My whole life has been a constant struggle with performance addiction – the belief that performance and achievement were the only way to secure the love, approval and respect of others, and that I had to maintain, or outdo this in order to stay loved.
Too often, we hear the stories of drug, gambling, sex, and alcohol addicts. But I would suggest that performance addiction may be the most sinister of them all, because it escapes us (often in plain sight) under the guise of “achieving our potential in life”, “bringing pride and honour to the family” or simply, “wanting to do our best”.
At Tung Ling Bible School where I attended the School of Ministry, one of the lecturers, Ps Henson Lim taught on “Knowing and Fulfilling Kingdom Assignments”. He introduced the almost anonymous Archippus in Colossians 4:17 and Philemon 2:
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” Colossians 4:17
“…Archippus, our fellow soldier…” Philemon 2
Archippus is mentioned only twice in the Bible, and each time, he is mentioned by name. He may be almost anonymous but he is known to God by name. As I search Scripture, God calls me to have a realistic self-image and an appropriate estimate of my capabilities (Romans 12:3, NIV); to be like the almost anonymous Archippus. I also came face-to-face with the long-standing bondage that needed to be broken once and for all – the spirit of performance.
You see, from a young age, my grades and achievements defined a huge part of who I was. Why shouldn’t it, when, to my mind, love and affection (like all good things in life) were always conditional on me getting impressive results, and eventually becoming that successful doctor, lawyer or accountant? Because of this, I would get angry at God whenever I did badly in my exams or did not get something my way. I could not understand or value God’s unconditional love, and the worth of being His child. These ideas were as distant to me as the next ‘A+’ grade.
My faulty sense of self-worth worsened after I scraped my way into a local law school. There, it was easy to feel inadequate, worthless, and covetous; a place where ‘putting in my best’ just wasn’t enough. In law school, grades determine a lot of things, making me constantly afraid of failing or being looked down upon by my peers. Carrying this mindset into the workplace after graduation, I quickly found myself ill-equipped to deal with trainee life. Because work has no ‘final exam’ as an endpoint, no pre-determined holidays for rest, I strived on and on, and eventually ‘snapped’ in the gruelling and cut-throat environment of the law firm. It was the darkest point of my life, and I felt like such a failure. This was my first brush with anxiety disorder, and it dealt a tremendous blow to my confidence. By God’s grace, I managed to complete my training and thereafter moved into my first law job outside private practice. That, however, still saw me battling anxiety for the next few years, during which time I also started seeking professional help through counselling.
Although I became more aware of my own condition and triggers, correcting something so deep-seated was never going to be an overnight affair. Often, I still felt overwhelmed by the job, and found it immensely difficult to ‘draw the line’ in striving for various superiors’ approval. Furthermore, having ‘crashed out’ at such an early stage of the typical legal career pathway, this haunted me very often at work, leading to much insecurity and the need to prove myself all the time. Realising soon enough that in the workplace, the reward for good work is more never-ending work, I found myself in bondage to the ceaseless need to perform, in order to maintain or better whatever good standing I had built up. Burnt out by the senseless striving of it all, I left my job, knowing deep down that something in me was still broken and needed fixing.
In my waiting upon God, I began to align with God and what He says about me. I see now that God is more interested in who I become during the wait, than what happens after. He is eager to build in me something that will last for the rest of my life. He yearns to teach me to want Him more than I want a plan – to seek the Giver, not the gifts; His face, not His hand; His ways, not just His works. And I trust that nothing that happens in my life is wasted, not even the times of waiting. Because He knows me by name, He has a kingdom assignment for me to fulfil and my life can be anything but aimless.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
To God be the glory forever and ever.
God loves you, not because of what you can do for Him, but because you are His child. And because He loves you, He has assignments for you that will align and mature you even more into all He has created you to be. Don’t work for the love of God. Work from the love of God. Ps Henson writes in Alignment Check, “Rediscover and receive His love. And be compelled, as Paul was, to live entirely for Him.”
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15