This last week rest once again eluded me, which thankfully, has been a rare occurrence in my life. Why am I thankful for that? For many years rest almost constantly eluded me both in my life and faith. I did not find faith’s yoke to be easy or light because I had adopted a performance based love without realizing it.
I came to an unconscious belief that I had to earn love by keeping those close to me happy.. This meant I did not let very many people get close because it became a daunting task to accomplish. It eventually spilled over to my faith as well. I had to keep God happy with me to feel successful in my faith. Because this required performance, I could not rest in the Lord’s love and grace.
I longed to experience lying down by cool water in luscious green grass that I read about in the Bible. However, I rarely found any sense of rest unless I was backpacking in the backcountry away from everything. When at home I was always going, doing and trying. I was not experiencing any rest for my body, mind, soul or heart. This impacted everything in my life. I was driven to succeed trying to make relationships and my jobs work with my own abilities and power.
Performance-based love is a killer. I often asked those closest to me what do I need to do to make you happy, not even realizing that it was not my job.
Recently I have had the pleasure of working with two moms from opposite ends of the country. They shared one thing in common, families that felt they were less important than other things and people in their lives. They were running hard, helping others and doing honorable things, but they were tired and frustrated. Their pain was just below the surface often bubbling up in the tears in their eyes. They appeared to be living the chorus of a famous song.
“Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride, ain’t nothing going to slow me down oh no I gotta keep on moving.”
They both spoke very positively about their lives and pasts, but worry gripped their lives related to their kids, especially their sons. As we worked together they discovered that they had overlooked some things that had impacted their hearts as kids much like what had impacted me for far too much of my life.
They were driven to help, to serve, to do which made them task focused. They were longing for deeper relationships and emotional connection with the hearts of their kids and spouses. As a result they were trying harder but getting nowhere which led to exhaustion, pain and frustration with themselves and their families.
Performance-based love leads to a task focused life. Even helping and serving others, which may seem relational, can become a task that helps us feel better when we feel we need to earn the right to love ourselves and to gain the love of others. This often leaves us alone, tired, and feeling used because we are doing more than those around us and no one is doing any of this for us.
These women began to discover that they did not feel loved unless they were performing or serving others. This seemed right, even spiritual, but it did not bring the rest and peace their souls were craving. Their burdens were not light and easy and their families saw it long before they did.
I had to look back to understand what had shaped my performance-based love and my need to make others happy. I was taking responsibility for other people’s feelings in order to gain love. I had so often failed that I began to isolate myself. My inability to make others happy also left me more negative about myself.
My journey began many years earlier when my counselor Pat told me I had a shut down heart. As my heart began to heal and I found love and grace for myself, things gradually began to change. Finding rest and letting go of my unhealthy need to be loved took more time, digging and an act of the Spirit who circumcised my heart. The Spirit brought freedom, healing and a true sense of being unconditionally loved.
It was not until I could grasp and experience unconditional love that His Yoke became easy and His burden light. It is not in our nature as humans to accept and offer unconditional love especially given the way we have been raised.
Unconditionally loving ourselves and others is a challenge. In Romans 5:5 it tells us that the Spirit will pour this love into our hearts. I found that I needed to get honest with myself about how I was functioning and how my past had shaped my feelings about myself and my way of experiencing love.
Why? Rest it turns out is not a place or an amount of time. It is the status of our hearts and souls and their ability to live in peace and rest even in the midst of our daily lives. It is not simply a state of mind but the reality of a peaceful and content heart that is free of any pain that has been ignored or stuffed throughout our lives.
Stored pain short circuits the Holy Spirit’s ability to fill our hearts with the fruit of the Spirit. It is clear that the Spirit can circumcise our hearts but this does not happen without our taking time to look and feel what is happening within and discovering what drives us and impedes our ability to live with unconditional love for ourselves and those closest to us.
This week take some time to ponder these questions:
- Do I feel that my soul is at rest?
- Are tasks more important to me than people ?
- Am i driven to succeed or to help others?
- Do I love myself unconditionally?
Put your answers before the Lord and submit yourself to the Spirit. This will begin a journey of deeper self awareness and reveal where the Spirit wants to begin to restore your heart and its ability to love yourself and your family unconditionally.