It always sneaks up on me when I least expect it. Maybe it’s when I don’t get my to-do list done, or after Ryan and I discuss our struggle in finding a house, or I’ve snapped at the kids again. My brain recognizes the existence of a problem, and I desperately want to fix it.
Actually, it’s more like: things will not be alright until I fix this.
So I spend time thinking. And theorizing. And plotting. I make a schedule and plan new routines. Then not two steps into my scheme, I realize I can only accomplish this if there are two of me – there is no possible way I can get it all done. At least not without losing sleep, or skipping meals, or rarely seeing my family, or missing my quiet time with the Lord.
That’s when I realize I’m striving. After I’ve expended monumental amounts of mental energy, and stress has already wrapped its arm around my shoulders. And still, even though my emotions are beginning to crumble, I believe the lie that “this is the only way,” and I try to carry out at least part of my plan. “A little is better than nothing,” I tell myself, even though that “little” is still an inhuman load for me to carry right now.
This is a universal issue
I’ve spoken to a lot of women who have experience striving. Whether it is brought on by a cultural expectation or a familial one, its a common problem. And ultimately, it is unhealthy. and downright debilitating.
Striving itself is an unobtrusive word. It simply means to make a great effort to obtain something. Which, in itself, is not bad. In fact, there are seasons where that can actually be exhilarating and rewarding.
When my mother-in-law talked me into doing a sprint triathlon with her, I was anything but an endurance athlete. In fact, I hated running. And I could barely swim. Still, I adopted a rigorous training regimen and pushed my cardio for two hours every day, for nearly twelve weeks. I strove to get into shape so I could finish the race. And in the end, it paid off.
With that in mind, I ask myself when exactly I cross over that line where striving has become a bad thing. Where it has me feeling pressed down and winded before I’ve taken a single step. And why do I know so many people who feel as crushed as I do?
Over the years, I’ve realized something. At the moment when I connect that I’m striving, I can feel the bitter-strong reason why I suddenly have to accomplish everything.
Striving is the result of grasping for control.
I strive because I want control. Control over my circumstances. Over my life. Over my future. And maybe, just maybe, if I hold on tight enough and try harder and push that little bit more… Maybe, then I’ll get where I want to be.
To this day, despite my best efforts, life has yet to go according to my plan. In my just-over-three-decades of walking on this galactic rock, my control has equaled jack squat. And rightfully so because I’m not designed to be in control. I don’t have infinite knowledge, or unparalleled wisdom, or the ability to create something out of nothing. In short, God did not create me to shoulder the weight of being in control.
It simply isn’t my job.
In the most basic form, my job is to trust God with my life. To build a relationship with Him, and live a life that is in line with Biblical principals. Of course, I should go to God with my requests, and genuinely seek Him through exploring means of obtaining those requests. But the rest is up to him. In the words of Joyce Meyer,
If you will do what you can do, then God will do what you can’t do.
I don’t believe God ever leads us through striving. He may lead us through seasons that are hard, and we have to put forth a lot of effort, but ultimately he is the author of the outcome. Because his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
Striving is the antithesis of rest. And rest is a gift from God.
When I’ve got a whole list of problems to fix, the last thing I want to do is rest. In fact, I often abolish rest until the work is done. The problem with that is we need rest. Our very biology depends on it. Like water, we need it to survive.
These days I’m pretty good at recognizing when I’m in a tizzy of striving. But it doesn’t always come out in a clear and concise statement. Instead, I usually say to my husband (typically late at night, after a full day, and I’m really too tired to be productive), “I feel like I need to work. I’ve got so much to get done.”
Frankly, it’s such a common thing for me to say, he rolls his eyes at me now. And the truth is, I don’t say it out loud because I really need to do something that minute. I say it because I need a little help giving myself permission to let go of what I can’t get done today.
I have to consciously give myself permission to rest.
And most importantly, I must give myself permission to trust God.
After all, we can push through exhaustion and get more work done. Yet more often than not, the quality that we put out is lackluster. It’s better than nothing, though only by a little.
There may not be an off switch to, but there can be helpful steps
A couple of months ago, I was talking to a dear friend who is all too familiar with the struggle of living a lifestyle of striving. The secret to her progressive success was to stop the activities that made her want to strive.
If she was striving to be a good cook for unappreciative family or friends, she started cooking just for herself. If she was striving while serving in her church, she stopped volunteering, and so on.
Since striving completely broke her heart and zapped her energy, she couldn’t serve cheerfully with her gifts, which is how we are meant to serve. So she decided there needed to be a change. She went all out and set some serious boundaries for herself.
When we had this conversation, I remember thinking, that’s nice, but I can’t just stop. Too much is riding on my success. I have to consider my family, my future, everything! I have to move forward!
Well, I may be stubborn, but God is crafty. Whether I meant to allow it or not, my friend’s words sunk deep into my heart. Almost without realizing it, I began eliminating little things from my life — things I had believed were completely necessary. And with each one I cut out, I started to feel better. I rested. I brought my requests to God and trusted him. And as a result, I began to cut through the noise of quantity and understand the importance of quality.
It takes a strong will to make boundaries and even more so to stick with them. I fall short frequently. It’s easy to forget I’m not in control — or decide I’m going to try to be. Or I get caught up in the noise and need a little outside help tuning it out. Like most skills worth having, it takes practice, and I’m not done practicing yet. Because living peacefully is worth it.
Have you faced a lifestyle of striving? Any thoughts or comments? Share below!
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