Grasping for Straws: How God Desires Us and Not What We Do

Amber Ginter

iBelieve Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 27, 2023
Grasping for Straws: How God Desires Us and Not What We Do

We don't have to prove our worth or overextend ourselves to receive the fullness of His grace. 

I've been grasping for straws this week—someone, something, anything to cling to amid the waves washing over my head. And in the search, I've uncovered a lot of things about myself, particularly my heart. 

What started as a week without sleep quickly transformed into a windstorm I couldn't claw my way out of. Like Dorthy with Toto, I was swept away and brushed into the busyness crowding every inch of my sanity. 

And today, I am breathing. Simple, yet profound. Learning to truly breathe amid my existence is another carbon footprint on this earth. 

Walking Slaves

In between marriage preparation, honeymoon planning, and bridal shower organization, I'm still a high school English teacher. I'm also mentoring a child through BBBSSCO (a big brother and big sister mentoring program) and enrolled in an authoring program to pursue my writing dreams. This week's adventure of seeking, finding, and signing a contract on my first home with my husband-to-be, only got lost in the chaos I was experiencing, muddied by the mental and physical pain I face daily. 

High Functioning Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression are no joke. 

They are not in my head. And they are very much real, just like my IBS-C, endometriosis, and Hashimoto's are physically evident conditions.

None should be dismissed. All play a role in my daily functioning. So when I reached my counseling session Friday, I was still grasping for straws. 

"I feel like I'm a walking slave. I'm working 7 am to 10 pm daily and barely sleeping. I’m having high-strung anxiety (just the never-ending to-do list and everything that needs to be done now feeling) and feeling like a horrible Christian the past few days for not getting to read my Bible and pray as much as I think I should. I’m really trying hard, but feel like I’m failing Him."

"Amber, I want to validate that what you're going through is real. It's 100% stressful, despite what others may say. And the fact that you have dozens of physical and mental symptoms that accompany that, it would be difficult for anyone to go through. But I also want you to know that God loves you for who you are and not what you do."

Finding Straws

And that's when it finally clicked. The straws I was grasping for were found. 

As long as I can remember, I've struggled with this need and innate desire to make the habits in my life rigid and routine. It's not a bad thing that I desire order, or strive for perfection, necessarily. That means I work hard and always try my best. But when it comes to my faith and spiritual life, I've realized that those feelings should never accompany me. 

When I'm weary, worn, fatigued, and exhausted, I shouldn't be thinking in my head, "I should be doing _____." God doesn't desire me to be or do more. He doesn't desire me to harness such heavy burdens on my own, burdens He never asked me to bear. 

"I should be reading my Bible more."

"I should be praying more."

"I should be in this or that place in my faith by now."


He doesn't ask me to do more.

He asks me to trust and rest in Him, acknowledging that I can't do anymore. 

That's why Jesus died on the cross for me. Because I couldn't do more to save myself. 

This isn't a new principle. It's one I've grappled with time and time again. And yet, I find myself struggling and coming back to the same place day in and day out again and again and again. 

The Line Between Grace and Discipline

There is a fine line between grace and works. Between spiritual disciplines and the fruit of our salvation. The intersection between relationship and practical vocation. As Micah Lang, Author of Reading Your Bible Is Not The Goal. God Is, skillfully pens:

"The outward rituals and disciplines are good but they are not the point. God wants our hearts. If we determine our relationship with Christ by the things we do, then those things become the goal. This is how reading the Bible and praying can become legalistic. We think if we do those things consistently enough, then we are fine. But they are not the goal. God is."

Dear friend, please don't get this twisted. Reading the Bible, praying, attending church services, getting involved in Life Groups, and serving are all wonderful things to participate in. They shape our faith, and God can speak through and within them. But when our expectations of ourselves are so demanding, perhaps we need to step back. 

God called us to lives of freedom, not slavery. He didn't ask us to fry ourselves with endless hours of reading and doing more until we just can't take it anymore. And placing such high and, frankly, impossible standards on ourselves simply isn't healing. 

Because when we try to achieve those things, it's as if our relationship with God is hung on what we do (or don't). And if we miss it, or mess up, then we're through. We weren't enough. We didn't do enough. Our salvation wasn't right enough. 

Maybe I'm speaking to someone beyond myself. 


Loads We Were Never Meant to Carry

Living in this fragmented state of reality leaves no room for error. Ever. Period. Case closed. But as we all know, life is messy. Things don't always pan out that way. 

Chaos happens. 

Disaster strikes. 

Things don't go according to plan. Ever. 

Yet equating my relationship with God to the rigidity of my performances and disciplines was never meant to be the goal. 

I believe this is why Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 23 to stop bearing themselves and others with loads they were never meant to carry:

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden" (Matthew 23:1-4, NLT).

I believe this is why Jesus told them to stop ignoring what really matters and focus less on the Law: 

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!h “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too" (Matthew 23:23-26, NLT) 

And I started realizing that I don't know how long my faith has been this way, but it isn't right. I need to fully recognize and embrace that God isn't asking me to do and be more. He's not looking for me to not mess up (He knows I will). He's not sitting in heaven with a lightning bolt, waiting to strike my head when I miss an hour of Bible reading because I had a stressful day at work and three mental breakdowns along the way. All He wants from me is me. 

My heart

To rest with Him

To sit in His presence. 

To be

To listen

To walk in obedience to His will (even if walking is only five steps a day; a marathon, not a short-circuited sprint). 

Resting in the Promise

And while that does include spiritual disciplines, spiritual disciplines aren't everything. They aren't the goal and never were meant to be. Just like the Law. It wasn't about the Law. The Law's purpose was to show us our need for Christ:

"Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham. Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:19-22, NLT). 

It's always been about Him. 

He's the goal. 

And He always should be. 

Jesus Christ died to give us freedom. Not a life of slavery to things we should be doing. He gave us grace, so why should we withhold it from ourselves? 

I'm learning to cultivate a newfound relationship with the one I call my Savior. It's going to take time. But I'm going slow and steady. 

It's probably going to include less checking daily readings off my Bible list, and more reading a few passages and listening for Him to speak. Because if I intend to cultivate a lasting, intimate, and fully personal relationship with Him, it's got to be organic and real. It's less about checking boxes and doing the right things. It's about doing life with Him as it comes, the real way. 

We don't have to grasp for straws, sweet friend. 

We don't have to prove our worth or overextend ourselves to receive the fullness of His grace. 

Jesus died to give us that. 

And He didn't die for our slavery. 

He died for our freedom.

"For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:1-6, ESV). 

Agape, Amber

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/zenstock

amber ginter headshotAmber Ginter is a teacher-turned-author who loves Jesus, her husband Ben, and granola. Growing up Amber looked for faith and mental health resources and found none. Today, she offers hope for young Christians struggling with mental illness that goes beyond simply reading your Bible and praying more. Because you can love Jesus and still suffer from anxiety. You can download her top faith and mental health resources for free to help navigate books, podcasts, videos, and influencers from a faith lens perspective. Visit her website at