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How Much Does Your Life Weigh?

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack. Feel the weight of that bag.”  – Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air

Are you exhausted? I am.

Part of my exhaustion is my work schedule, my responsibilities, and my commitments…the accumulation of my life circumstances that Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is talking about in the quote above. Your job might be different than mine, you might have fewer kids than I do (or more), and you might be older than I am (or younger). But whatever your circumstances might be, or whatever stage of life you’re in, admit it: you’re tired.

The fact is, real life is long on law and short on grace—the demands never stop, the failures pile up, and fears set in. Life requires many things from us—a successful career, a stable marriage, well-behaved and emotionally adjusted children, a certain quality of life. When life gets hard, the hardworking work harder. Is it any wonder we’re all so weary? We do our best to do better, do more, and do now. The cultural pressure to take care of yourself and “make it happen” by working harder and smarter wears us out. We live with long lists of things to accomplish, people to please, and situations to manage. Anyone living inside the guilt, anxiety, stress, strain, and uncertainty of daily life knows from instinct, and hard experience, that the weight of life is heavy. We are all in need of some relief.

Believe it or not, the reason we’re so tired isn’t simply because our children are difficult or that life is busy or that the demands at work keep piling up. The reason we’re so tired is that we’re trying to save ourselves. Let me explain.

Every single one of us is plagued by performanicism. Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. Performancism sees achievement not as something we do or don’t do but something we are or aren’t. The colleges we attended are more than the places where we were educated – they’re labels that define our value. The money we earn and the car we drive aren’t simply a reflection of the job we have – they’re a reflection of us. How I look, how intelligent I am, how my kids turn out, what people think of me…these things are synonymous with my worth. In the world of performancism, success equals life and failure equals death.

In other words, we’re exhausted because we’re trying to rescue ourselves from a meaningless, valueless, worthless existence by what we do and by who we can become. We’re weary because we feel the burden to make it, to get it done, to impress, to earn, to succeed, to be validated. After all, we conclude, our very identity is at stake.

So if the real cause of our exhaustion is the drive to save ourselves, what’s the cure?

In short — it’s the Gospel.

When Jesus announces in Luke 4 that he came to set the captives free, we have to ask, “Free from what?”

In Christ, we are free from the slavery of having to rescue ourselves. Free from the pressure of having to make it on our own. Free from the demand to measure up, from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves and find ourselves. He came to liberate us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected.  Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life doesn’t have to be an exhausting effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, validate ourselves. We don’t need to spend our lives trying to get to the front, control outcomes, and manufacture a safe, controllable existence. We don’t have to live under the weight of having to make all our dreams come true if we’re going to matter.

The Gospel of grace frees us from the obsessive pressure to perform, the enslaving demand to become. The Gospel liberatingly declares that in Christ “we already are.”

Here’s some really good news to the weary and heavy laden: Who you really are has nothing to do with you — how much you can accomplish, who you can become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your past, your present, your future, your family background, your education, your looks. Your identity is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours.

The Gospel, in other words, doesn’t just free you from what other people think about you, it frees you from what you think about yourself.

So…relax. And rejoice. Everything you need and long for you already possess in Christ. The pressure’s off.

The only thing that can silence the internal (and exhausting) voice that is constantly telling us to do more and try harder is to constantly hear the external (and inexhaustible) voice that says, once and for all, “It is finished.”

Originally published August 20, 2013.