why we need to stop trying so hard

Sixteen years ago, during her senior year of college, Ruth Soukup fell into a dark depression that destroyed her faith and very nearly killed her. Two years, five serious suicide attempts, six psychiatric hospitals, and many rounds of electroshock therapy later, she finally began to recover from the depression. It would take her another ten to recover her faith, after reluctantly accepting an invitation to a Bible study at a local church. A firm believer that the best way to feed people’s souls is by meeting their basic needs, Ruth is committed to providing practical solutions for “everyday overwhelm” at her blog, Living Well Spending Less. It’s a grace to welcome Ruth to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Ruth Soukup

My temptation, when I tell my depression story, is to leave it all tied up with a neat little bow.

Girl messes up. Girl finds God. Girl gets saved. Girl lives happily ever after. Cue the credits and touching theme song. Inspiring, right?

We all want the Hollywood ending.

But that wasn’t the end.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still saved by grace. That won’t change.

But that mountaintop moment of peace and clarity, when all was suddenly right with the world?

That didn’t last forever.

I am, for the most part, still a giant mess. (Though some days I hide it better than others.)

I think one of the biggest problems we face as Christians is this idea that once we have been saved, once we’ve triumphed over adversity and come out the other side, we are somehow “fixed.”

It goes hand-in-hand with the belief that we are more or less supposed to be perfect, that we have to do the right things and say the right things, and be the right things in order to count, and especially in order to maintain our salvation.

I don’t think we necessarily intend to perpetuate this belief, but it comes through in almost everything we do.

We are supposed to talk a certain way and dress a certain way and act a certain way, and if we don’t, then well, clearly we just don’t love Jesus enough. Or maybe we’re not even really saved.

The problem with this belief is that it allows us to convince ourselves that our salvation depends on us.

Yes, we may have screwed up or made a mess of things in the past, but now that we are saved, we should be better.

It’s time for our Hollywood ending. And if we’re not better, we need to try harder. Do more. Get back to that mountaintop one more time.

We focus on our need to achieve perfection, and forget that the hard work has already been done for us, in spite of us. And when we inevitably mess up or lose our way, or when others let us down, we are devastated, confused, shaken to the core.

Last year my husband and I, along with a few other families, ended up leaving our church—the very church that had brought me back to God.

It was a devastating, gut-wrenching breakup, and the months that followed were some of the darkest I have experienced since that horrible depression in my early twenties.

In one fell swoop, we lost the community that had meant everything to us. For months I couldn’t bear the thought of going to church at all—it was simply too painful.

Every time my husband suggested we try someplace new, I would panic, paralyzed with fear at the thought of being hurt again. In fact, even now, almost a year later, we are still struggling to find a new church home. There is no neat bow, no happy ending to this story.

It’s still messy and ugly and hard.

But in the midst of this struggle, I have never been more acutely aware of my own need for grace, nor more comforted by the realization that God uses our imperfection to do His best work.

In fact, if there is one thing the Bible makes abundantly clear, again and again, it is that God uses the most messed-up, flawed, not-good-enough people to do His will again and again, because messed-up, flawed, not-good-enough people are all that he has to choose from.

There are very few Hollywood endings to be found; on the contrary, there is only story upon story of people who failed, yet God somehow used them anyway.

Don’t believe me? Look at King David, the hand-selected “man after God’s own heart,” who managed to kill the giant Goliath with just a single stone, but who also committed adultery, got his mistress pregnant, then arranged for her husband to be killed in battle so that no one would know what he did.

Or Peter, who after three years of having a front-row seat to every miracle, and just hours after telling Jesus he would follow Him to death, denied even knowing Him, not once, but three times in a row.

Even Paul, whose conversion on the road to Damascus was so powerful and dramatic one might think he would never go astray, struggled with his own imperfection, lamenting that “good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19).

We live in a do-it-yourself world, one that tells us again and again that if we can just try a little harder, do a little more, be a little better, we might just save ourselves.

It is the same mentality that compels us to fill up our homes with stuff in the first place, because that stuff becomes the status symbol for the life that we think we want.

It is the same mentality that drives us to fill up our schedules, causing us to confuse busyness with meaning.

We’ve stuffed ourselves to overflowing with the pressure to achieve.

But with all of these pursuits, despite how important and valuable they might appear to be, we will inevitably find that something is still missing.

After all, what happens when happiness fails us? Or when our social status crumbles? Or when our kids let us down? Or when our job is downsized?

We may declutter our homes, unstuff our schedules, and destress our lives, sweeping them clean, putting them in order, but what then?

Who—or what—will fill that space?

In the end, the only way to become truly unstuffed is to accept the amazing, incredible, unlimited, and totally undeserved grace we’ve already been given, and stop trying to fill that hole ourselves.

Grace is the answer we are often too stubborn to believe, and often too proud to receive.

God loves us not because we are perfect, but because He is.

He doesn’t care for us because we have all the answers and because we’ve figured out how to live unstuffed lives; on the contrary, He wants us to live an unstuffed life because He cares for us so much.

The gift has already been given.

The work has already been done.

And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to become unstuffed than to finally recognize, understand,

and truly believe that my slate has been wiped clean,

once and for all.



Ruth Soukup is a blogger, wife, mom, and New York Times Bestselling author of Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life. Through her popular blog, LivingWellSpendingLess.com, she encourages more than a million monthly readers to follow their dreams and reach their goals, sharing easy-to-implement tips and strategies for saving time and money while focusing on the things that matter most. She is also the founder of the Living Well Planner, an all-in-one tool to help you organize your goals, budget, and schedule. 

Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul was written for anyone who feels stressed out or weighed down by a life that feel chaotic, out-of-control, and completely overstuffed. It speaks to the mom who is overwhelmed by the clutter that comes pouring into every facet of her home and schedule, from trinkets and paperwork to endless obligations and activities.  This book is is real, honest, and gets right down to the question we are all facing — how can we take back our lives from the stuff that is weighing us down?

[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]