When I became a Christian, I knew I'd found my life purpose. I wanted to serve God with my last ounce of strength. I read Christian biographies voraciously and latched onto any report of modern-day Christians who were giving their all to Christ and his kingdom. I often felt that my life was too easy - that I never suffered for Christ as some people did, which to my way of thinking made me an inferior Christian. What this translated into for my life was that I said yes to everything anyone asked me to do and constantly looked for challenging people and situations to be involved with.
What this eventually led to (it took about 20 years - I'm tough) was burnout. I over-extended myself in almost every area of my life. In my false idea that only doing the hard things would please God, I worked part-time for a Christian organization, volunteered for three different organizations, and mothered three children. I wanted to do all of this perfectly, better than anyone had ever done any of them before. I also looked for practical needs all the time that I could meet. During this time, I remember telling the women in my small group that I always worry that I'm not doing enough to serve God. They looked at me shocked and said, "You worry about not doing enough?" I could tell by their expressions that I'd just put them all under the pile, but I stuck to my conviction (that I truly felt) that I wasn't doing enough.
To illustrate this, I remember getting a prayer letter during this time period from a couple who worked in the inner city. They said that they'd taught their children to hit the ground if they heard gunshots. When I read that I cried and cried, because I thought, Now they're really serving the Lord. If I was serving God, I'd be doing something like that.
What happened is that I completely crashed and ended up quitting my job and many of my volunteer activities (I kept my children). I didn't want to do anything except play mindless computer games all day long. For a long time, I was mad at God and mad at Christians for placing so many expectations on me. Finally after having meaningless days and sinking into apathetic depression, I faced the fact that I was to blame. Instead of listening to God and doing only what he had gifted me to do, I charged ahead following every need that came across my path. I had developed some kind of weird philosophy of life that said I had to fix everything I saw that seemed wrong, and that I was only serving God if I was suffering. I thought I was listening to God, but instead I was listening to some kind of inner slave driver who was relentless. I also wanted my life to count for something important, and only by being completely self-sacrificing could I see that happening.
It took me several years to figure this out. I was angry at God, but I didn't know it. I thought I was just tired. But I started being honest with him by saying, "God, I'm exhausted. I don't know what you want from me. I feel that all my adult life I've wanted to serve you and have responded to every need you've placed in front of me, but you didn't give me the strength to do it. You wanted more from me than I was capable of giving. Why did you abandon me? Why didn't you give me the stamina I needed?"
He didn't answer me immediately. I had to struggle with this for a while, which is what I see David doing in the Psalms. I didn't really get an answer until I walked through some different doors in life and broke away from the experiences I was stuck in. Only after I got a job that I really liked and was suited to, could I see the flaws in my mode of operation before. I had to be honest enough with myself to see what was wrong with my thinking and be willing to let my driving need to change the world stay in God's hands.
This meant losing the bid for "the greatest Christian in the world" award and being content to do just what God made me to do and wants me to do.
I needed to accept that God gave me gifts that were not the same as everyone else's. I had to realize that for some of us, just getting out of bed in the morning is a great spiritual victory. For others, going to the darkest jungles of Africa is obedience to God. The person in Africa is not necessarily more obedient than the depressed person who got out of bed. The important thing is that they are listening to God and being obedient. We don't know what God wants them to do. They may not even know what God wants them to do. So unless a person is being blatantly disobedient to God, we cannot judge their obedience - or compare our own to theirs.
Now, none of us would ever say aloud that we are playing the "I'm a better Christian than you are" game, but I think I've been playing it my entire Christian life and have only recently recognized it. I wanted to win! So I put my all into it and played it better than anyone. Somehow the Christian life became, "I will have the most crowns in heaven no matter what!" so that doing became a lot more important than being.
What about you? Are you striving for the "I'm a better Christian than you are" award? Or if you've been there and broken free, let us know how.