Saturday, August 23, 2008

Performance Orientation

Last summer I bought more books than many people own. Let me loose in a bookstore with the power to buy and I can be unstoppable. I actually read the books I buy and currently I'm reading The Transformation of the Inner Man by John and Paula Sanford. I bought it after reading another by this couple that was really very good (can’t remember the title of that one and I’m not at home to check). I’m stuck on chapter three because I find it so relevant to who I am (but don't want to be).

Performance orientation is about motivation behind the good things we do. Not all who do good things are doing it from a performance orientation but those of us who have this trait do not base their lives on “restful acceptance and consequent confidence but constant anxiety, fear, and striving.”* It’s the idea that “If I don’t do right, I won’t be loved”; of learning “to fish for love, every action a lure”; “You will not be loved unless you can deserve it.” Performance oriented people
...require constant affirmation.... They cannot handle criticism well. Their security is not first in God and themselves but in what people think of them. They are dependent upon the reactions of others. They have little center of decision in themselves. They must become whatever it takes to gain approval for themselves.

They, in effect, say, “Tell me how to do it so I can feel secure.” Their goal is “the power to feel good and acceptable—to himself and others.”

I haven’t always recognized that this describes me but as I read this chapter, so much of it was exactly where I’ve been. I’ve “had to” be the best and, as a little girl, it never occurred to me that second best might be okay. I “needed” to win every game I played; I was constantly comparing myself to others in my classroom to see if I was top in the class (once David Grellmann became part of the school, I was never top again—though I didn’t seem to resent him for it); I had to work harder, achieve more, develop more skills and garner as much praise as I could, and I succeeded. The adults in my life gave me much praise for this and the praise became my sustenance—so much so that when I moved out of the community I grew up in, entered the adult world and stopped receiving praise of any sort, my world fell apart and so did I.

The following quotes could have been written by me:
I wanted him to just love me for me and couldn’t see that my striving and my defensive walls were preventing him from doing so. Performance-oriented people usually work hard to love by serving others but cannot let others close enough to give them love in return.

I was lonely, and angry, and all I knew to do was to try harder. The defensive walls were so thick that if John had been an angel he would have had difficulty passing
through.
It’s been only recently that I’ve begun to realize that the barriers to closeness in my marriage have been built by me, not by Tom. I’ve been praying, asking God to help me take them down but, as above, some of my defensive walls are so thick that even an angel would have trouble making it through. The authors remark:

...how stubborn the heart is, how very really unconverted it is among Holy Spirit-filled, Bible-believing people...

We are not accustomed to thinking of performance orientation, by which we strive to do so many good things, as sin, but it is desperately so.

The person must come to see performance orientation not as some little series of events nor as a tiny, peculiar segment of his nature but much as a metastatic cancer extending tentacles into everything he is and does. He must see it not as some isolated little flaw but as the very warp and woof of his entire life, and he must come to hate it....P.O. is the central structure of our kingdom of self.
These are strong words, yet I know them to be true. Dismantling this way of living and thinking is not easy. The mind can recognize the wrongness of it but the heart continually protests that it needs the approval, the affirmation, the praise and recognition. I remember trying to get my psychiatrist to tell me what she thought of me. It had bothered me for months. What was she thinking? What good things did she see in me? What bad? I tried to form the question in a suitable way but she caught my intent and asked why it was so important what she thought of me? That got me thinking. Why did her opinion of me matter? Why was it so important to hear her say good things about me?

The authors write:
It is not that we should give up trying to live for Christ. What needs to happen is death of old motives and birth of the new. Before we are crucified, behind all our serving is that striving of the flesh. We obey law in whatever degree we are able to do so in order to win brownie points, or for fear of punishment, or to earn the Father’s love, or out of duty because we were trained to, or for fear we can’t live with our false and accusing conscience, or for threat of what others will think of us, or that we won’t belong—all wrong motives for a Christian.... All of that needs to die.
But, they say, “So long as we prefer the rewards, we will not change.” What rewards? John talks about giving his wife the silent treatment and what he enjoyed about it:

...[the] delights of punishing a critical mother; feelings of power in getting another’s goat; the wicked fascination of making another suffer; fantasies of being the noble martyr keeping his cool while Paula—poor thing—blows her control and becomes furious, not as able to be as “Christian and controlled” as I am; inadmissible feelings of getting even with Paula; dominance and control; male superiority.
He adds:

I am not likely to give up such rewards so long as they mean more to the hidden control centers of my heart than Paula or God mean to me. To come to a proper and sufficiently intense hatred of the self we have built in opposition to God is a distinct gift from the Lord.
How much do I hate the sin in my life? Not much, sometimes. Am I disgusted with my attempts to earn love and approval? Not yet, sadly. I know the love of God. I have experienced his arms around me, and have felt his affection bathing me in wonderful, peace-inducing warmth yet I seem programmed to forget those experiences and allow my actions and feelings to be “controlled by compliments” or the lack thereof. Fickle me!

One solution given is “to renounce aloud the whole pattern of performance. There is no magic about this... But it will give the Lord permission” to start changing me. This is what I want.

Lord, I don’t want to be driven to perform, to adjust who I am, what I think, what I do based on how I think others will react. I want to end this habit, this idolatry, this sin. I renounce this whole pattern of performance. I don’t want it to be the way I live anymore. Please change me. Heal me! Help my heart to grasp more and more how passionately and dearly loved I am by you; to know that my worth and value don’t come from the praise of others but from being your creation, your daughter, your love. Teach my heart to know what my mind has already acknowledged! Enable me to trust your love far more than the love and approval of any person I can touch, see, hear, or smell. Increase my faith and let it all be in you.


*All quotations are from The Transformation of the Inner Man by John and Paula Sanford. Pages 41-70

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