I just read a book by a mega-church pastor named Lance Hahn, who suffers from anxiety disorder and panic attacks. It’s entitled How to Live in Fear: Mastering the Art of Freaking Out. I’m reviewing it for HarperCollins. I must say, I’m liking Hahn’s perspective: honest, gracious, realistic, and non-churchy. I think this would be a good read for anyone who suffers from anxiety or is in a close relationship with someone who does (probably most of us). It’s not great literature or a tremendously profound read, but it’s raw and honest. And I think the church has read enough garbage about anxiety to last a few generations. Yes, we must trust God. But anxiety is not a lack of faith. It’s a chemical reaction to a perceived threat. Hahn discusses medication, therapy, and re-adjusting your lifestyle to allow for and compensate for panic attacks. He gives helpful advice about how to minimize anxiety and live a fulfilling and productive life without ruining the lives of the people you love. This is a quick and helpful read for anyone desiring a better understanding of anxiety and fear. (FYI–I received this book for free because I review for Book Look Bloggers.)
I’ve got to get my life under control! Clean my closets. Organize my bills. Exercise daily. Plan my vacations. Read those books. Finish writing that novel.
Although I realize the erroneous perception of control, I still crave the success of a well-organized and predictable life. Somewhere along the journey, I have bought into the mindset that a stylish wardrobe and a beautiful home will make me happier. That if I make good choices, bad things won’t happen to me. I believe–though I may not adhere to its rules–that a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, sugar-free, range-free, low-calorie, grass-fed or vegetarian diet will insure my health and longevity. But the question I should be asking is this: have I created a lifestyle of perceived control because somewhere deep inside myself, I doubt that anyone else could supervise the details of my life better than me?
Perhaps control is politically correct for the old-fashioned word idolatry. Essentially, control is the worship of legislating my own life–insulating, defending, promoting, comforting. It’s all about me. Control is the greatest deception of all time. The ruse began somewhere in the heavens, descended to the Garden of Eden, and from there proliferated throughout the world, infusing humanity with the desire to control everyone and everything around them, at any cost. Is there any injustice that can’t be traced back to control?
Me? A control freak? I might respond with, “No, I am confident, organized, and self-motivated. Appropriately both passionate and agreeable.” Ahh, the perspective of a person with control issues! Someone living blissfully in self-imposed ignorance. The driver of my own destiny. A puppet master, manipulating marionettes without any strings and considering the undertaking as successful. I believe myself to be master of my life. In reality, my life is controlling me.
The skeptic would call God the Puppet-Master, an uncaring, selfishly-motivated manipulator, akin to the Greeks’ Zeus, sending unfair trials and temptations our way to see how we’ll handle the pain and the stress and the indecency of it all. That’s a worthy consideration.
But then why would God send Jesus? Yet no game is clever enough to warrant horrendous, personal sacrifice by the game-maker.
Because of God’s value for our free will, He allows us to move stringless through life, yet He hovers above the stage, ready to guide us toward fulfilled purpose, if only we’ll give over the sticks. Good advice for all of us detail-loving perfectionists.
At this point, you are likely thinking one of three things:
a) I disagree. You must be one of those crazed football fans who paints a letter on his chest. (NO, I’m not!)
b) I agree. When can we go to a game together? (Sorry, I’m already committed to several seasons per year.)
It is human nature to be competitive. I think everyone wants to “win” at something. Even the people who claim they don’t care about winning have goals and standards for themselves, that when measured against other peoples’ lives, prompt feelings of anxiety or self-congratulation. If you’ve gotten this far in my blog, you probably think so, too, even if you don’t play Monopoly. (But you should. Who doesn’t enjoy a rousing game of Monopoly?)
Here’s why I think this is true. If competition weren’t a powerful tool, teachers wouldn’t give spelling bees, parents wouldn’t reward good behavior, employers wouldn’t offer incentives, free market enterprise wouldn’t succeed, and the American Dream wouldn’t motivate anyone to buy more or work longer. Introverts wouldn’t set secret goals and reach them. Extroverts wouldn’t share their goals with the world and re-adjust them when the endeavor looks unlikely to succeed. List-makers (like me!) wouldn’t add items to their lists after I’ve completed them, just for the sheer joy of checking things off. (I can’t wait to check this blog off by posting it!)
Competition is powerful. Whether you compete with yourself or someone else, the drive to progress, succeed, and yes, even win, powers at least some of your daily activities. If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve endured when another parent is listing off the accomplishments of her child–I’d be rich. You know that parent. And you know the internal struggle: do I start talking about my kid’s accomplishments, or should I just listen? (Who’s going to win this?) On second thought, maybe all those people are just sharing because they assume I’m incredibly interested, and maybe I’m the self-absorbed competitor. Okay, so maybe this blog is just for me.
I am competitive. I admit it. I love any kind of board game or card game. I love watching sporting events, which is good, since I live in a house of 4 crazed sports enthusiasts. (Actually, I can’t think of any family vacation that we have taken that didn’t involve doing sports and/or going to a sporting event.) I want to do well at work, at home, and at church. So does that mean I want to “beat” people everywhere I go?
Of course not. You don’t have to make the proverbial climb over co-workers or shout obscenities at a referee to prove there’s a drive within the human spirit that must accomplish a task, achieve “perfection,” or receive recognition. We all want to be noticed and appreciated. And when we don’t receive that “pat on the back,” then we begin the comparison game.
So what are we talking about then? Maybe the real issue here is comparison. Comparison fuels competition.
It’s helpful to me to consider the role these concepts play in my life, because every time I’m inclined to criticize, feel jealous, or act resentful, I can be sure I’m in a dangerously competitive mood, which marks the beginning of a downward spiral–a cyclone that gains speed and scatters debris as it rages through my life–debris like manipulation or truth-bending, withdrawal or self-deprecation. Any of these insecure reactions spawn a storm of fear and impulse to meet expectations or to minimize failures.
Comparison to others can be a damaging exercise, no matter how motivational it is in the workplace or the classroom. We humans are designed for living life in relationship, not in competition with one another, so when we compete, negativity results. When I compare and compete, I fail to realize that another person’s success or failure neither adds nor detracts from my success if my life is centered on grace and truth.
However, if my life is only about reaching a destination–then I am hell-bent on a race to nowhere. I may still win, but at the expense of the whole experience.
I would venture to assert this concept as true: winning means nothing after the win. It carries an allusion of continuing value because it feeds the prideful, insecure animal within. Actually, the experience of striving has the real value.
Striving changes a person’s character; winning only changes perception. This whole process of striving for something is actually an art form. It’s a process through which the participant is changed and and his contribution is validated. The end result doesn’t make him great, although it may bring acclamation. The real greatness is achieved through the striving.
So get your face paint on, if it makes you feel more connected, but I suggest focusing on the journey itself. I will attempt to take my own advice, too, because I really need it. Winning here on earth isn’t anything; living is everything. When I cease to live, then winning will become the everything I had hoped it would be–and more!
1 Corinthians 9:23-25
New Living Translation (NLT)
23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.