Forever Running But Losing the Race

(Credit the chorus of “Were It Not for Grace,” by Larnelle Harris, for the title of this post.)

For about 72 hours now, I’ve been nursing a stiff lower back through varying degrees of discomfort. Since I don’t lift heavy weights in the normal course of life, your guess is as good as mine as to exactly what triggered the problem. But even before I entered the formidable forties, it seemed that my body was regularly screaming, “Quit straining me!” And whether its voice came through the shoulders, the eyes, or the knees, my response more often than not was, “I’ve got things to do and no pain is going to keep me from doing them!”

These days nothing short of a high fever is an acceptable excuse for calling in sick. At work, at home, on the unemployment roll–even in church–we worship “doing” and scorn relaxation. Dante pictured the vestibule of hell as inhabited by spirits who had no loyalty except self-interest and were sentenced to spend eternity chasing nothing, symbolized by a blank banner. That’s a fair metaphor for the hell many people make of their earthly lives: constantly running after what we can’t catch and refusing to admit that it is, in fact, nothing. Nothing more than a semi-conscious conviction that those who never let up eventually reach the point of contentment, coupled with the fear it will get away forever if we stop to enjoy any semblance of contentment now.

Interestingly, while hard work is a near-universal quality of those who succeed in material terms, frantic hard work is not. I attended a business lunch yesterday where the program speaker was Vickie Milazzo, author of Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman and one of Inc.‘s top 10 U. S. entrepreneurs. Her philosophy of work includes such points as:

  • Promotions aren’t given on the basis of whoever empties her e-mailbox daily.
  • We get involved in busy-work “time sinks” because finishing things feels good. A shot of heroin feels good, too.
  • Everything you do should be done for the sake of your passion. 

Intellectually and even in surface emotion, we all agree this is wise advice; so why do the majority of us live as those who believe exactly the opposite? Because our fear is stronger than our passion. Fear is perhaps the devil’s best weapon for minimizing human effectiveness; he tells us that nothing comes to those who wait, that employers despise those who fail to show perpetual motion, that even God will reject us if we hear of a need and don’t immediately meet it. So long as Satan can keep us listening to such lies, he can keep us “too busy” to listen for God’s warning signals to slow down. We quickly get into the habit of doing for the sake of doing, until it contaminates even our godly passions and our Christian work. (I refuse to say how many posts I have written for this blog in the mindset “I have to get something up today” rather than “it’s a wonderful privilege to serve God and others through the gift of words.” Maybe I do lift heavy weights on a regular basis: the weight of frustration, the weight of high-level expectations, the weight of false obligation.)

The famous quote from Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God”–may well imply that the second part is impossible without the first. And the Hebrew for “be still” doesn’t just mean standing motionless; a literal translation would read something like “let go of everything, give up the struggle.” Until we do, we can’t really know that God is God because we’re trying to be God ourselves: both Western industriousness and Eastern theories of reality-through-thought depend on exaggerated notions of our own power to create perfection, whether we define that as personal health-and-wealth or as a world forever at peace.

The whole of Psalm 46 is worth reading here as it emphasizes God’s complete control even in the midst of total chaos. He will give us His power vicariously if we stop running long enough to receive it.

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