Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekly Humility

I play fantasy football. For those who play or are familiar with the game, I expect what I am about to share will ring very true. For those who don't play, I think you'll still be able to relate to the weekly lesson Fantasy football delivers.

[BTW, not that you need to know this to understand what I am sharing, but for those who don't play, fantasy football is a game (usually online) where you get to "pick" real NFL players to be on your virtual Fantasy Football Team. You then get points each week based on how those real NFL players perform in the games they play in real life. So for example, if you have Peyton Manning on your team (QB for Denver Broncos and frequent star of TV commercials) and he throws a pass for a touchdown, your fantasy team gets 6 points. Each week you compete against another player who has their own Fantasy Team with the winner being whosever team gets the most total points that week.]

So I've been playing Fantasy Football for probably over 10 years now, and I'm convinced God is a fan of Fantasy Football. How do I know this you ask? Well, I think God is generally a fan of anything that offers a regular healthy dose of humility. [This is the same reason that I think God is a fan of annual physicals.]

You see, playing Fantasy Football is a near constant reminder of how limited my vision is and how little I know. I don't say this because I'm a perennially fantasy loser. That would make this more about self-pity than humility. No, the reason Fantasy Football is so humbling is because my successes often occur despite myself and my losses are the direct result of something brilliant I thought I did.

Keep in mind there are fantasy football players far more "into it" than I am, but I take it fairly seriously. I subscribe to a couple sports websites offering inside information. I listen to podcasts and read articles by experts offering good strategies and forecasting the best performances in the upcoming week. And then I take all this, factor in what I've seen in previous games, throw in a good dose of "gut feeling," and then set my sure-fire can't lose line-up for the week. Come Sunday I have my laptop (or iPad) by my side as I watch the games anxiously but confident that I'll win my weekly match-up.

And then it happens. Actually one or more things happen. Sometimes one of the players that I took out of my line-up winds up having a high scoring day (which means I don't get his points since I took him out of my line-up). Then sometimes the player I was sure was going to have a career day winds up playing absolutely lousy (again resulting in very few points). And still other times, the player I wound up starting because I had absolutely no choice winds up winning the entire matchup for me because he did have a career day. And of course sometimes times all of these things (and others) happen in the same week. Can you see the frustration....and the humility?

With all my facts and information, with all my insight and insider info, Fantasy Football has taught me over the years that I am pretty incapable of affecting an outcome. Sure sometimes I win...and initially my pride swells and I feel pretty good. But it doesn't take long for me to realize (although sometimes it takes until next week's match-up) that a lot of why I won had nothing to do with me. And on the flip side, when I lose, though initially my pride searches rapidly for excuses as to why I lost (like one of my players got injured or because the defense was playing better than normal or whatever), I eventually realize that if I had made some different decisions (which now seem sort of obvious), I would have won. So the bottom line is that every week I get smacked in the face with a heaping, but healthy dose of humility.

Of course it doesn't take too big a stretch to see that this fun little distraction of Fantasy Football is like a little microcosm for how we live our lives a lot of the time.

On any given day there are a million decisions to be made. We are constantly faced with choices...some big and some small, but all with ramifications. Often we (or at least I) try to make these choices using the "wisdom" of our life experiences, the "expert" information propagated by the gurus, and/or that "gut feeling" we have about what will bring us the most success or the best outcome. Too often the very last thing we do...if we do it at ask God what we should do. Even then, we're often only half-asking (or half-listening) because our minds are already made up or the moment has already passed and we had to act.

When this is how we live, the results of our choices, even if they seem good initially, ultimately hurt us. Our successes allow our pride to puff itself up, dig in a little deeper, and fight even harder next time for figuring stuff out on our own. Our failures often don't do much better because there is always a reason or excuse for why we can't really be responsible for the outcome and how if we had only known X, then we would have made a better choice.

But the fact is...if we are honest...its pretty easy to see that only God can see beyond our choices...only God can see the ramifications of every step and every choice we make. And if we truly care about the consequences of our actions...and if we truly want His best for our lives...then we need to embrace our limitations...embrace our dependence. After all, we are dependent on Him...for every breath we take in fact. And after all, He loves us. The Creator of the universe, the Master of time and space, the Alpha and Omega of Love...loves us. Why not seek Him first whenever we have a choice to make? Seems like an easy decision to me.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes ; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7
Now if God will just tell me who to start on my Fantasy Football team this week... :-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Easy Answers

We all want easy answers. The lazy, pain-avoiding selfish side of us all wants solutions that require minimal work from us and that ultimately cost us very little. And certainly elections feed into this desire. The bigger the election, the bigger the hope that the answers to our problems are only a vote away. If only [INSERT CANDIDATE] is elected, then [INSERT ISSUE, i.e. The Economy, Unemployment, Healthcare, etc.] will be fixed. Making it worse is the fact that while we agree with the popular notion of "The Good" for all, if we are really honest, underneath this hope for an answer to the "big" issues, is really a desire for some personal benefit (i.e. I can finally retire, or I can finally find a job, or now I don't have to worry about getting sick, etc.).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting it's a sin to want/need a job, or to want the economy to be stable, or to want healthcare for myself and/or others. These are all good things and just part of surviving. The problem comes in our wanting all this to be "easy."

When we are faced with difficult situations...hard choices...we recoil from the possibility of pain. We don't want to endure any kind of pain...even briefly...whether that be the pain of unhappiness or depression, the pain of sacrifice due to financial struggles, the literal pain of enduring an illness, or even the more altruistic pain of knowing there is a world of suffering that we feel we can't do anything about. And so to avoid the pain, we cling to easy answers..or at least the appearance of easy answers. If we can just get the right leader, or the right job, or the right spouse, or the right economic environment, or the right law, etc. then everything will be better. Despite the seemingly obvious naivete of this belief, it makes us feel better. We console ourselves with the notion that by supporting this candidate or this cause or this 'solution', we are DOING something about the problem. But the reality is...we are wanting someone else to do the work that solving this problem would really take.

We see this play out time and time again. A pain (meaning an issue) rises and consumes our collective attention. Journalists begin talking about it, politicians begin debating it. Grand solutions are drawn up and then these are debated. Despair grows as this looming issue persists in our collective mind. And in the end we get a new program or a new law and the process starts all over again. But often, the situation continues. People are still hungry, crime still exists, prices still rise, jobs are still hard to get, and people are still in pain.

The challenge is that we are complacent and comfortable...even in our discomfort. For solutions to happen, change has to happen. And while we are accustomed to talking about change in the big picture, we are all fairly deft at avoiding change in our own little world. Change hurts. It requires a breaking of our will...forcing it from one position to another. And since that is so very hard for us to do, most of the time we don't do it.

But for all that elections do to foster this false hope in an easy answer, they also provide us with a wealth of reminders and a great opportunity to recognize the truth. The solution to all of our problems (hunger, illness, crime, loneliness, depression, and even death) begins with each of us. We need to stop trying to escape the pain of change...the pain of difficulty...the pain of resisting our selfishness. If we see or know of someone who is hungry, WE need to feed them. If we know of someone who is sick, WE need to secure care for them (if not do it ourselves). If we know of someone who is lonely, WE need to visit them. Of course this is inconvenient, and yes this can be awkward, and yes this can cost us (both time and money), but that's the real answer. As Gandhi put it so succinctly, "be the change you want to see in the world." If each of us were willing to do this, the world would change....problems would be solved.

But sadly that won't happen. I'm not really this much of a pollyanna. I know that not all of us are willing to try to do this...and fewer still will persevere long enough to actually do it. [I have enough failures in my own life to doubt whether I can actually do it...even as I write this.] But changing the world isn't really the reason to do this anyway. The reason I should change...the reason I should act...and the reason I should feed and care and visit (and the reason you should too) is not because I can change the whole world, but because I can change the world of at least two people: myself...and the person I help. And what greater purpose can a life have than to improve the life of someone else...that is to love someone else. This is what it means to really love. This is what loving your neighbor really looks like. This is what God desires of all of us.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat ; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink ; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink ? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-40
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:15-18)