The Difference Between Doing Good and Being Good

You can never be good enough, but you can be enough

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

Like many people, I grew up in an environment of works-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed I was at fault. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.

A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. The first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.

Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this works-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.

My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.

My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. At my first race, as I waited with the group for the horn to blow, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.

Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card came home with consistent D’s and the occasional C; always met with groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I could never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.

Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.

That day came when I was 21 years old in the back of the church in Massachusetts. I don’t remember anything about the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember, almost audibly, God saying, “Come as you are. I love you right now. I will never walk out of your life. Surrender to my love, and you will find that acceptance, approval, and applause you have been searching for all your life.” Nothing could have kept me from being the first to the altar that day, where I repented of my sins and finally found out what true love was. It was that day that I discovered that our relationship with God is also works-based; the only difference is that Jesus has done all of the works for us. And, now with God in us, it’s not so much about doing good because we are empowered to be good. That is the power of love!

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Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17 ESV

Prayer: Father, there are times that I still struggle to simply embrace your love and tines when I feel like I need to prove my love to you through my works. Please help me see that there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me any less, and there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me anymore. Father, today I just want to relax, let go, bask in your love, and breath.

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