Keep trusting Jesus. Your journey is beautiful and perfect. He knows what he’s doing. He knows your heart. He sees your pain. And he loves you too much to leave you where you are. Don’t settle for anything less than complete and total freedom. It’s already yours. He paid for it. And I’m here to encourage you to keep going. One step at a time.