When we suffer from a fear of inadequacy or failure, allowing other people to see our limitations terrifies us. We want to mask every flaw and foible pretending like we’ve got it all together. We often assume that if others knew of our limitations, they would outright reject us. We are only accepted when we’re perfect.
Perfectionism and micromanaging point to our fear of inadequacy. If we could, we’d work alone where we can control and demand the results we expect at every turn. When we’re driven by fear of failure to meet others’ expectations, we know we’ll work ourselves to death to get it right. Striving serves us well. But inviting others in? That’s risky. They may not be as emotionally invested as we are and their standard might be below perfection.
The problem with taking everything on ourselves becomes our inability to pull it off. But God often backs us into a corner with our limited possibilities so He can provide His limitless provision. God brought Moses face to face with his physical limitations. Not long after their departure, an enemy tribe, Amalek, came and attacked the people of Israel, as we read in Exodus 17. Moses summoned Joshua, his second in command, and instructed him to “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (v. 9).
So that’s what Joshua did, and it’s quite the interesting story, complete with exciting cinematography. We can picture it: when Moses would hold up his arms, Israel would be winning the battle. But if he grew weary and his arms drooped, then it was Amalek that gained the edge.
Finally Moses’ arms became so weary that he could no longer hold them up by himself. His comrades found a large stone for him to sit on, and Aaron held up one of his arms and Hur the other. How did this work out? His hands remained “steady until the going down of the sun” (v. 12). And, led by Joshua, Israel won the battle.
Perfectionism and micromanaging point to our fear of inadequacy.
Some scholars suggest that Moses did more than just stand there with his hands in the air. Perhaps God spoke battle strategies to him and Moses communicated to Joshua what to do through giving signals with the staff. This suggests God took a much more active role in the battle and has Moses acting as more of a general, taking orders from his Commander in Chief. But imagine if Moses had refused the help of Aaron and Hur. Amalek most likely would have prevailed and plundered Israel. The defeat may also have incited other nomadic tribes to come and attack Israel later. Israel needed to win that battle, and Moses could not secure their victory alone. He was not physically strong enough. He needed help.
In this battle scene God’s honor was also at stake. God’s desire was to make Himself known as the One True God, high above all the false gods of the surrounding nations. If Amalek had won, it would mean that God was not powerful enough to defeat Amalek’s gods. Look what God instructed Moses to call the altar he built at the conclusion of this battle: “The Lord Is My Banner” (v. 15). That word banner means “rallying-point” or “miracle.”15 When we rally together as brothers and sisters in Christ, our God works miracles on our behalf. How’s that for motivation to hand over our fear of inadequacy and invite others in?
Second, God brought Moses face to face with his mental and emotional limitations. Directly after this event, having heard of Israel’s victory, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro comes to visit Moses in the wilderness, bringing along his wife and two sons. After a wonderful celebration upon his arrival, Moses goes back to work. One of the roles he had taken upon himself was to judge disputes. The process was time-consuming and the long lines of people waiting to see Moses were seemingly endless. Jethro was appalled at the system.
When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in- law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”—Exodus 18:14–16
Whoa! How many applicants would inquire about that employment opportunity? You’re the sole guy who communicates with God. You listen to arguments and disputes all day. You have to teach the people everything they are doing wrong and pass judgment on half of them to decide every case. “Sounds like a dream job!” said no one, ever. (Okay, admit it, this could be a summary of motherhood some days! Or is that only my reality?) Please don’t forget, there are two million Israelites huddled together in a campsite. Can you imagine the incessant squabbling? But when you have a fear of inadequacy you sign up for the job titled Superman or Wonder Woman, because working alone is your jam. Even when it’s awful.
Look at Jethro’s sensible response to this scenario. “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (vv. 17–18).
Maybe you need to reread that last sentence, friend. You are not able to do it alone. Whatever “it” is in your life. Maybe it’s a harvest festival. Or a book fair. Or a sick family member. A financial setback requiring you to work more hours or return to work full-time. A dysfunctional marriage. Single parenting. An addiction. A prodigal child. You will certainly wear yourself out. Even Wonder Woman went home to Themyscira to seek advice sometimes.
Isn’t it interesting that God taught Moses these lessons back to back in the Exodus account? If Moses was anything like me, I’d need more than one admonition from God regarding the importance of asking for help. Part of releasing our fear of inadequacy is learning to be okay with our limitations. Nobody can be everything to everyone at all times. We have to learn to accept this and set realistic expectations of ourselves. Perfection becomes a prison if we don’t relinquish unhealthy ideas about performance.
We also need to be free to encourage others to lead in the ways they are gifted. Moses falsely assumed he was the only one who could be trusted to settle disputes among the people. Look at Jethro’s advice. Delegate. Form committees. Moses, he said, your specialty is this: “You shall represent the people before God . . . and you shall . . . make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do” (Ex. 18:19–20).
But for lesser disputes, “look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times” (vv. 21–22a). Sure, Moses would still take care of anything major, but ordinary disputes would be shared with other capable people. Why was this great advice not only for Moses, but for each of us? “So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (v. 22b)
Jethro did not tell Moses to do something differently, he just suggested he stop trying to do it all alone. Moses still performed the same tasks, but allowed others to help him. He invited others to bear the burden alongside him. Jethro gave Moses permission to stop performing, breaking him out of the prison of perfectionism.
Look at the outcome: “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace” (v. 23)
When we make peace with our limitations, we find peace in our relationships. We stop believing the lie that everything must be perfect or life will fall apart. We alone cannot be enough to sustain all people at all times in all things. We weren’t meant to be. God becomes our rallying point. We gather around Him, inviting Him to be our miracle. Our more than enough.
You have permission to stop performing.
by Erica Wiggenhorn
Everyone thinks you’ve got it together. But inside, you’re asking, “Am I enough?” No matter how good we look to others,...
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