Summary: In nearly every aspect of a Christians life, they feel like they’re on a treadmill. They can never quite do enough or be quite good enough. And just when they think they are up to speed, someone turns up the machine, and they are playing catch-up again.
In 2001 we were about to have our first child and I decided that if I was going to be the dad that would play catch, and soccer in the yard then I needed to get into better shape. So I started going out to the local college and running. Every night Trista would put Trafton down and off I would go.
This went very well for the first 8 months and then one morning I woke up and had trouble putting my feet on the ground. I hobbled around that day and went to see a friend of mine who taught Weight training and kinesiology at the college. We looked at my shoes, and the way that I stretched before and after I ran. He said that he felt that all of the running I was doing on the pavement was affecting my knees and ankles. I could continue to run and wake up with pain or I could get an elliptical runner to cut down on joint stress.
Trista and I set out to look for this treadmill on steroids, found one that we liked and spent the next 4 hours putting it together. That night I hopped on my treadmill and the next morning I felt pretty good. The next night went as well but the third night I got busy doing something else and for the first time that year I missed my run.
Over the next few weeks instead of running every night I would make it 5 out of the 7, then only 4 times a week, then 3 then eventually it became a high priced clothes hanger. I just couldn’t get motivated to use this machine that would cause me to huff and puff and sweat but wouldn’t take me anywhere. Every night I ran I remained in the same spot, just trying not to be thrown off. The treadmill is a wicked machine that has many victories and no defeats!
I got to thinking about this during my week of seclusion, how I feel that this is a graphic picture of the lives many Christians lead. In nearly every aspect of their lives, they feel like they’re on a treadmill. They can never quite do enough or be quite good enough. And just when they think they are up to speed, someone turns up the machine, and they are playing catch-up again.
Fallout from the Treadmill
We are surrounded by the fallout from the treadmill of "works righteousness." You can see the spiritual exhaustion in some people’s faces. They constantly worry about going to hell. "Have I done enough?" "Will I have time for one last prayer before I die?" "Where do I stand on the curve?"
And even at the height of physically exhaustion, they dare not slow down or get off. So instead they seek to pay God off-through church attendance, through good deeds, and through nonstop working.
Every sermon they hear on commitment only turns up the speed of the machine, makes the course steeper, and makes them think they’ll collapse any second. They never feel restful in their relationship with God.
The fallout also strikes the emotional lives of these weary Christians. Their emotions carry them through a debilitating cycle of guilt, anger, depression, and low self-esteem. Inwardly they can be filled with resentment, rage, self-hate, and self-blame. They refuse to forgive themselves and indulge in self-punishment.
Perhaps the worst part of this whole process is that their lives become filled with garbage. But this garbage doesn’t just fill their lives. It seeps out like nuclear waste to contaminate those around. The sufferers package the garbage, put a bow on it, and give it to their children as a present. It eventually brings a putrid smell to marriages, families, and friendships.
Since they hate to be on the treadmill alone, they (often unknowingly) try to pull others on with them.
Not only is this treadmill a problem for Christians, it’s also a discouragement to those who are watching the performance.
Watching me on the treadmill certainly won’t make you desire to get on one as well. It’s not a pleasant sight with all of the sweating and huffing and puffing. In the same way there are so many in our communities who are seeking for something and they watch us struggle to be perfect. This is not an image that draws people to the Lord. In fact, it causes many to decide not to even try. We make being a Christian look so difficult and tiresome, why would anyone want to attempt it? Just watching us is a workout!
Stuck on the Treadmill
After writing the book Freedom From The Performance Trap back in 1988 David Seamands began receiving letters from some of these tired performers: