Let me start with an introduction into my brain: I’m a supremely competitive person, to a fault. After becoming engaged to Nate we discovered that if we played a game together then we had to be on the same team, otherwise the amount of smack talk and competition would pretty much always end in hurt feelings.
Competition is the thing that usually drives me to be better, which is a good thing until it’s not. When it’s good then it means I get things done and stay humble in the process. It means success, at least from the world’s perspective. When it’s not, though, then it’s downright ugly.
As of late I’ve been working really hard to make it appear like I have my life together. It can get so tiring, this sometimes-authenticity, and I’ve been an impatient mother to my boys, a lackluster wife to my husband, and about as self-centered as one can get. I’ve realized that striving isn’t working, that it never has, and my competitive spirit isn’t serving me – it’s hurting me.
This past Sunday I read Galatians 5:16-26 in The Message translation and it just knocked me socks off:
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Isn’t that amazing and so uplifting? That not only do we have a choice to live outside of the cut-throat culture we live in, but that we will be better off if we do? We are an original – and we have more interesting things to do with our lives than to imitate others or try to beat them.
I don’t have it all figured out just yet; truthfully I don’t think I ever will. But I hope this encourages you today to realize that YOU ARE an original and all that striving doesn’t have to be your way of life either. Much love, friends!