She came into my office reluctantly, perhaps tinged with a bit of defiance. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she sputtered. “I guess my frustration level has just gotten to the point where I don’t know where else to turn. I’ve lived a lie for most of my life. Outwardly I exude confidence, but inside I’m hollow and void of any ability to connect with another human being.” As she unpacked her story, it became clear to me that Valerie had been taught and eventually embraced a lie: you are loved only if you perform in a pleasing way to those whom you care for. So perform she did; top of her class in high school, homecoming queen, full ride to a top university, and an MBA from another prestigious graduate school. Even after securing a job with a six-figure income and an engagement ring on her finger, Valerie was more lost than ever.
“What’s my problem? Why am I so unhappy?” she sighed. “I have the job I’ve always wanted and a man who loves me. I should be the most fulfilled woman in this city!” As she continued to share her story, she related classic stress symptoms: lack of appetite, poor attention span, sleeplessness, and excessive fatigue. “Am I sick?” she asked. I inquired about her physical health and she said she had had a physical recently and had received a complete bill of health. “I think they missed something, don’t you?”
“No,” I responded, “I don’t think they missed anything, but I think you’ve missed something.” Valerie had declared herself to be a Christian, although somewhat lukewarm in her faith. At the end of the session I told her that I thought I could be helpful. As the session came to an end I gave her an assignment: “I would like you to go home this evening, pull out your bible and read Titus 3:5. In fact I would like you to read it over and over again until you memorize it.” She tried to not roll her eyes, but she couldn’t help herself. “You think a little Scripture memory is going to fix a problem I’ve had for over a decade?” I responded by saying it was as good of a place to start as any. She shrugged her shoulders and promised to see me again.
The verse I had Valerie read drilled down to what I felt the central issue was. Titus 3:4-5 states: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Valerie had believed and invested in a false law, a lie. This false law was the law of performance – you have to earn love. And the tragic hidden message of this lie is that you will always need to perform to continue being loved. And Valerie had performed! But the truth of Scripture says just the opposite: Our relationship with God is never performance based. We’ve been given a new law: the Law of Mercy. The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, and it is He that has shown us mercy, undeserved and unwavering.
The realization of this truth finally broke through to Valerie during our fourth meeting. “What is it that you really desire?” I asked. “I’ve always wanted to work with kids, special needs kids really. But there’s no money in that and people would think I’ve wasted an expensive education and settled for something less.” “What people?” I asked. “My parents, I guess… maybe my fiancé.” “They wouldn’t love you anymore?” “Maybe just not as much.” “And if you embraced the Law of Mercy?” A light went on… it was marvelous! “Then I could l live out of my heart, unafraid.”
Valerie didn’t quit her job right away, but she eventually did and she pursued her heart’s desire to work with special needs kids. And as she shed her compulsion to perform, she was able to connect with others in a more authentic manner. She had allowed the truth of Scripture to capture her heart. When we parted the last time I saw her, I will never forget her smile, and her last words to me were: “…because of his mercy, because of his mercy…”