Letting Go of the Performance
Recently, I had lunch with a very close friend. The thing about this close friend of mine is that he’s an effortlessly funny guy. Comedy comes as second nature to him, as he always knows how to lighten the mood with laughter from one of his witty jokes or just his natural demeanor. And I admire that about him. But I started to notice something about myself as I was having lunch with him.
As we talked, I kept feeling this gnawing pressure to make a joke. I really wanted to say something funny. I racked my brain twice over thinking of a punchline or a funny voice or anything that I could muster from my personality in order to get a laugh. The pressure grew and grew as the conversation went on until lunch was finally over and I realized I had not said anything remotely hysterical. I felt like a failure.
For some reason or another, I felt dejected; like I lost a significant battle with myself. But I’ve felt this pressure before. I’m no stranger to it. I’ve felt this pressure for as long as I could remember. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to the pressure that it has become engraved in who I am. So much so that I’ve been blinded to it’s consequences on my soul. And while I’m often prone to overlook this pressure, for some reason I couldn’t overlook it this day.
After lunch was over and as I was mulling over the defeated feeling I had in my soul, I finally asked myself the question I’ve always neglected: Where is this feeling coming from?
Why did I feel like I had failed at such a trivial thing as making a joke? That’s when I was reminded of something Donald Miller shared about himself in one of my favorite books, Scary Close. In his book, he shares how when he was a kid and his dad split, he felt like he had to prove he was intelligent in order to matter.
One time, his sister and her friends were over so he took a broken tape recorder apart and he spread the pieces across his bed. Then, as he sat there holding his screwdriver, he pretended to act like he was fixing it by looking at the pieces intently and moving the parts around on his bed. When his sister and her friends asked what some of the parts were, he would say that they wouldn’t understand. But in reality, he had no idea what he was doing.
He went on to say,
Ever since I was a child, ever since I became wrongly convinced I had to be bigger and smarter than I really was, I’ve been trying to perform, trying to convince people I was more capable than I really was. I’d been sending that same nine-year old kid who took the tape recorder apart out into the world to speak and perform and interact with people.
When I went back and re-read this, I realized that’s me. Somewhere along the line as a kid, I felt like I had to prove something in order to matter. Whether it was proving I was athletic, smart, or funny, I felt it necessary to prove I was any of these in order to belong and to matter to someone. That kid has still been interacting with others in my place to this day. Consequently, my relationships have suffered from it ever since.
Attraction Isn’t Intimacy
I couldn’t even be myself with one of my closest friends. I felt like I had to impress him with a joke or else he would see me for the fraud I really am and decide to bounce. I was afraid he would abandon our friendship after finding out how boring I was. That’s when I realized I didn’t just do that with him either, but with almost all of my relationships. I started to notice this pressure to perform to some degree manifested itself in every relationship I had. And while I was reluctant to make this revelation, it felt good to finally realize why I felt so much “performance anxiety” all the time.
Miller goes on to say,
The reality of trying to be bigger and smarter than we are is that it sort of works, and then falls apart. It’s true people are attracted to intelligence and strength and even money, but attraction isn’t intimacy. What attracts us doesn’t always connect us. I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have been taken in by somebody sexy or powerful or charming but soon after find themselves feeling alone in the relationship. It’s one thing to impress people, but it’s another to love them.
That’s the lie I’ve believed my entire life: attraction is intimacy. It’s a dangerous lie that has wreaked havoc on all of my relationships, and even more so my soul. I’ve sacrificed intimacy time and time again for the sake of making myself “impressive” or “attractive.” But thankfully, I’m starting to see the truth more clearly.
If you’re feeling lost because you believed the same lie your entire life, let me encourage you with the truth. And trust me, I’m preaching this to myself even more so. Here it is:
You don’t have to be smart, funny, athletic, or sexy to find love. No, you are loved regardless. Jesus looks beyond our outward, external reputations and identities, and he peers into the depths of our inward selves. He sees that little boy or little girl still trying to prove they matter. And he is telling us that we don’t have to be that little boy or little girl anymore. He tells us that we matter, that we belong, and that we are loved unconditionally, regardless of our talents, abilities, skills, appearance, or intellect.
Do I have a hard time believing that sometimes? Absolutely. And I’m sure you do too. But it’s true. I believe it’s true because Jesus went to the cross to prove it’s true. That’s what I forget far too often. It’s because of Jesus that we are free to be ourselves. He doesn’t ask us to impress. He just asks us to love.
All that being said, I think that’s what I’m going to do now. It’s time for me to drop the act and stop performing.
I can already feel the pressure fading. The peace and love of Christ are flooding in.