Yesterday I was in a local McDonald’s. It was early morning. I was reading a book, taking some notes, and sipping a cup of coffee. At one point the manager, a woman in her 30s, walked by and asked, "Are you working hard?"
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t work. A paper route. A job at a fast food restaurant. A short stint at door-to-door sales. Long nights in a bakery and more. Today, I continue to work. Yet, I have not always been sure about my motivation.
When I finished the M. Div. degree at Abilene Christian University after three years of study, I immediately began to work with a fairly new church in Alabama. Even while in school, I had preached, served as a youth minister, etc. Yet, it seemed different now that I was out of school. I felt behind. Somehow, I sensed that I didn’t know enough or in some way was behind other young ministers like myself.
I worked very hard to somehow "catch up." These feelings of inadequacy played into my desire to do well and to perform well. I suspect that deep down I longed to hear a "well done." Yes, I knew that the Lord’s "well done" was most important, but I was focused on getting one now. Looking back, I suspect I was confused as to whose applause really mattered.
Fil Anderson, in his book Running on Empty, writes:
The questions asked of me when I was young trained me in the things others found most important. "What do you want to do when you grow up?" And even if "What do you want to be?" was ever asked, my answers invariably fell neatly into career categories — professional athlete, astronaut, fisherman, or fireman — not character categories — a faithful Christian, a philanthropist, a compassionate person, or even a creative person. Having been trained to connect my identity with what I did more than who I was, my identity was to be found in my performance. This resulted in my identity’s being reduced to my performance plus other people’s ratings of my performance. The more audiences I played for, I figured, simply raised my chances for bigger and better ratings, when in fact what was raised were my chances for leading a more confusing life. As Evelyn Underhill put it, I spent most of my time and energy conjugating three verbs: "to want, to have, and to do." I was forever playing to the crowd.
I recall reading many years ago an interview of a member of the Boston Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. In it the interviewer asked how it feels to get a standing ovation after a performance or a negative review the morning after. I was initially puzzled by the classical musician’s response as she explained how she used to be greatly affected by the crowd’s reception, however, over time had learned to look only for the approval of her conductor. Her logic was simple; her conductor was the only person in the crowd who really knew how she was supposed to perform.
(Fil Anderson, Running On Empty, pp. 65-66)
Do you relate to this at all? Have you ever come to a place in life where you realized you were trying to please someone else more than God?