Spirituality and performance

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Recently, I’ve been “struggling spiritually”. I’ve been neglecting Bible reading, engaging less with sermons; even my podcasts and music have had less of a Christian spin. I’ve stopped doing things that I feel—or have been taught—should comprise a “good Christian character”. And I’ve felt very guilty about it. 

That is, until I was browsing Instagram and saw friends flaunting their Sabbath purchases and enjoying late-night drinks. Sure, I might be a few matches short of an “on fire” Christian, but at least I’m “well behaved”. I go to church. I mean, I even work for the Church—that must make me at least 70 per cent sanctified. 

But just as quickly as I bury guilt under layers of positive comparison, I’m reminded of another breed of people entirely: the really good Christians, affectionately known as the “madventists”. These avid Bible readers abstain from meat and caffeine, tithe faithfully. They visit the poor and help the sick—they’re the real MVPs. Surely God must love them more than the rest of us. I mean, He might as well swoop down and scoop them right up. 

My friends, don’t play these mind-games. Thoughts like this are toxic, not only to our own sense of self-worth, but to the unity of our Church, and most problematically, to God’s character. 

In a recent episode of Record Live (June 23), Jarrod and I were discussing the power of semantics, and how a simple word like “love” can be loaded with baggage and therefore misunderstood. For someone experiencing emotional abuse or manipulation, “love” may define a conditional exchange accompanied by threats. For a type-A, high-achiever like myself, love is earned. The concept of unconditional love being bestowed equally on the hard workers and the lazy—the “righteous” and the “unrighteous”—doesn’t compute so easily. 

The word “spirituality” also has similar baggage. We often fall into the habit of equating a person’s “spiritual strength” with their adherence to man-made measures of outward performance. We inflict the same on ourselves.

With God, love is not an exchange. Spirituality is not measured by performance. A Father’s relationship with His child cannot change based on that child’s “merit”; their inheritance by blood relation cannot be taken away (unless they so choose). Neither can a person’s spirituality be taken away. Spirituality is not a biproduct of good behaviour; we are spiritual beings by design, with inbuilt inclinations to seek and understand life’s meaning. 

Never let anyone (religious or not) make you feel like God won’t accept you—that He doesn’t love you because you’re “spiritually struggling” or not spiritual at all. Don’t believe the lies, perpetuated by capitalism and consumerism, that your worth is based on how much you have or how well you perform. 

Jesus came to shake up this paradigm. We were all—Jew, Gentile, slave, free—made children of God through Him, regardless of our performance. 

Remember, it’s impossible not to be loved by God, and it’s impossible not to be spiritual! No matter what you do or who you are—a liar, cheater, influencer, homosexual, bisexual, tax collector, alcoholic, drug abuser, bikini model, gambler, heavy-metal enthusiast—you are still a spiritual being. God still loves you as much as He loves the madventists. 

We must learn to unlink love and spirituality from performance-based outcomes. Doing this is really hard, but if you succeed, you can experience beautiful safety and freedom to learn and grow, question, make mistakes, be sceptical, explore the world, and follow your passions—free of guilt.

Yes, there are God-made rules that we should abide by to help us live healthy, happy and safe lives. There are spiritual disciplines that can help us flourish mentally, emotionally, physically. But breaking our adherence to them is not something you need to punish yourself—or others—for. 

Maybe there’s no such thing as “struggling spiritually”—maybe it’s all semantics. By starting this process of unlinking my spirituality from outward measures of performance, I may not appear to be a “good Christian”, but I am learning and growing. I’m embracing His endless grace, I’m judging others less.

The only day I’ll truly be “struggling spiritually” is the day God stops being my amazing dad. And that day will never come.

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