When Strivings Cease
Written by Jina Yoo
I recently read a book that resonated with me, When Strivings Cease: Replacing the Gospel of Self-Improvement with the Gospel of Life-Transforming Grace by Ruth Chou Simons. The author, like me, grew up in an Asian immigrant church and family. Also like me, she grew up believing that if you worked hard enough, your strivings would be rewarded-both in your life and in your walk with God. The premise of her book is that God’s grace is not something we can earn, but it is a free gift. As I read about her journey, I was reminded of my own.
My family immigrated from South Korea in 1984, when I was almost 4 years old. I remember both of my parents immediately working long hours to provide for us, as we moved overseas with very little money on hand. Therefore, my siblings and I were left to learn about this new country and culture on our own and the television was our tutor. TV taught us what it looked like to be “American”- mostly fair-skinned faces with large blue/green/hazel eyes, lighter hair, people with nice cars, large houses, and proper manners. My young impressionable mind began to take note of these differences and longed to assimilate somehow. I did not realize, until much later in life, how this lack of representation in media would affect me- not only in my upbringing but also in my Christian walk.
When we moved to America, we immediately joined a Korean church to meet other Korean families. My parents did not grow up in a Christian home, but they wanted us to have exposure to something Korean, and church was the closest thing they could find. Although I attended Sunday school and church very regularly, I didn’t understand the gospel of grace, but instead saw modeled to me the value of hard work and striving to achieve one’s goal. After all, this was the reason why my parents immigrated to the “land of opportunity”- to achieve the American dream, right?
Because my parents modeled a diligent work ethic, I reciprocated by striving for every academic, musical, and athletic achievement I could obtain in high school. By my senior year, I achieved every goal I set out for including valedictorian, all-state band, drum major, captain of the softball team, and a full scholarship to college, but none of these things satisfied my heart. They all left me empty and longing for something more meaningful. Around that time, our Korean church hired an Asian American missionary to be the Youth and Children’s director. Through her prayerful guidance and faithful teaching of the Bible, many of our youth group heard the gospel and came to know the Lord, including me.
Entering into a relationship with Jesus radically changed my world view. So much of my immigrant story was wrapped up in striving and earning my way to achieve the goal. Actually, isn’t that the theme of the American dream, Asian culture, and the immigrant story? Self-sufficiency, a die-hard work ethic, earning material wealth…the idea of striving felt inescapable. Therefore, the earlier years of my walk with the Lord looked very legalistic. I thought I needed to earn God’s favor to remain a Christian. The idea of grace, the unmerited favor of God towards man, was completely foreign. To be honest, I sometimes still struggle to trust God’s grace, but, thankfully, the Lord is so kind to teach me how to rest in his presence and rely on his mercy.
Jesus paid the price, and He is enough. “When Jesus is our guarantor, when he is the one who keeps his promises, we have a firm foundation on which to place our assurance. We access grace through faith by believing what God says and actively trusting in it. By grace through faith is how we can really, truly cease striving and know that he is God.” (Ruth Chou Simons)
I can’t say enough about how significant it was for me to read another Asian-American Christian woman’s experience. Obviously no two stories are exactly the same, but I felt both seen and represented by Ruth’s story and her vulnerability in sharing her struggles with striving and grace. She freed me to understand the difference between “striving IN grace” and “striving FOR grace”.
I pray that we, at Waypoint, will be a church that welcomes people and encourages people with many different stories, ultimately pointing them to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. It is through Him that we can continue to strive in grace and rest in the work He has already done.