By Beth Demme
I love to watch the Olympic Games. I’m amazed by the dedication and skill of the Olympic athletes. In the Olympics, everything from figure skating to javelin throwing looks easy. None of those things are easy, but they look easy because the athletes are incredibly skilled and highly trained. They are, literally, the best at what they do.
I’ve written before about Olympic parenting. There was a time I thought I could train—read, research, plan, and pray—my way to the gold medal platform in parenting. This was a beautifully idyllic phase that occurred before I was a mother.
I now offer this word of caution to people without children: You may be the Michael Phelps of Hypothetical Parenting, but so what? I dominate at Wii bowling and I’m not joining the Pro Bowlers Tour.
Parenting isn’t an Olympic sport and no one is giving out medals to the people who do it best. In fact, I’m sure we would struggle to find agreement on what “doing it best” even means.
Faith, like parenting, is not an Olympic sport.
Despite this, many Christians seem to train extensively. Again, I speak from personal experience. When I was in the Olympic training phase of my spiritual journey, I thought everything was binary (right/wrong, black/white, up/down, heaven/hell).
I again thought I could read, research, plan, and pray my way to the gold medal platform except this time the platform was heaven. The gold medal was God’s love, bestowed on me because I had run “The Race” with perseverance. (Hebrews 12:1)
If you knew me when I was in this phase, please accept my apology.
I was chasing knowledge instead of opening myself to transformation. I was focused on personal piety instead of an authentic relationship with God.
I wanted to be certain I had the right views about God (because those are the only views God would abide, what with Him being perfect and all). I also wanted to be certain I understood how God was evaluating me so I could perform to his standards.
I was so focused on winning God’s love, I forgot faith wasn’t about keeping score.
Pete Enns in his most-recent book, The Sin of Certainty, describes the problem this way: there is an “unspoken need for our thinking about God to be right in order to have a joyful, freeing, healing, and meaningful faith.”
Yes, exactly! How will I get to the gold medal platform (i.e., meaningful faith and, eventually, heaven) if my thinking about God isn’t right?
Pete (we aren’t technically on a first name basis, but I’m taking liberties) says “[b]elieving that we are right about God helps give us a sense of order in an otherwise messy world.” The problem is that belief and trust are two different things. “Believing is easy. It gives us wiggle room to think our way out of a tight spot. But trust doesn’t have any wiggle room. It explodes it. Trust is about being all in.”
The curious thing is that the same steps—prayer, Bible reading, worship attendance, small group participation—can lead people to transformation or can leave them sequestered in a stifled pattern of trying to perform for God.
In my own life, those steps have produced both results! There have been times when these were only to-do list items. I completed them because I wanted to get credit on the scoreboard. But other times, they have deepened my relationship with God and transformed my thinking.
That tells me it’s not about the steps at all, it’s about me.
Being all in with God means I have to stop treating God like he is a detached judge. I can celebrate that God is with me in this race. God didn’t see me off at the start line and he’s not just waiting for me at the finish line to see how I do. God is with me in my everyday decisions, ordinary celebrations, and recurring sadnesses.
If faith is about earning a performance-based medal, God can only be a detached judge and I am left alone on the track. If, however, faith is about relationship, I can run my race with perseverance knowing God is with me every step.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)
Do you tend to think/live/pray as if God is keeping score? What if God is running with you instead of only judging you as you run? In your life, how is personal piety different from authentic relationship with God? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
More Like This From Beth:
- As A Mom I’m No Olympian
- The Old Testament is the Story of My Life
- God Loves Us When We Act Unlovable