One incredible thing about almost everyone in the world is that we want to become better people. We all want to be kinder, braver, wiser, and stronger. But there is another incredible thing. Even when we try to be better, it feels like we just can’t get it right.
Even in great moments when we feel we are being kind, eating right, exercising more, smiling at people, helping neighbors, or giving money to good things, we don't feel much better. We actually feel exhausted from all the effort. On top of that, we have perpetual paranoia that we might suddenly slip and be right back where we started.
For many of us, this frantic feeling of potential failure motivates us to do what we believe is right. As this fear forces us to be moral people, we somehow think we are becoming better Christians. We somehow think that God is pleased. In reality, we are just running scared. Instead of becoming good inside, we are simply struggling wildly to stay out of trouble so that from the outside it looks like we have everything together.
Surely this is not the way the Christian life is supposed to work! There has to be something more than following the rules out of fear or trying to be a nice person so we won’t upset anyone else.
For centuries, great thinkers have confirmed the frustration we feel when we try to follow the rules. Some have even become atheists because they didn’t see any point in following a God who tries to scare people into being nice. In his work Human, all too Human, renowned atheist Friedrich Nietzsche denounces Christianity, calling it a punishment because of how people are forced to obey out of fear.
“The everyday Christian cuts a miserable figure; he is a man who really cannot count to three, and who precisely on account of his spiritual imbecility does not deserve to be punished so harshly as Christianity promises to punish him.”
But this, like our own effort to improve ourselves, is a misunderstanding. Many of us, like Nietzsche, believe that working hard to become better is what Christianity is all about. The truth is, Christianity is not about helping us become nice people. It isn’t even about making the world a better place.
Christianity is about starting a relationship with somebody who is in love with us. Knowing Jesus is the primary goal. It is more important than becoming a nice person. It is more important than doing the right thing. It is more important than trying our best. It is more important than anything else, because Christianity is not about getting better or doing well. It is about experiencing an infinite amount of love from the God who created us.
So, if you’re feeling down about your performance, if you’re frustrated because you’ve messed up, or if you’re really tired from trying to be perfect all of the time, here is what Jesus says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Let’s stop punishing ourselves by trying to meet unattainable expectations that we vaguely hope will improve us or make the people around us happy. Instead, let’s build a friendship with Jesus and rest in our Creator’s love.