Are You Stuck in a Destructive Pattern of Over-Performance?

In Japanese, there is a dedicated word that describes a syndrome where death ensues from overwork: karoshi. The best information I can find would suggest that since the syndrome was first identified in 1987 around 10,000 people die each year from overwork in Japan. Extremely long hours, night work, working without vacation or breaks, high pressure, bullying from management and constant stress is literally ending thousands of lives prematurely. That is extreme.

Many of us know when our activity level is so high and so constant that we are running on fumes. At time such as these, our inner experience is that we feel threatened. We hoard the energy we have left. We use our limited stores in the service of self-protection and so we find ourselves inwardly screaming, “Don’t ask me to do another thing!” when our outward reply is “I will find a way to get it done.”

Why do we overperform? There are many reasons, but let me suggest two. To begin with, we live in a culture that is hostile to rest. Overperformance is socially-sanctioned; we celebrate overwork. We resolve to ignore what we all know deep down, which is that both renewal and recovery are necessary for a life that is to be lived abundantly .Second, stress is addictive.Stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenalineand cortisolall combine to bring us a seductive rush called an “adrenaline high.” And in all this frenzy of activity, we progressively lose the capacity to shift gears.It’s as if we get stuck in overdrive — unable to turn off the engine.

How does God enable us to break this destructive pattern of overperformance? The first step is all about conviction. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us, “…there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…” (Hebrews 4:9). This reminder would expose us Sabbath breakers. So, first of all, the Holy Spirit brings some conviction through His word, that sense of “there is something wrong here!,” and we see ourselves for who we are: Sabbath stealers, living as if we have no need for rest or God or any of His lovely “suggestions”!

But why is Sabbath rest such a big deal? Haven’t we grown up our whole lives being told that hard work is a virtue? On the first full day of existence God set the pattern for us. He rested [Genesis 2:2]. On that first day of rest, mankind hadn’t done a thing yet!All Adam and Eve could do was to acknowledge that in love they were fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they had a Creator who delighted in His creation, of which they were the summit. On the first day of rest all we humans could do was to bask in God’s presence, enjoy the beauty of all that He had created and remember just who was in charge.

Now I am beginning to see why the Holy Spirit is bringing me under conviction. In ignoring the priority of rest, I am unwittingly ignoring His presence. The consequence, whether I intend it or not, is that I turn my back on Him. As a result, I lose my connection with Him. In refusing His rest, I am refusing to let Him shepherd me.

What do we find as we come under the conviction of God? We expect condemnation but instead we find compassion. We read in Hebrews 4:14-15,“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We expect God to say, “Look, I told you what to do — so just do it!” We don’t expect to be understood. We don’t expect sympathy.And “sympathy” as it is described here is not pity. In this context, sympathy is to suffer with, to share in suffering.

Jesus knew what it was to be pulled in all directions. Jesus knew what physical exhaustion was all about! He knows our weaknesses firsthand. He knows what got us to this place of depletion and disconnection. Jesus told us, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Do we hear the voice of an approachable God? Or has our sense of shame and inadequacy blocked the path back to grace?

Through the Cross, Jesus gathers up the shattered fragments of our exhausted, rebellious lives and would restore us in relationship with Him. And in that moment, God ceases to be the “angry law-giver,” the “24/7 demanding God” that we imagine we can never please but we see Him as He truly is, a loving Father who has compassion for our fallen condition, and comes with mercy and the grace to restore us.

And how would we know this?  The writer of Hebrews reminded us that Jesus is not just high priest but also our sacrifice. In Jesus’ day, it was the high priest who entered the veil of the holy of holies in the Temple in Jerusalem and made the atoning sacrifice. In this imagery, Jesus is both “priest and victim” — the one who makes atonement through his own sacrificial love and death upon the Cross for our sins (Romans 8:31b-34).This, then, is the source of our confidence.

Jesus tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Through Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has given us full access to His endless, boundless energy, power and strength. God wants to strengthen each of us and so lead us to a life that holds the promise of His abundance — not overperformance!

Eugene Peterson in The Message captured Jesus’ offer to provide us rest this way: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Unforced rhythms of grace — is this just poetry? No, this is the principle of Sabbath. God’s grace is freely available to give that back to us and not just one day a week but daily. Authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz wrote, “Sounds become music in the spaces in between the notes, just as words are created by the spaces between letters. It is the spaces between work that love, friendship, depth and dimension are nurtured. Without time for recovery, our lives become a blur of doing.”  

The inner healing of fear of rest is seldom an instant liberation. It is a gentle growing into oneness with the crucified Lord, each day, one decision at a time. In His compassion, His is the voice that, from just behind us, says, “This is the way, walk in it… and you will find rest for your souls.”

This article originally appeared on Used with permission. 

Drew Williams is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Church Greenwich, a writer and engaging public speaker. Drew’s ministry has been directed toward helping people find and deepen an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Prior to ordination in the Anglican Church in 2000, he practiced as a litigation attorney. Drew and his wife, Elena, came to the U.S. in 2009 to lead and serve Trinity Church.

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

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