The Perks & Paralysis of a Performative Identity

With three sports-loving boys in the middle of multiple sports seasons, God is doing a deep and refining work on my own heart. As one who founded her identity for decades on besting (in all the things), I find myself exposed through my own children. Old habits die hard. Generational sin patterns don’t just roll over. A performative identity that I thought was a long-dead stump has been sprouting shoots of sin.

Our culture loves bigger, faster, stronger, and better, and I spent many years cultivating a similar milieu in my own heart. Thankfully, the gospel’s incredibly good news of a received and completed identity in Christ set me on a different track. But, as my children walk into worlds that pander to performative identity, the wrestle is real.

Perks that cause paralysis

Performative identities (whether in athletics or academic acumen) loudly promise power and prestige but quietly deliver paralysis. The downside to accolades is anxiety over maintaining them. Our culture peddles performative identities of every kind, and we pay in record-high levels of anxiety and depression.

In order to be in this world but not of it, I have to continually wallpaper my mind and our home with the identities we receive in Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of man who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2: 8-10).

In Christ, we have access to an unshakeable, eternal identity that need not rise and fall based on performance or circumstance. He had made an everlasting covenant with us, ordered in all things and sure (2 Sam. 23:5).

I know the right answers. Yet, my heart still quivers when a son is on the mound or heading into try-outs or working towards scholarships for further education. God loves me enough to expose sinewy idols in my soul. He reminds me repeatedly that one need not have an inordinate desire to be extraordinary when one is extraordinarily loved.

Mangle the Maniacal Root

Mangle, Lord, mangle.
Mangle the maniacal root.
Smother, Lord, smother
Performance and its false fruit.

Dead, Lord, dead.
I thought that idol gone. 
See, Lord, see
In my children it lives on.

Water, Lord, water,
Water the imperishable seed.
Deepen, Lord, deepen
Our rooted sense of need.

Grow us, Lord, grow us
To the full stature of sons.
Sustain us, Lord, sustain us
As your sap within us runs.

Harvest, Lord, harvest 
The fruit that you have grown.
Glory, Lord, glory!
May your glory be made known. 

One of these days, by God’s grace, performative environments won’t push and pull me. Until then, I will be hiding in his finished work, repeatedly remembering the received identity we have been gifted at so great a cost.

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