Potential vs. Performance
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
My first thought when I began pondering the fraught duo of potential and performance was, “Hang potential.” I’m so tired of hearing about it, of worrying whether I’m living up to my potential, wondering if the performance of my life is running apace of my potential. The truth is, I never feel that it is: the bar of my potential is always higher than the bar of my performance, because potential exists in imagination, and performance is always in the real world, with its limits, and my limits.
But what if I could get past all the connotations of striving and trying and pushing and clawing and upward mobility and progress? What if I looked past potential to its root? It holds in itself the word potent—powerful, strong. My Merriam Webster dictionary includes “effective” and “rich in a characteristic constituent” among the definitions of potential. What if I stopped seeing potential as the thing I’m not yet (and will probably never be) and instead saw it as power; as the strength by which I can do all things? Potential, then, takes me right back to Jesus—who is my strength.
To be potent—to have potential—is simply then to be “rich in a characteristic constituent,” and that characteristic constituent is faith—faith, not in myself and my own powers to be and to do, but rather in Christ and his power to be and to do through me. Christ is my potential—for he alone exists in limitless possibility. I am simply the earthly conduit of that possibility, that potential.
To consider my potential, then, becomes to gaze at Jesus and make myself—my life, my talents, my everything—available to him to pour himself into and through. He wants to live the divine life of love through me. He wants to love this wounded and wounding world, and the particular wounded and wounding people with whom I live and work, through me.
This is an impossible call. I know from long experience that it is wholly impossible. Even on my best days, I cannot love well, for a whole day, my husband and children—my favorite people in the world! And I can rarely manage gentleness, let alone love, for my crude neighbor and my passive-aggressive colleague.
But potential is not about me, and what I can do. It is about Jesus, and what he can do, which is only everything. Jesus, who lives in me, is potent: strong, powerful, and effective. Through Him, I can do…whatever he asks me to.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the word potential? How does changing the lens of the word to its root, potent, affect your connotations of the word? How does seeing Jesus as your potential change your response to the word itself?
PRAYER: Jesus, you laid aside your power—your potential—to be one of us, to be crucified by us so that you might live for us and in us and through us. Remind me this day, moment by moment, that you are my potential and that because you live in me, I can do the work you have given me this day. Amen.
Performance vs. Potential
The gap between performance and potential is far from neutral. On the positive side, it inspires. Think of the young professional who sees her future self in a seasoned colleague and dreams of achieving great things for God. Optimism and drive mark this view. On the negative side, however, the gap can be as haunting as it is illusory. Haunting because it confirms just how much we come up short; illusory because the gap tortures us with false truths about rank and value. For those who suffer the latter, even Jesus’ promise to be sufficient in our weakness goes unheard.
In The High Calling series on Performance vs. Potential, we’re taking an honest look at both perspectives. Will you join us? Whether you’re a dreamer seeking growth, or a doubter seeking peace, we believe you’ll be encouraged by what you read.