Freedom from a Performance Trap

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Watch "His Hands and Feet in the Neighborhoods."

Leslie Basham: After struggling to perform for God, Liza Hartman was struck at what it really meant that He loved her.

Liza Hartman: That was like water to a thirsty soul, and I’ve never gotten over that. It changed me from the inside out.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Wednesday, September 13, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Over the last several months, I’ve been listening to a really sweet story of one of the women who serves on our staff here at Revive Our Hearts and Life Action Ministries, our parent ministry.

Liza Hartman works on the other side of the building, so I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like. But Liza, I’ve been listening to you share, at church and in chapel here at the ministry, of the story, the journey the Lord has had you on. The last time I listened to you, I said, “I think our listeners would really enjoy hearing from Liza.”

It’s a beautiful story, and it’s a story in process. It’s not your story. Ultimately, it’s the story of Christ and what He’s doing in your life.

So, thank you for leaving your cubicle and coming and sitting behind a mic, which isn’t something you normally do or your favorite job, but thanks for coming here to tell your story.

Liza: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Nancy. I really do love to tell the story, even though I don’t love to be behind a mic. I love to tell the story of what Jesus has done in my heart because, as He’s drawn me, He’s become so beautiful to me, and I want other people to see that beauty. So I pray that He draws today.

Nancy: Well, it is beautiful when He writes the story, and it’s His beauty. My husband sometimes will text me, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in us,” which is an old gospel chorus, but it’s a really precious thought. I love seeing God do that in women’s lives, and I’ve loved watching Him do it in your life.

I’d like our listeners to get to know you a little better. In fact, I’d like to get to know you a little better. So tell us what it is that you do at Life Action Ministries, which is the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts, so we get the benefit of what you do as well.

Liza: Sure. I am the Art Director, like you said, on the Life Action side, which just means that I oversee all the print production and the digital production. I make sure it goes out in a way that’s consistent with our branding and consistent with our message.

Nancy: You’re a graphic designer yourself, so you’re not just administration in this department. You actually do design yourself.

Liza: Yes. That’s correct. I assign all my favorite projects to me.

Nancy: And you do beautiful work.

Liza: Thank you.

Nancy: We’re so thankful. Some of the things that our listeners have seen, some of the resources and communications that have come from Revive Our Hearts have your signature on them. And we’re really thankful for how you and the rest of the Art Department serve our ministry here.

I’d like to go back, because it’s an important backdrop for your story, just to the kind of home you grew up in and what your early experience was in the faith.

Liza: Sure. I was raised in a godly Christian home—solid, solid Christian home. I was home schooled. I came to know Christ, genuinely, I believe, at the age of six.

Nancy: Do you remember that experience?

Liza: I do remember that experience. I was beside the bed, listening to the story of Jesus on the cross with my mom. I understood at that point that that was for me, that I was a sinner, and that I needed salvation and redemption. So we knelt at the end of the bed and prayed. I’m sure it was a simple prayer. I don’t remember the prayer, but I think this might be a typical story for some of your listeners. At that point it was real and genuine in my heart, and I genuinely wanted to please and to know and to follow Him.

Nancy: I relate to that, having come to know Jesus at the age of four. And people say, “Can a child really come to know Jesus?” And I say, “Yes!”

Now, we don’t want to prod children into decisions that the Holy Spirit isn’t leading them to, but it’s a sweet thing when you see God plant those seeds of faith and repentance and trust in the life of a child.

So you grew up in an atmosphere where you were being taught the Word of God, spiritually nurtured. How would you describe your journey in the faith over those school years?

Liza: Yes I was. My mom and dad were very intentional to pour into us. We had morning devotions around the breakfast table, and we were in church every time the doors opened. I was involved in youth group. I was a small group leader at camp. My parents were very involved in youth camp at church. They organized that. So we were involved in that far before we were even youth. Then kind of as soon as we entered, we were leaders there.

I’m a bit of an achiever myself, that’s just the way God has wired me, so everything that came across my path, I wanted to do it to the max. So when I was following Jesus, I wanted to do that to the max. So I really did throw in, in those years. Everything that I was told to do, I did it, and then some.

So it probably looked like I was nailing it in those seasons, and it was out of a true desire to please Christ. But maybe my trust was a little misplaced.

Nancy: So it would have looked to others like you were nailing it, but something was happening, or not happening, in your heart that becomes a part of your journey beyond that.

Liza: Yes. Throughout all of those years, as I looked around, I could match myself to the people around me and be doing all the right things, and genuinely loved the Lord. I would go to bed with a distinct feeling of His, maybe low-grade, displeasure in me.

I knew in my head that He loved me, but I didn’t know personally that He loved me. So that would create this desperation for Him to love me more, to notice me.

Nancy: For the Lord to love you more.

Liza: Yes.

Nancy: Even though you knew that He did. You knew in your head that He did.

Liza: Right. I knew in my head that He did, but I just wanted to make Him proud, and I wanted to make Him proud that He picked me for His team.

Nancy: Did you feel like you were a disappointment to the Lord or that you weren’t measuring up? To what?

Liza: Yes. I certainly—I saw who He was, and I certainly felt like I wasn’t measuring up. And I knew that I was not performing to His standards. So that weighed heavy on me, really, every day.

Nancy: And so, did that just perpetuate the achievement/performance cycle?

Liza: Oh, yes. I just turned it up. For years, I just turned it up. Until several years ago, I was frantically doing all of the things that I knew to do, but instead of producing more joy and more peace and a closer walk with the Lord, it just kind of produced less connection rather than more connection with Jesus. I didn’t feel like my roots were going down deeper. It just felt like I was doing more and more and more on the surface, but I wasn’t going any deeper with the Lord.

Nancy: Give me some adjectives that would describe what you just talked about, what was the sense in your own heart.

Liza: It was dry. It was a desperate feeling. There was a dissatisfaction. There was a longing. The general feeling would be dryness, just a dryness of soul.

Nancy: And yet you didn’t walk away from the faith, you just dug in deeper at doing the things you thought you ought to be doing.

Liza: Yes, I did. There was probably some healthy fear of the Lord, knowing that this was the way He called me to walk. So I wanted to walk that way, but there was this distinct feeling that I couldn’t walk that way. But, yes, I was still doing all of the things to the best of my ability that I could.

Nancy: And while you were in college, you heard about what was the first True Woman conference—True Woman ’08 in Schaumburg, Illinois. How did you find out about it and what lead you to attend the conference?

Liza: Yes, that’s true. Even throughout my life, I had come to some of the Revive Our Hearts conferences. Mom had kind of been laying brochures on my bed and passing your resources along.

Nancy: Way to go, Mom!

Liza: It works! For the first conference, we gathered a group from church, and we came up to Chicago. I just remember thinking through this, this was not self-help. This was the gospel. This was the kind of thing that changes hearts, that changes the roots, that produces real, lasting change.

Something in my heart connected to that, was hungry for that, knew that that was where the answer lay.

Nancy: You heard a message there that made a particular impression on you.

Liza: Yes, I did. I remember John Piper speaking.

Nancy: It was the opening message at the first True Woman conference.

Liza: It was. He spoke on the glory and the worthiness of Christ. I couldn’t tell you if that was the title of it, or if that’s what he meant to speak on.

Nancy: But that’s what you heard.

Liza: That’s what I heard—the beauty of Christ. And, oh, my soul was thirsty for that.

Nancy: So you responded after that conference and contacted our ministry.

Liza: I did.

Nancy: Tell us how that came about.

Liza: I needed an internship for school. As I progressed through school, I knew that I didn’t want to learn more about how to put fonts together and colors together, but I wanted to know how to really design for the kingdom. Again, part of it is achiever, and part of it is just the work of Christ in me to want to give my life away. I wasn’t sure how to do that in the context of graphic design. I knew that being in an atmosphere like this and designing for this message would be a step in the right direction.

I had no idea what God was planning and how much work He had to do in my heart. But I found the 800 number and called, and the receptionist put me through to somebody who said, “Well, we don’t really do internships at this point, but let’s pray about it and give it a shot.” That was about six years ago, and I’m still here.

Nancy: You’re still here! I remember hearing at the time from the man who oversaw the design department that he was thrilled you were coming because he said, “This is a gal who could be making a lot of money in another setting, but she’s coming here in a ministry where your pay isn’t all that great, or you raise your own personal support in some cases.”

He just sensed in you—and our whole team did—that this was a heart that wanted to serve the Lord and wanted to honor Him. And you have been such a gift and a blessing to this ministry—and not just your work, but your spirit and your pursuit of Christ. What He’s done in you has been such a gift to this ministry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

So you served here in the ministry for a couple of years, and that longing and hunger and thirst, it didn’t go away. It continued.

Liza: Yes, it did continue. In fact, now that I was in full-time ministry, there was an extra measure of weight on my life because now my 9 to 5 also needed to bear the fruits of Christ. And, again, that was just a heavy weight to me because I felt the weight of it and dearly wanted to please Him and show Him to the world. But it felt like I was failing over and over and over.

Nancy: It felt like an impossible burden, just a humongous effort and trying and not succeeding. Is that how you would describe it?

Liza: Yes, Nancy. I was trying so hard. And I think that’s maybe how people would describe me during that season of life, “She is just trying really hard.” I was putting all of my effort into it.

But at that point, I didn’t know to put all of my effort into knowing Jesus. I was just putting all of my effort into the things, into the things I felt like He required of me.

Nancy: I’ve heard you describe this as feeling your inside was shriveling up, and then how that began to affect you in other ways.

Liza: When He talks about rivers of living water flowing out of us, I would not describe that as my insides. It was shriveling up on the inside for a couple of years.

About four years ago, that kind of worked its way to the outside, as it does, as the inside comes out. I started just showing signs of burnout and stress, and I kind of started shriveling up on the outside as well. People could see that all was not well.

I started talking to trusted people in my life and saying, “What is this?” I was just more deeply crying out to the Lord saying, “I know there’s more than this to following You, and I so much want to experience that, but I don’t know how.”

At that point in my life, when I’m just shriveling up on the outside, I did know that performance was kind of an idol for me.

Nancy: Which is really the opposite of a grace-filled life, where there’s nothing we can do to earn or deserve or merit the love of Christ. So, realizing that, you made what was at the time a pretty drastic change.

Liza: It felt drastic at the time.

Not knowing what else to do, I decided to take a fast from all of the things that I was doing, all of the things I was doing to try and please the Lord. That just meant that I went to work, and I also went to church on Sundays, but other than that I quit all of the things I was doing in the evenings—whether it was youth group or Pregnancy Care Center or mentoring or whatever. I just said, “I may be back. I may not be back. But right now, I just need to seek the Lord.”

Nancy: So you weren’t throwing out the faith. You were on an intentional pursuit to know Christ of Christianity.

Liza: So much! I knew that the things weren’t bringing life, weren’t bringing intimacy with the Lord, weren’t bringing joy. So I had a pretty good idea that He would be okay if I set those things aside just to seek Him.

Nancy: I’ve heard you say you desperately wanted Christianity to be more than an exam you never passed. And don’t you think, for so many people, now as you look back on this experience and look around, that Christianity could be summed up as doing the right thing and doing a lot of it?

Liza: Yes, I do think so. And when we come at it that way, the problem is that it’s never enough. As you pursue Christ, and if you’ve done everything that you’ve seen around you, there’s still this feeling of it’s not enough because if our standard is Jesus Christ, then we have a long way until we reach that.

Nancy: Exactly.

Well, as you’re explaining this, I think a lot of our listeners are saying, like their hands are in the air, and they’re saying, “That’s me! That’s what I’ve experienced!” They’re resonating with or relating to what you’ve just shared.

So, tell us, when you started into this kind of drastic change in your schedule, what did you do with those evenings?

Liza: Well, as I was entering into this time, it was actually a little bit scary because I realized, “Oh, if I don’t do any of the things that I’ve been doing to kind of ease that weight of my soul, what if it just gets weightier and weightier and weightier? What if the things I’ve put my identity in, doing all of the right things, if that’s what it means for Liza to be a Christian, and I don’t do those things anymore, what does it mean for Liza to be a Christian? What does it mean underneath all of that for me to know Jesus? What if I don’t know Jesus?”

Those were the questions really heavy on my heart. So it was a little bit of a scary time for me. I knew I was kind of taking a leap.

Nancy: A free-fall there!

Liza: Yes, and what if He doesn’t come through? What if there isn’t anything under all of this?

So I decided to sit on a park bench in the evenings with just my Bible and journal. And people, knowing my frantic pace, would say, “Liza, what are you going to do with all that time?”

And I would say “I have no idea, but I don’t know what else to do.”

But this was my desperation, my brokenness before the Lord, just asking Him to come.

So, that very first night on the park bench—I’ll never forget it—Jesus met me there. He just came, and, instead of giving me a list of rules and better ways I could please Him and better priorities, He just came and told me that He loved me. He said, “Liza, I am not perpetually disappointed with you. I am perpetually pleased with you because of Jesus. And you already have an A on the test, so you can just go and enjoy Me.”

He spoke to me deeply from the Song of Solomon in those nights, especially in the Song of Solomon 4:7. There He said, “You are altogether beautiful, my love. There is no flaw in you.”

And as He unpacked that and just said, “Because of Jesus, when I look at you, there is no flaw in you.”

He just spoke that in a way that I understood, and I started to believe it deep in my heart that Jesus loved me.

And, Nancy, we never moved past that in the time on the bench. We never moved on.

Nancy: So it wasn’t just one evening you were doing that?

Liza: No. It’s like He didn’t have anything else to tell me except that He loved me and accepted me. And that thrilled my heart. Oh, that was like water to a thirsty soul. And I’ve never gotten over that. It changed me from the inside out.

Nancy: I’m thinking of another part of the Song of Solomon. Earlier, in chapter 3, where the bride in this story loses the sense of her groom’s presence, and she says, “On my bed by night, I sought him whom my soul loves.”

She knew she had a relationship with him, but she wanted his nearness, and she couldn’t sense it. She said, “I sought him but found him naught.” And that, to me, kind of describes where you were those months leading up to the months that you then spent on the park bench.

She said, “I will arise now and go about the city. I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him but found him naught.”

So she goes, and she tries something different, and she still doesn’t find him. And then some of the people around her misunderstand her, and they—it looks weird to them what she’s doing. But she says, “Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go.”

And I think of that when I hear you tell your story of how you weren’t looking for more religion, for more lists, for more to-do, but for Christ.

Liza: Yes.

Nancy: And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

Liza: Yes.

Nancy: And when you went and waited quietly and got quiet enough to really hear Him, that’s what He assured you of—not just from the Song of Solomon, but from other places in the Scripture.

Liza: That’s so true. And now, looking back, I see that dryness as Him drawing me, and I see it as such a gift. While in the middle of it, it felt so heavy, but now I see it as Him calling me in and saying, “I want to know you, and I want you to know Me and the depths of My love.”

And that’s really the reason for the dryness and the reason for the drought, to draw me closer to Him. So now on the other side of it, I see it as such a gift, as a good God wooing me towards Him instead of Him, from heaven, saying, “You’re not doing enough; you’re not doing enough.”

I have a completely different perspective on Him now than I did, and I’m so grateful to have come to that place of brokenness and to the park bench to really know Him like that.

And, Nancy, He used another Scripture. In 1 John 4:10, He said, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

In that truth in that verse, oh, what joy it was to hear that love isn’t me loving Him first. “This is love, Liza, not that you have loved Me well or have hung onto Me well or gripped Me tight. It’s that I have loved you and held onto you, and My grip on you is tighter than your grip on Me will ever be.”

And so, I think, in that season, I did let go. I understood the gospel, I think, maybe for the first time, in true faith, just letting go of my own worth and my own deeds before Him. And just accepting who He was and what He did on the cross for myself was really what was happening in that moment.

Nancy: And what a beautiful thing to come to the point of realizing that you don’t do these good things in order to get Him to love you.

Liza: That’s right.

Nancy: But He has loved you. He does love you. And then your response is to do that which is pleasing to Him. It’s a response of love to love.

So, over those next days, weeks, months, things began to change really deeply in you. Describe what that change looked like.

Liza: Yes. I love a quote by John Bunyan that says, “Run, John, run, the law commands but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news, the gospel brings. It bids us fly and gives us wings.”

Nancy: Yes.

Liza: As I got up from that park bench, I didn’t change anything about my life. I was still going to the store, still going to Starbucks, still going to my job, but it was like something had changed on the inside of me. His love had touched a place of my heart that came alive.

And, as I was going about my normal life, I could tell something had changed, and it was in how I saw people.

Nancy: The Lord gave you new eyes for what was going on around you, and it was really God giving you the ability to see people with His eyes.

Liza: Yes, that’s so true. It almost did feel like somebody else’s heart beating inside my own, that I could feel what somebody else was feeling, because this hadn’t been my experience for so long.

I distinctly remember the first time I cried about suffering that wasn’t my own, and that was immediately followed with, “I think this is Your heart for people.” And in those moments, in those days, I was saying, “Lord, this is Your heart for people, and now I am also so drawn to the suffering and broken people. I know that You use my hands and feet in order to be Your love to them like You have been to me. And so, if there are any specific people You would want me to go love, be my hands and feet. I would love to do that.”

So I think I surrendered all in those moments.

Nancy: We’re going to hear tomorrow how the Lord answered that prayer and some of where He has sent you. But I’d like you to just take a moment and speak to a listener who is where you were when you first went to that park bench, and they’re feeling that dryness, that inability to perform. They're feeling that God is disappointed in them, that heavy weight of trying to earn God’s favor. Just speak for a moment to that person.

Liza: Sure. I would just say that the Good News really is good. It’s not a heavy weight, but it’s good. And, of course, the core of that Good News is Jesus Himself—Jesus Himself who is a person that can be known. And His character toward us is so good. It’s so good.

We can be assured that if we are in Christ, He looks at you, and He smiles. He is easy to be with, and He is drawing you even now. That dryness of soul is a drawing toward Himself. He is jealous for your heart, that it comes to find its satisfaction only in Him.

He will continue drawing your heart until you’re close to Him, experiencing His presence. So accept that as a gift from Him and lean into Him. I can assure you that it is His joy to come near to you as you come near to Him.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Liza Hartman about what it means to know you’re loved unconditionally by the Lord.

Once Liza discovered this, it began to spill over in her relationships with others in some dramatic ways. Make sure to be here tomorrow to hear where the love of God has led Liza to in some tough places in the world.

I hope you’ll watch the video our team made with Liza. Maybe you know someone who struggles to know they’re loved by God. You could watch Liza’s video and then send it to them. You’ll find the video at www.ReviveOurHearts.com/

Before we’re done today, I want to remind you of your opportunity to get a group together and watch Nancy, Mary Kassian, Dannah Gresh, and many more speakers, walk you through Titus chapter 2 at the conference Revive ’17: Women Mentoring Women.

The conference sold out quite a while ago, but you can take in every word from the stage September 29 through 30 at ReviveOurHearts.com.

We hope you’ll put a group together to watch with you. In fact, you can also sign up to host a group and get updates as we get closer to the conference. Sign up at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Some of the most needy people in our world today are refugees. Hear about refugees Liza Hartman has met as she’s shared the love of God that has so greatly captured her heart. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to know how much you’re loved. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

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