Growing up, we shared a home with my grandparents during some of my most formative years. With a strong German heritage and a childhood rooted in The Great Depression, my grandfather led us with an incredibly strong work ethic. Phrases like “nothing is ever free” and “you get what you work for” were commonly repeated to build my stamina for effort. Add to that the impact of my father’s abandonment of our family and my mother who, as a result, lost trust in others and encouraged me to stand squarely on the stability of my own two feet. Suffice it to say that I learned to be high-achieving, strong-willed and laser-focused on independently earning my way in the world. I was determined, to say the least.
Today, I look back on that young woman with all that fire in her belly. What a double-edged sword it was that makes me both giggle and grieve. It was a ridiculous amount of pressure that I endured in my futile attempt to control the details of my life. My hands were sore from white-knuckling the steering wheel as I drove hard and fast to what I thought would prove my success. My youthful enthusiasm and tenacity kept me going toward…what? Truly, I wasn’t quite sure, but I was going to figure it out and get there on my own. Every step of the way, I was going to earn what came to me, and I held such confidence it would be worth whatever amount it cost.
And cost, it did.
I placed my identity in a standard of success, which was close to perfection, and who on earth can keep up with that?! Nobody. Absolutely nobody. But that fact eluded me. Or perhaps an enemy kept it hidden from me, simply to keep me on the hamster wheel of striving. Oh, what a costly circle it is…striving, succeeding, striving, falling short, striving, wanting more, striving, stressing out and cycling through it all again and again. And though the result can look like success at times, it’s so often messily intertwined with feelings of shame, disappointment, rejection and of course, “I didn’t do enough.”
So, you can only imagine my reaction when I heard the Gospel for the first time. Not just the historical facts of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the grave to prove He is the Son of God…but the relational part where He obediently sacrificed Himself and paid the price of our sins because of God’s great love for us. His words, “It is finished” weren’t just about Him taking His last breath. They were His declaration that the price of our sins has been paid IN FULL…without our striving to do enough, please enough or re-pay enough.
We are enough in Christ.
It took me a while to completely understand this truth, and honestly, there are still days where I struggle to receive the fullness of this abundant grace. Old habits can be hard to break, and I also sit with the reality that I don’t deserve it. None of us deserves it. And yet, this is God’s love offering through faith. We don’t earn it. We can’t earn it. Rather, it’s the greatest gift we will ever receive.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
These two verses have impacted me possibly more than any other scriptures. I have spent so many years of my life working to be good enough, honorable enough, acceptable enough (and in my weakness, I can still hear whispers of shortcomings from the enemy). But this one passage is the reminder I need to overcome the lies and rest in the truth. These verses are packed with life-changing messages. Want to unpack them with me?
Can we just start with the first and best part? “For it is by grace that you have been saved…” By definition, “grace” is something offered that isn’t earned or deserved. It is unmerited favor given to someone. In this case, the motivation for our favor is God’s great love for us. And because of His love for us, He wants to be in relationship with us, beginning today and guaranteed for all of eternity. That’s the beauty of salvation: God rescues us from our fallen selves, receives Jesus’ death as the sacrificial Lamb payment for our sins, and then He welcomes us into His constant presence as His beloved and blameless children.
Salvation isn’t just about going to Heaven someday. We can’t miss that immediately upon our confession of faith, we are invited into God’s family as His children, the younger siblings of our older brother, Jesus. And the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us that very instant as a source of power and truth from within our own being. We are no longer alone. Ever. (Mind BLOWN right here, friends!!) God is SO good to us!
Next, the passage clarifies how we are saved – “…through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This part is like winning the lottery and then finding out that your prize was doubled! Just as in the early stories of the Bible in Genesis when Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, the same is true for us. We are saved solely by belief and confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, our Savior. And that faith? Well, it’s a gift given to us, if we’re willing to receive it. Yes, simple willingness to receive. That’s the ticket off the hamster wheel. Don’t push it away!!
And if it’s not clear yet, friends, the scripture continues on, saying it yet another way to be sure we’ve clearly gotten it: “…not by works, so that no one can boast”. We can’t work our way into salvation. There’s just no way we could ever be good enough. So, God, in His loving-kindness, took the hardest part. His yoke, the sacrifice of His only Son, is heavy and painful. Ours is light by comparison, simply believing that He made a way for us to be united with Him forever. There’s no work and no bragging rights to allow our personal comparisons to cloud His extraordinary generosity. Not here. Instead, we can rest in the gratitude and glory of His redeeming love.
When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He released us from striving. He assured us that we have nothing to earn; that the work is already done. It shouldn’t cost all the energy of our lives. It already cost His. And His was enough. We can rest. We can believe. And we can have hope, because we are children of God, heirs of the King and saved by grace. What a freeing thought simply to believe!!! AMEN!
Father God, Your love for us is immeasurable and more than our minds can even fathom. Thank you that even while we were sinners, You sent Your Son to die for us. You did the work. You made the way. You released us from slavery to welcome us into Your own family. We’re not worthy, but You made us worthy. Thank You for giving us a new identity in You. Finally, with You, we can be enough. Let us all exhale in Your glory, Amen!
One thought on “The Gift that Freed Me from the Hamster Wheel”
Beautifully written! I loved the way you “unpacked” the words of scripture! A message that needs to be emphasized again and again to all of us.