Before I came to university, I thought most of the problems I faced in life could be fixed by working harder. If I didn’t do as well as I wanted to in an exam, I just needed to push myself further in my revision. If someone didn’t seem to like me, I needed to put in more effort, adjust my character to suit the other person. For a really long time, I didn’t see this 'do more' attitude as at all problematic. It didn’t strike me as particularly unhealthy, or sinful, given that I was often praised for being so conscientious.
When I came to Oxford, I quickly realised that my 'do more' mentality had reached its limit. I was working harder than I had ever worked, in every aspect of my life, and it never felt sufficient. Twenty-four hours in a day were just not enough to achieve everything I had set for myself, everything I felt I needed to do to be satisfied as I went to bed each night. I was stressed and tired and lonely, as much as I thought I was depending on God in everything I did.
One night in the second term of my first year, I felt completely broken and exhausted as I reached the end of myself, acutely aware that my own efforts and strength were not enough to see me through my university life. I remember lying on the floor in my room, crying down the phone to my parents as they lovingly offered to pick me up the next day and take me home. I desperately wanted to say yes. I wanted them to come and rescue me, and I wanted to run away from something I felt was an utter impossibility. I felt weak and useless and not good enough for Oxford.
But I heard myself say no. This wasn’t a result of finding some deep, inner strength inside myself; in fact, it was in that moment that I was painfully struck by the extent of my own weakness and my inability to fix my sin and the difficulties I faced as a fallible, imperfect human. By the grace of God, I was convinced of the depth of my need for the Lord Jesus; how much I needed to depend, on a heart-affecting, life-changing level, on the cross. The Lord compelled me to see that the cross is the perfect answer to my weakness and shame, achieved not by my own poor efforts, but through the obedience and love of His Son in sacrificing Himself for me. I am overwhelmingly, eternally grateful to God for meeting me in my desperation and using it to show me that I have a sinless substitute in Christ Jesus, who willingly took on the worst kind of execution to deal with my pride, my selfishness and my rejection of His overarching control and plan for my life. I am now released from feeling the weight of my own inadequacies because Jesus bears that weight. I am freed from the exhaustion of dealing with my own limitations because Jesus offers me a limitless love. I am, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, ‘delight[ing] in weaknesses’ and ‘in difficulties’ because it is through an awareness of my own limitations that I come to truly depend on my Father in Heaven.
Each day, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit in me, I strive to let go of my compulsion to constantly work harder to fix myself, to make myself appear well before others and before the Lord. Instead, I am freed to work joyfully for His glory, finding my identity only in His Son, who saved me out of the depth and consistency of His own character, not through my own efforts. I never need to fear being or doing enough; Jesus Christ and Him crucified is all-sufficient.