There is an invisible force that has pushed me my entire life. It’s a pressure I feel most of the day, most days. It’s a voice inside my head that whispers two words on repeat, “Do better.”
In school it felt like pressure to always do better academically in order to achieve better grades. Rather than leading to satisfaction in a job well done, very often, success fed the voice. Good grades needed to be great grades. Strong performance needed to be stronger than anyone else’s.
Interpersonally it’s a sense that I’m chronically falling short. I need to be a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better neighbor . . . you get the idea.
Physically, it’s a constant nudge to drink more water, to get more exercise, and to eat peanut butter M&Ms by the handful a little less often.
In many ways, this force has been a gift. It has pushed me toward success and prevented me from settling for mediocrity. It has stretched me beyond my comfort zone and led me to experience the rewards of a job well done. It has prevented me from developing habits that will make me sick and weak, and it’s motivated me to care well for the body God has given me.
But as good as the voice of self-improvement and the drive to do better can be, Jesus is far better than a better version of me.
The Problem with “Do Better”
If you’re someone, like me, who is driven by the force of “be better,” know that I’m not interested in rewiring you. I see my drive for success and my focus on improvement as God-given. It’s not sinful to want to be a better you. I’ve seen God use my tenacity for His glory many times. But there are some ugly undercurrents that often flow beneath our desire to improve. Here are just a couple:
- “Do better” becomes “Be the best” when we use self-improvement as a means to convince ourselves that we have value.
- “Do better” becomes “Be the best” when we use self-improvement as a tool to live out of pride and prove we’re superior to others.
In both cases, “do better” begins to chip away at the very (flawed) structures we’re trying to build. Instead of feeling better about ourselves because we’re making improvements, we feel terrible because we still have so far to go. Instead of reveling in the pleasure of our accomplishments, we become protective and defensive, always worried someone will outdo us or out-improve us.
Both are exhausting.
As much as “do better” impacts our human relationships, it impacts our relationship with God even more. When “do better” is the driving force of our faith:
- We feel squashed by God because we know we can never measure up.
- We cannot enjoy God because we worry He is always frustrated with us.
- We try to build bridges to God with our efforts, but over and over we find that those bridges can’t hold the weight of our weakness.
When we twist “love the Lord your God” into “do better,” the Christian life becomes a terrible cycle of: fail, try harder, fail again. Try, fail again, try harder.
God desires that our walk with Him be life-giving (John 10:10). When we live as “do better” Christians, we miss out on the joy and peace that God loves to give His children. This is why Jesus is so much better!
Trading Better for Broken
The Word of God is the voice that speaks louder than the “do better” whisper in my mind. In the Word, I see the great gospel paradox that I can never do enough to earn God’s acceptance, but I am completely accepted because of Jesus, a perfect Savior who never needs to “do better.” The gospel is a hammer that mercifully shatters my “do better” mentality over and over again.
This supernatural idea produces such simple, practical results in my heart. The gospel means:
- I am broken, unable to do enough to try to make myself whole. This is a profound relief because it allows me to stop trying to fix myself and to ask Jesus to fix what is broken in me.
- I am fully accepted by God, fully apart from my effort. No amount of elbow grease can save me. It is Jesus who saves.
- I can stop trying to fight my sin on my own. That war wears me out! Instead, I can have confidence that Jesus is making me perfect in His perfect timing (Phil. 1:6).
All day, every day, the gospel is an invitation to stop trying to be better versions of ourselves. Instead, we’re invited to trust Jesus to make us more like the best of the best, Himself.
Rather than being a problem we must fix, our brokenness becomes a canvas upon which God can paint a story of His love, His faithfulness, and His goodness. This reality caused the apostle Paul (who I suspect wrestled with the urge to do better) to stop bragging about his efforts and start bragging about His weaknesses (2 Cor. 11:30). Paul’s example has been such an inspiration to me! When I want to climb back on the “do better” hamster wheel, his words remind me that Jesus is far better than the best version of me. I can choose to brag about my weaknesses instead of trying to spackle them with striving.
- Do you crawl into bed every night annoyed with yourself for not doing more?
- Do you open your Bible afraid that God’s Word has been waiting to point out your flaws (or do you avoid opening your Bible at all)?
- Do you feel great when you’re the best and worthless when you’re not?
I understand. I’ve been there too. When the force of “do better” pushes us into a posture of defeat, we can choose the better portion—Jesus, our perfect Savior, is far better than our perfectionism.
Step up to your keyboards, I’d love to hear from you.
- In what areas of your life do you feel constant pressure to “do better.”
- Practically, how do you choose Jesus when the pressure to perform feels overwhelming?