I had plans for how my life was supposed to work out,” my friend David said. “And when things didn’t go as planned, I became bitter and resentful.” Who can relate to David? I definitely can! Often I find myself imposing my expectations on God as rights, and then sulking when they aren’t realized.
King Pyrrhus had tasted victory against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum (279 BC). But the victory was bittersweet. Pyrrhus lamented, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” Why? Even though the Romans had sustained more losses in the battle, the depth of their army was far greater. So Pyrrhus knew that ultimate victory in war with Rome was impossible.
A precocious middle-school student asked a soldier visiting her class what he would do if he were ordered to do something wrong. Then she made it personal. “What if they told you to shoot innocent people?”
Waiting in a long line to ride a roller coaster, I considered turning back several times. When it was finally my turn to board, the safety bar in the seat I was to occupy wouldn’t release properly. I was afraid of getting stuck, but I hopped in anyway. When the safety bar came down too tightly on my lap, I felt trapped and scared! I considered waving my hand and asking to be excused from the ride. But an attendant announced over the loudspeaker, “You can scream and you can shout, but there’s no way we’ll let you out.”
Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted a disturbing trend among his students and colleagues—a comparison obsession. He writes: “Business executives, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, doctors and other professionals are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. . . . I have interviewed hundreds of HNAPs (high-need-for-achievement-professionals) about this phenomenon and discovered that comparing has reached almost epidemic proportions. This is bad for individuals and bad for companies [and it leads to diminished satisfaction].” It’s also especially bad for believers in Jesus.
In his classic book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes: “[Children] want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”
It’s obvious,” my brother said. “A southerly wind is a wind that’s blowing toward the South.” I tried to protest. He rushed out and picked up a dictionary, returning with the gleeful smugness of the elder brother. “Read it and weep!” he said. When I read aloud the final phrase of the dictionary entry: “concerning winds, southerly means from a southern direction” he grabbed the book from me. He read the entry again, blinking in disbelief before stalking off dejectedly. He couldn’t accept the truth at first, even after reading it for himself. He had been convinced that he was right.
Neuroscientists say our brains are flexible organs that harden over time. When one of our 100 billion neurons sends an electrochemical charge to another neuron, it opens a new path in the brain. If the neuron repeats this signal enough times, the path widens into a road and then a runway. The more we think about something, the more that thought becomes embedded in our brains. It might be easy to change our minds when experiencing a new thought. It’s more difficult when that thought has built a highway in our heads.
I received an email from a close friend with the subject line “I’m too old for this!” His email told of his recent ordeal riding a roller coaster with his 12-year-old son. He said that the ride lasted only a minute, but it was miserable. He didn’t get physically sick, but he also didn’t want to eat for the rest of the day.
Since the early days of human existence it’s been a constant foe. Recently it came calling in a friend’s life as she lamented her children not walking with Jesus. Another friend bemoaned the death of what had been a loving marriage. A family member looked at me with teary eyes, trying to form words that couldn’t come due to dementia. Another family member, deep in the throes of grief because of her father’s death, said softly, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
When motorcycle riders approach a sharp turn in the road, they strive to look beyond it to the direction they want to head. By looking ahead—where they want to go—they can ride smoothly through the turn and continue on their journey.
Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.