Posts Tagged ‘thriving’

In His darkest hour, Jesus felt abandoned by God. He cried, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?

Most of us can identify. We too have felt abandon at times by family and friends and even God. Perhaps during the global pandemic many feel this as they lose loved ones, lose their own health, lose jobs, businesses or resources.

Recently, I’ve suffered months of nonstop pain, and in this gorgon’s grip I have sometimes felt abandon by God, or if not abandoned then at least neglected. I have known and believed he was there, but for long periods God has not communicated with me in the personal and intimate ways he has in the past.

Abandonment anger, loneliness, depression, sadness and fear — I know these feelings. Most of the world does too.

I’ve asked: Why has God allowed me to go through so much unrelenting pain? Why allow this throughout our world?

The answer: I don’t know. I may never know. I’m not settling for quick, familiar or facile answers to tout to the faithful or faithless. I’ve been told by my wisest friends to wait, to defer judgement, to not rush toward fake fixes or trite truths.

I resonate with their counsel. It’s okay to not know. It’s honest. And I have also come to a good place of not shaming myself for being ignorant and fragile and unconnected. I am, in this season, both weak and strong, but I refuse to pretend I am always strong.

D.A. Carson wrote, “I find hope in the fact that there is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

Psalms 13

Listen to David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my souland have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

Moses humbled by his own failure in Egypt, lived in Midian 40 years.

Times of loss, abandonment, isolation sadness and fear were common to the heroes of the Bible. We just don’t tend toward those remembrances. We tell the story with the end in mind but lost in trial they knew nothing of redemptive ends.

Joseph endured a lengthy betrayal by his brothers, slavery and prison. Thirteen years passed from the time Joseph was sold by his brothers to the time he left prison. Some of that time, Joseph was in Potiphar’s service. None of it was easy. Think of how he must have felt during those hidden years.

Daniel was brought to Babylon a captive. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, he was forced to serve in the king’s government. Think of how he must have wondered why his great wisdom was closeted. And then the lion’s den.

Esther was an orphan.

Jeremiah had his life’s work destroyed in the fire.

The disciples lost their teacher and savior.

They felt terrible.

What to say?

We all feel alone at times.

And although it’s not always something we can feel or see or even hear very well, yet God tells us that he never leaves us.

Isaiah 49:15-16, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

We may feel abandoned. That’s okay. We may feel forgotten. That’s understandable. We may feel neglected. That’s normal.

It is just that God says we aren’t.

What to do?

Don’t deny your feelings. They are real. They are valid. Most other human beings have felt as you do at some point in life. Jesus himself was unashamed — even when he knew the plan— to declare his feelings of abandonment openly.

We say what at we feel so that we are authentic and honest and real. We walk in the light, which means we let our thoughts and feelings be exposed to our selves and others.

Instead of running to quick fixes that involve suppression or denial or flip answers, instead we wait, as so many have waited, in solidarity with each other we wait, weak we wait, hopeful we wait, hanging on his character and judgments we wait, coming to us in his time and his way — we wait.

In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.

Isaiah 26:8

Yesterday was a good day! I gardened, mowed the grass, and changed the oil in the lawnmower, something I haven’t done in ages. I painted a door, and I made dinner. In between I read and wrote a little. I drove our census over to the post office and then took a nice drive through the neighborhood. In the evening I watched TV with my wife. I am at my best, busy!

Today is different. It’s a beautiful day here in sunny California and the sun is shining, but I woke up in pain and haven’t been able to get away from it. It’s a beautiful day but I’m having trouble enjoying it. I’m taking medication and lying down. Life is up, and then life is down.

Yesterday on the phone with a friend we talked about wanting to live in the bubble. I want to live in the middle-class bubble, life safe, life resourced, life on vacation, life fun, life the way I like it, life that I control.

And I have. Many Americans have. We have gotten a good deal of that. But not every day, and not every season. Right now, during the coronavirus isolation, struggling with pain, life is up-and-down for us.

Sometimes the bubble pops. Dysbiosis. What do we do with that? We live it. We live it all. We live what we can control, and we live we can’t control. Welcome to reality! This is pretty much everybody’s reality. We don’t get everything we want. Some people hardly get anything they want.

We are headed into a season where many people are and will experience losses, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, the loss of finances, the loss of careers, the loss of homes.

I don’t like this. No one does. So what still stands when all around things are lost? What still stands in all the world is full of fear? Despite our difficulties, two things haven’t changed. Two salient callings come to mind today: Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Neither a virus, nor the status of my body changes those two great ethical commandments for me. Discomfort doesn’t change those wisest of priorities.

Question: do we still love when we don’t get what we want? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbor? Do we maintain entente? These questions challenge me. Sometimes I fail in love — for God and my neighbor.

But yesterday my wife shipped my daughter and her husband two masks. My daughter is pregnant. We want her safe. Love.

And yesterday and today I worked on forming an online reading group to better connect with friends as we practice social distancing. Love.

Today so far I am holding my tongue and guarding my heart. It’s hard to hurt. I want to be healed, but I’m working on not being offended when I’m not. I’m not okay with pain, but I am working on not blaming anyone for it. This is life, part of life, and even compromised I am not off the hook to love. That’s hard. That’s love. Love doesn’t insist upon its own way. Love exists outside the bubble of what I want.

Last night at dinner we prayed for everyone who is suffering loss right now. We thanked God for the good things in our lives. Love.

Whether we’re on the mountaintop or in the ditch, in the bubble or watching it pop, the highest calling on our lives hasn’t changed.

Yet love.

During this time of loss and fear we have a great opportunity to feel with the rest of our world.

Psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan says that our own painful emotions might help us discover a close relationship between our “heartbreak and the brokenheartedness of the world.”

If today you were sad, know that millions were sad today too. If today you felt fear, know then that you are confederate in this emotions with billions of others around the globe, especially those who have lost their loved ones, those who have lost jobs, especially those in Third World countries.

We may want to be rid of our darker emotions, but they are a part of us and part of our world and they have the potential to bind us together. It has been my observation that we bond over our weaknesses even more than over our strengths.

The moments when I have felt closest to other human beings are the moments where we have both taken off our masks and shared our hurts or our weaknesses without embarrassment or constraint.

Richard Rohr says “that in a whole lifetime spent with seekers of enlightenment, I have never once heard anyone speak in hushed tones about the value of endarkenment.”

But soul darkening has value. The endarkenment of our souls creates an opportunity to rely on God and to connect with others, to text, write, call and pray for them.

This is what it means to be human. It means to be happy and sad, full and empty, to be at peace and anxious along with the rest of our world.

Weep with those who weep,” command Paul.

Romans 12:15

If you have any of the dark emotions during this time of social distancing, don’t deny those. Sit with them. Learn from them. I speak to you in hushed tones, the hushed and healing tones of tender honesty, compassionate transparency, reciprocal disclosure, unguarded openness and loving candor.

It’s okay to have dark moments. Don’t be embarrassed. We all have them. Your feelings will come and go, but your empathy — practice that and it will come and stay.

Yesterday I went out to the side patio and waited for the sun to pop out from behind a dark cloud. When it did I noticed several things.

I could feel my arms and shoulders and spirit become all warmish, snugly and radiant from the rays falling my skin. How cozy; how encouraging.

Exposure to sunlight — while we know too much can be harmful — is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm, focused, easeful. Light therapy! Get out; grab some serotonin.

The sun; the warmth, the brightness — I feel very easiated, calmified and soothed by our hydrogen-helium star. It’s not big compared to other stars, nonetheless it contains 99.8% of the total mass in our solar system. That’s a lot of warmth!

Our sun is almost 110 times the diameter of our earth! Over one million Earth’s could be squashed inside the Sun, and yet for me yesterday‘s rays — an eight-minute-journey from sun to me — were gentle and soft and just the right distance away to give me life, and vitamin D. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol.

Looking, I noted that the sun fell on in front of me and turned the lawn a gorgeous scintillant, bright green, in contrast to the grass left in the shade by the fence. And the shadow art from the flowers along the walk jumped out and became darker on the brown paved walk.

I sat still, gazing at sun and shadow wonders all around. The silver sheen bush at the edge of the house turned into a thousand tiny mirrors, each small, round leaf reflecting lambent, silver light. Taken together the bush was aglitter, glinting, glistening.

I love light. It’s more than warmth. It’s color, all the colors in the spectrum. This morning we woke to a rainbow out our back sliding glass door. A rainbow — a promise of protection — is formed out of light passing through water. It’s gorgeous — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

When the air is full of water after a rainstorm, the droplets act as prisms creating rainbows, colored in hope, reminding us of God’s love for us. Rainbows are circular in shape because the prisms (raindrops) that created them are spherical.

During this time of social isolation, remember to get outside a bit in safe places, in your yard or patio or for a safe walk, especially when the sun is shining.

Go out and see and feel the warmth, the wondrous, winsome solar wealth, the colors, sparkles, and spectaculars in the light. It’s a reminder that life is still warm and bright and that God has created the universe that still has good and love in it

Our planet is a fascinating place. Our bodies are a wonderland. Our relationship are adventures of discovery.

What is around you that interests you? Who are you? In these days when we are cloistered in our homes we still have opportunities to explore and discover and learn.

Dread of a world locked in pandemic doesn’t have to lock up the world’s minds. By effort we might avoid acedia, spiritual and mental sloth, and we might avoid anhedonia, the loss of interest in pleasure.

Recently, shadowed over by the execrable, dark-clouded specter of the coronavirus, I felt like I had perhaps lost something of myself. I seemed to be less, diminished while sequestered at home. I’m not. I am what I always was — curious about many things. I just need to tap back into that. Maybe you do too.

Today you might make a list of your interests, your fancies, your whimsies, your amaturifications, your loves, your avocations, your hobbies and pursue some of them.

I like reading. Lately, I’ve been exchanging book ideas with friends. I’m in the middle of a book by Simon Winchester. He’s a popular historian and has written books like Atlantic, Pacific, Krakatoa, and the Men Who United the States. By the way you have never read Winter Dance by Gary Paulsen do so. It’s a hilarious story about running the Iditarod.

My wife likes games. She beat me soundly the other day at a card game called King’s In the Corner. I consoled myself that the game is mostly luck, mostly. Last night one of my daughters told me she was planning to make puzzles and drink hot chocolate with a roommate. Good combination.

I like nature, geology, botany, astronomy, ornithology all of natural history. So on TV we watched Voyage of the Continents, the story of tectonic plates. Fascinating! perhaps to ease or brains we later watched the movie Jojo Rabbit, a fun satire.

Also along the lines of enjoying nature, I put my binoculars by the back door, and I have been watching the birds come to my small pond – doves, house finches, white lined sparrows, black phoebes, yellow goldfinches, and hummingbirds. One night last week I set my telescope out back and looked at Venus and the moon and the Orion nebulae. Venus showed a quarter phase. Jupiter and Saturn and Mars are visible in the morning sky these days, and I’m planning on getting up early to see them soon.

I like music. The other night my wife and I watched an old Moody Blues concert. Fun! This rock ‘n’ roll band included symphonies in very creative ways in their music. I might pick up my guitar today. I’ve neglected that. One of my daughters was home recently, and I helped her buy some new songs on iTunes. I like some of them too and download them onto my phone.

I like writing, thus this blog. I like you, my readers and I am always trying to think of someway to encourage you. I also write modern proverbs at http://www.modernproverbs.net and modern soliloquy at https://modernsoliloquies.com I am looking around in my head for a book idea.

I like gardening. Yesterday, I mowed the lawn and pulled some weeds. It cost me because of some chronic pain issues, but it was worth it. Making things grow, particularly flowers, makes me feel peaceful, and I love sitting in the sun outback and looking at the plants I’ve cultivated. My neighbor gave me an artichoke plant last year. Yesterday, I found my first artichokes growing at the top of it. I think I’ll cook one up today.

And this is another avocation of mine. I love cooking because I love eating. I’ve found some new vegetarian recipes. Yum! And healthy. Yesterday I made chicken soup. Perfect for a rainy day. Some of my new recipes I’ve gotten from friends and family. It’s been fun to text people lately and just ask, “What are you eating for dinner tonight?” It gives you new ideas. By the way, have you ever tried coconut popsicles? They are a new favorite of mine, but I’m beginning to see them show up around my midriff so, hum. Unable to go to the gym, I’ve been using some stretchy bands. It’s surprising me, but you can add muscle mass that eats fat even with these little rubber stretchies, very affordable on Amazon.

I also like restoring, remodeling and home decoration. Yesterday, I forced myself to paint one of the new interior doors we had recently installed. My wife put on the first coat. I put on the second. I didn’t really want to do this, but I loved the results. Every time I walk by that new gleaming white decorative door, I get a small jolt of pleasure just seeing the improvement.

I’m definitely not saying that life isolated like this is easy. I feel afraid at times during the day. I don’t like the uncertainties of my own health issues or those that cover the globe. I’ve even broken down and cried a few times lately because my pain was so unrelenting. But I do find that pursuing my interest takes my mind off my pain and off the scariness of our world right now and helps me through these days. I’m not ignoring the crisis or my issues, but I’m limiting myself check out the news only once or twice a day, and I’m trying to remind myself and you that there are still many good things in the world.

I like driving, fast! Yesterday, because it was not a bad pain day for me, I drove my car out into a rural area near our home. It felt free to breeze through the turns, stomp the accelerator, hear that high-performance V-6 purr and growl. But I also slowed and spotted some snowy white egrets on blue Otay Lake, and I noticed the yellow wild flowers blooming alongside the road — the sunflowers and the mustards.

And here is something else. I’m trying not to be selfish even though like everyone I’ve watched the Dow fall and some of my retirement funds shrink. I worry a bit, but I want to avoid a mentality of scarcity. My relationship with God helps. He has been generous with me.

Working to manage our own anxieties and our finances in the wisest ways we can, my wife and I have also teamed up recently to give money to family and friends and charities that we support. Even though this is a financially scary time, some of us may still find some resources of time or money to care for others. The psychologist say that we are most happy when we are most generous.

This doesn’t require money. I like talking to people. This is a way to give that doesn’t necessitate finances. I’ve been trying to text or call at least a few people each day. I listened to a podcast that suggested we do this. It feels good to reach out. It mitigates my loneliness and isolation and others too. Yesterday, I texted with a friend from Maine. We haven’t had contact for a long time, but isn’t this the perfect time to reconnect with old friends far away? She sent me a picture of the snow In the field behind her house. Beautiful! I sent her a picture of sun, me sitting in it, something California seems to always have plenty of, even in crisis.

The upshot of all this is that we are still in charge of ourselves and we can still make choices. Remind yourself of what moves you, what fascinates you and add to your day by pursuing that.

The world feels weird right now and scary, and yet it is still beautiful and interesting. I pray everyday for its healing and mine. And I work to find ways to be content and productive.

Life still has good in it. What if you and I figure out how to snag some of that?

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Ecc 3:11

Today much of the world is staying at home, social distancing, so we can protect each other. We are working together more than usual and keeping each other safe until time brings us to safer times. We are social caring — through distance. My absence protects you and yours protects me.

But did you notice something special in all this? This form of protection has created quietness.

Today the world is quieter than it has been in centuries! Life is blunted, hushful, abated, aphonic, still.

“Shush! Listen. Can you hear it? Noise has decreased. Noise pollution is down. Sound has been muted all over the world as we wait, quiescent — for the world to heal.”

It’s the quiet hour of history. And in the quiet we have been given the gift of quiet.

Listen, to the quiet.

Luxuriate — in time.

Take a deep breath in this, our quiet time, and notice what you are doing and enjoy what you are doing.

Do those things you do slowly and quietly because you have time to do so.

Soul calm.

Spirit rest.

Self slow.

World — quiet.

Be still and know …

We did some financial business on Saturday. When we met the notary who we employed he gave us a bump, not a handshake. Coronavirus social fallout. In extremis. We are afraid to hug and even shake hands. The world is colder.

I did my taxes last week. My wife is taking them to the tax preparer today. Money. This morning I see that the Dow has cratered again. I don’t plan to look at my stock and bond portfolio online any time soon. I positioned myself the best I could. A fearful fall. Yikes! I carry on, but less confidently.

Fear of personal human contact, fear of economic forces beyond our control, my own health issues — the world feels unsafe to me this morning.

Adding to this, the presidential candidates are heating up for this fall’s election. Here too I experience some anxiety. I’m looking for a candidate who reflects my Christian values — for me it is someone who will move beyond the current politics of hostility and polarization and help us work together again. We need to start getting along better. Our polarized two party system is failing us.

And I want a leader who will lead us to better take care of our beautiful planet earth. Regardless of your stand on climate change, there is no doubt that we are polluting and trashing and destroying ecosystems and species right and left. This can’t continue. We must think and plan for those who come after us.

I also want a leader who will avoid excessive debt, especially business leveraged debt, but few voices are sounding the alarm on this. And I want help creating wise and humane immigration policies. I want a leader who will eschew racism, care for the poor and the marginalized and value and respect women.

I haven’t found that leader among the candidates yet, especially someone with a deep passion and wisdom and plan for bringing us together again.

What to do? How do I engage in good psychohygiene?

While not denying present losses and dangers, while taking appropriate safe guards, while continuing to choose wisely, I can help myself with my fears in several ways.

First, I take the long view of things. Current problems — while very significant — will change over time. Health ebbs and flows. Economics cycle down and up. Political leaders come and go.

Secondly, I can do what I can.

I can foster my own politics of love and avoid the politics of contempt. I can make my own progress in caring for the planet and in loving others. I’ve been eating meals that leave a smaller carbon footprint. I’ve been eating meals that cause less suffering to animals. I’ve been using less plastic. I’ve been loving friends and family who don’t agree with me politically. I’ve been praying for immigrants and refugees living in fear and poverty. I have been making charitable contributions to organizations that care for the disabled and that build homes for the impoverished. I’ve been attempting to give the upmost respect and honor to the women in my life.

And I was gentle with myself today and tried to mitigate my own chronic pain and to use it to motivate me to pray for all the people in the world who are suffering today.

Thirdly, it helps to focus on the positive and good and safe in our lives — a warm, dry place to sleep tonight, loving friends and family, finances that at least meet the needs of the moment, beauty I can see around me.

I fear. I carry on as if I don’t. I mowed my lawn today, paid for my tax prep, protected some potted nasturtiums from the coming rain, fed the cat, took my medications, prayed for friends and family and world.

I took hope in moments of the day, even imperfect as they were because of pain. I spent a few moments sitting in my sunny garden, soaking in the warmth of God‘s love for me and for all of us. The gift of the sun is life. Tonight it will rain in San Diego. The earth will be watered with the refreshing and renewing power of life giving water. The economic cycle may be broken but the rain cycle is not. I look forward to sleeping to the sound of rain, water in the rain gutters, watering on my lawn, refreshment for the earth.

I want and need to engage in hope in God. He’s got me. He has got us.. He has come through before. He will again.

Oh my weak, unsettled soul, trust in God. Rest in God. He knows. He will not leave us to our own solutions or our own failures. He will spin the sun and send warm rain on us yet again.

Without God where could I turn for hope, comfort, help?

I try to take my cues from the wise ones.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

and the fields produce no food,

though the olive crop fails

and no cattle in the stalls,

though there are no sheep in the pen

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come to us as the rain, as the latter and former rain to the earth.

Hosea 6:3

Recently, I identified the red-streaked house finches in my back yard, in the evening sky the Orion nebulae in my telescope and also I sorted a way to respond to my wife’s request for feedback on how to handle a touchy relational issue.

I also learned that diatoms — a major group of algae, specifically micro-algae found in the oceans — may pile up a half-mile deep on the oceanic floor. It may well be that oil supplies were formed out of the carbons. I love scientific knowledge. So cool!

I also noted in the news cycle that mortgage interest rates are falling to historic lows, and I am sorting who the candidates in the next election are that best reflect my values and priorities.

Knowledge — we do well to embrace it and all the academic disciplines and news sources ferreting it out, and I do. I rush to knowledge found in theology, science, history, art, linguistics and literature. I am a truth-monger. I crave understanding. I look for it everywhere.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

It’s wise to dig for knowledge. It’s treasure. But sometime we shouldn’t try; and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes life puts us in places where understanding is beyond us and our attempts to grasp it become befuddled and confused. Life’s trauma — relational conflicts, exhaustion, loss, illness, poverty, violence and war can bring us into times when try as we might, we lack understanding and even wisdom goes missing.

Such times create a knowledge-deprivation and an attendant insight-humility. Even when we are healthy and stable, concerning so many issues we remain benighted and confuzzled. We experience a kind mental cinemuck. We wallow on the floor of our own scary movie theatre. At such times, brought low, if we are honest, we admit what we don’t know. This can be so disconcerting. It can also be a relief and in itself enlightening.

We Christians, unfortunately, have too often — well or sick — trafficked heavily in wisdom replacements, bad science, inept interpretations, conventional platitudes, sappy cliches, out-of-context Bible verses and a pride fueled denial of our own ignorance. But a poorly researched, unfootnoted, overly syrupy, Pollyanna Christianity helps and enlightens no one.

I’ve mind-wallowed recently as some of my health issues have escaped my understanding and have dodged resolution, both by me and my doctors, even my specialists! The experts in medical science — baffled. Such ignorance however is common to all disciplines and Paul’s “we see through a glass darkly” comes to mind.

Psalm 131, I like it, it’s helpful in modeling the opposite of the ubiquitously ego-driven quest for knowledge, good as knowledge is.

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.

Two questions. One, what are the great matters? They certainly includes matters where we have tried to find understanding concerning something and failed.

I don’t believe David is modeling giving up on understanding. Certainly not. In his writings, we can see is on a constant quest for truth, and yet here, concerning great matters, he cloaks himself in humility.

If you look over the history of competitive, self-driven experimentation, research, invention and discovery — look in science or theology— wherever you find unbridled ego, you will find grave unhappiness and tensing ignorance. You will find conflicts, law suits and relational smashups.

In contrast, when truth diggers have taken humbled attitudes before the unknown, taken needed breaks, consulted and relied on previous seekers, consulted their team, answers have often come to them in epiphanies and “Aha!”moments.

Second question: What does it mean to be a weaned child, content in our relationship with knowledge?

It means that we do well to rest in what we do know, celebrate what we do know and to let ourselves be weaned from what Fenelon refers to as the pseudo experiences that give “false courage to the senses,” that is merely propping up a hungry ego with an incomplete theory or insight that won’t hold water when reality comes along with it’s pointy stick and punctures it.

What to do?

Don’t stop seeking knowledge.

But when life weans you from understanding, seek contentment.

And for we who have faith, trust God that he knows and that he, like a wise mother, has us.

We can sit with him quietly, not understanding, yet loved and and at rest.

Competition — I’ve lived it, the good the bad and the ugly

In high school I won my gym class ping-pong championship. I glowed.

Several times I have received good chunks of money for articles I wrote. I was competing against other articles offered to the same magazine. I felt very affirmed, my acceptances, my being allowed into the conversation. It help me realize that writing was the thing for me. So I’ve worked hard on it. since.

Competition, as a positive can promote discipline, hard work and toughness, develop skills, create teamwork, lead to innovation and invention, create high-quality work and performance, fuel productivity, help people know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and teach a person how to be a gracious winner or loser.

I once raced a BMW in my Infinity G 37 coupe. Blew his doors off. I celebrated. Or gloated. Not good. Later I regretted this.

Competition as a negative can cause a person to become conceited —desiring to be the cynosure of all eyes — harmfully proud, create fear and anxiety, add harmful levels of stress, lead to rushed decisions, elicit cheating, illegal or harmful behaviors, sabotage teamwork, ruin relationships, consume a person with bitterness, lead to a loss of morale and self-esteem.

So what to think of all this?

We might say that because there are pros and cons here that we need a balance between competing with others and nurturing others. Fair enough.

But how does this work out for we Christians. What does the Bible have to say about competition?

Well, we might first note that Israel competed with the other nations for land and power and survival. The Old Testament may be even be seen as the story of winners and losers. But this perhaps ignores the purpose God had in choosing the Jews. It was to make himself known to the whole world. The Jews were to win only so others could win. They were to be a light to the other nations; instead they were darkness. And when they failed to let God make them successful, God had to discipline them and let them fail.

Well, what about the New Testament?

For Christians who see competition as valuable they might point out that the apostle Paul compared himself to a runner, boxer and soldier, to a competitor. But in the context of these analogies, Paul is actually competing against himself, against his old nature. And he eventually concludes that only Christ within will win his fight. For him to win is to know Christ, to be found in God, to please God and to help as many people as possible do the same.

So we might say that we Christians compete to win a win for everyone possible. I think of it is similar to how I think about my daughters and wife. I want to be my best self possible so that they might be resourced, successful, win at life.

But we might say that Paul and the other disciples and early church leaders debated competitively for the gospel, just as have all the apologists and evangelists who have come after him. True. And we might note that there is a kind of world competition for the truth, for what’s right, for a philosophy or religion to live by. Paul contended for the gospel.

Christians still do. So we Christians do well to train ourselves and discipline ourselves to be as good and knowledgeable and excellent in all our work as possible, but not so that we might win discussions, but so that we may draw others into the win of God.

This is an interesting topic to take on. Perhaps big-idea and longview conclusions help here. First, Jesus was never about himself against the world. He didn’t define his mission or ours as us against them — the outliers, the sinners, the deceived — but instead as himself for all of them, and us for all of them, us in him loving them, as many as we can. He only spoke against those who wanted to make Christianity an elite group. Remember, John 3:17. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. And Jesus had no ultimate doubts about the outcome of that quest. He knew — the father would win!

Jesus came and announced, “God wins!” That’s what the scripture, what Revelations says. And it isn’t even a fair fight. All of creation and all of history is going somewhere, the place Jesus prayed for in John 17, that we might all be one within God. I don’t know how that sorts out, but it is clear that God wants no one to be left out of that win, and that the only way that they can be left out is if they choose to be.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”

1Tim. 2:3-4

Life is a serious business. We all know that there are winners and losers. It doesn’t look like everyone wins in life. Not everyone gets a gold star. Not everyone gets a sticker or an A+ on their paper or a trophy. But everyone can be forgiven and everyone can realize their giftedness for the good of others.

With all this reasoning as presuppositionaI, I certainly don’t think then that the church is advanced by attacking the “pagans” or science or sinners or other religions or by holing up, circling the wagons and seeing itself as attacked by the rest of the world. The church’s goal is not to defeat everyone else but instead to share the win Jesus won with everyone else! Yes, it may be true that in the end everyone won’t win — only God knows that or who; only God could decide that — but it’s certainly not our business to try to decide that. That’s God’s work. Our work is to declare the win. If there is to be a loss, we leave that up to God.

At the last church I pastored we shared the church with other denominations, with other congregations, with AA support groups; we gave space to professional counselors, food distribution organizations and groups helping refugees and children in poverty. We owned it, with no debt, and we gave it away freely to anyone we had a common vision with us, vision to help people. We took a non-competitive, inclusive approach to our community. If we were competitive it was competition to win at the game of sharing.

Looking further in the new testament for commentary on competition, we find the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. Faced with dismissal, the manager reduces the debts of his employer’s creditors, and thus creates friends for life. When his boss finds out, he commends the manager’s savvy, entrepreneurial, even competitive behavior.

Well, we might say this about that. God admires intelligence. After all, he made it. God admires shrewdness, for he is shrewd. God wants us to find ways to make life better, because he wants to make life better. Therefore, Christian go ahead, do well, make money, make art, be successful. You who invent products, advance knowledge by doing good science, you who are wise in the investing of time and money, who create social capital, go for it, that is if you use it for good, if you please God!

But let’s be clear, you please him not because you outdo others. You please God when you have found ways to thrive that include others. Note that thriving in the case of the shrewd manager involved forgiving others their debts. The wise steward won favor by creating wins for others, even though his master took a loss. Seems familiar. God, took a loss so we all can take win.

We also have the parable of the hired workers in Matthew 20 that seems to be commentary on this topic of competition. Those who work a whole day get paid the same as those who worked only part-day. The full-day labourers plead unfairness; the vineyard owner maintains he is being both generous and just by treating all his workers the same. Again the point comes to the surface that God himself is generous and wants a win for everyone possible

This helps our thinking. In the quest to win, to be paid, it must be remembered that God so wants to bless others that he may seem to even violate our sense of justice or fairness. We may be shocked at who is included in heaven, people who didn’t seem to have faith at all, people from other religions, people who did some horrible things. It will be an omnium-gatherum, a collection of miscellaneous people.

So why do we have here? When is competitiveness Christian, when not Christian?

I think we can safely say that competition is not Christian when the drive to compete is fuelled by greed, self-interest, envy, pride or revenge. That is clearly inconsistent with Christ’s command to love and with God’s purpose to create a people, a collective, a body, a team that wins.

I know that when I have been selfish in my family that has caused problems. Sometimes I traveled too much when I was working, off on missions to far off countries, and in doing this I was sometimes insensitive to my wife’s needs at home with the children. I regret that now.

When we are only out for ourselves, and when we are so broken that we want others to be at the back of the pack, and we are willing to oppress and damage them so that we might win, so that we might be first, so that we might get what we want, that’s not Christian. It’s evil! The drive that says “I’d rather be first than human; I’d rather be first than good” — that’s not good. This is the motive behind racism and sexism and even nationalism. I believe God opposes small thinking, the formation of oppressive, enclosed societies, the institutional formation of harmful self-interest and pride.

So then is there a place for competition within Christian culture? Yes. Paul models that we are to compete against ourselves to win the prize of God’s approval in Christ. And further yes we are in competition for the truth. It is right to stand up for the truth, to compete for the truth wherever we can. But not so that others lose, but so that they win. We compete to help them win, win the win of God in Christ.

This would imply then that we are to be excellent in all that we do, not so much for a personal win, but so that we may advance the cause of God by being a model of what it is to be intelligent and rational and hard-working and disciplined and successful. All the good things about competition come into play here, but we do not compete to beat out the rest of the competitors, instead we compete with ourselves to bring out the best in us, to steward our gifts, to do the thing that we do, best for and most pleasing to God.

Through my various jobs in life it became quite obvious that I was a leader. Even in high school I was elected to the position ofvstudent council president. I was always fascinated by leadership. I read all the books I could get on it and attended all the leadership conferences and training I could.. I trained my staff in leadership principles. I often encouraged, cajoled and incentivize people to rise up and take leaderships. God wants us to succeed, but is the kind of success that is successful when others succeed.

The bottom line for we Christians is that life is not a zero sum game. Life isn’t a pie where if we get a slice someone else doesn’t. Life is a pie that we want everyone to eat from.

Competition?

How about if our goal — like God’s — is for everyone possible to win?

I like short truth. Don’t you? Don’t you just love it when just a few words get it right?

As a writer I try to cultivate the art of brevity. My favorite way to do that is to write Thought Proverbs, aphorisms and epigrams.

Here are a few of my most recent. Hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think by posting a comment or choosing a favorite. Thanks!

Lives slow, die fast, leave a fully used corpse.

Knock it down; drag it out; don’t forget to stomp on it.

Achieve great things — being content.

A saying is a slaying; it massacres untruth.

All snide remarks originate in serious forethoughts.

Some charm with leg and arm, and some with loyalty.

The wise crack; fools remain grimly reformative.

Wonder through windows; will yourself through walls.

Agency eats fate for breakfast, chance for lunch and apathy for dinner. 

It takes guts to shut up.

All things talk; very few things listen.

Sorry– it’s a form of glory. 

Saying sorry is easy, being sorry more like queazy. 

To annihilate the efficacy of apology, persistently offend. 

A feeling sends us reeling; a thought catches us.  

Strive not for a great nation; labor mightily for a great world. 

All speakers elaborate; the really good ones lie shamelessly.

Embellish all your stories; this will engender widespread approval and universal credibility.

The mind and heart must both collude to have a shot at quietude.

I am only as safe to you as I am to me. 

Telling the truth will earn you public enemies; lying will earn you private ones.

Fame is height, for the short. 

Much of what we don’t know about others we don’t want to.

We relieve one end in private, spew from the other in public.

Eat sand; blast injustice.

Be present; gifts surround you.

Conversations are gifts, points of view, largesse.

To book a colonoscopy is brave; to actually go to one shows a stunning lack of self-regard.

Know before you go. 

To live fully, quit thinking overly.

The most addictive sedative is simply the repetitive.

Knock and you will be denied; pull out your wallet, and it will be given unto you. 

Every family silence tilts towards a family tragedy. 

The theft of depth leaves us bereft. 

Urgency loves an emergency. 

Wisdom lies beyond policy.

Our soul is always trying to tell us what we need.

Everything carries a song; not everything sings it.

A bed is safe, but a world is an adventure.

To suffer is to discover ourselves.

Think fast; choose slow. 

As long as one person is empty none of us are full.

If you like these more can be found on my Proverbs blog site at the following link. Once on the site, pick a word that looks interesting to you from the topic list on the left and click to see proverbs related to that word.

https://modernproverbs.net