Winners and Losers

We live in a culture, especially in American where everyone loves a winner.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that we hate losers. In fact we may even have sympathy toward them, since we all have been in their shoes at one time and will likely be there again.  Also, being a winner to some does not necessarily mean that there is a corresponding loser, only the one who came in second place, and after all that certainly is a better than an average showing.  That is unless it‘s a two person race.  It’s sort of like horse racing where there is win, place and show and one can make money by wagering on any of the first three places.  But what about the one who finishes in fourth place, they’re certainly a loser, aren’t they?  Then there are the so-called “no win” situations where no matter how you finish, you lose.  Now if that is the case, then the real winner is the one who chose not to compete in the first place.

If you have or have had young children, you know that with most “competitive” sports they participate in, the organizers have elected to not have them compete at all.  This is accomplished, they believe, by not keeping score.  The idea is that the goal or purpose of playing the game is to learn the fundamentals and not for the thrill of victory, an instructional league of sorts.  Their supposition is that the kids will have just as much fun without having been declared the winner. Also, the intent of “no loser” competition is to prevent damaging the self-esteem of those who happen to be on the losing side. Having recently attended one of my grandson’s t-ball games, the only thing that mattered to those kids after the game was the snack and how soon it would be served.  Also, I quietly asked my grandson, out of ear shot of his or any other parents, “Who won the game?”  His reply was, “We did and by a lot!”  You see the problem is that in many situations where competition is central to the game, it’s seen as a “zero-sum” game, which simply means that the victor’s spoils are equal to, or nearly so, to the value of what the loser forfeits.  The reality is that in almost every situation I can think of, competition is not a zero-sum game and to not have a winner and a loser deprives all competitors of learning how to win or lose and more importantly, how to be a winner in either case.

The competition that we read about in chapter one of Esther, is between the King Xerxes and his beautiful Queen Vashti.  What they are competing for is respect, but respect for whom?  Is it a matter of self-respect or perhaps the respect of others?  If respect is a vital demonstration of love in a marriage relationship, had all the love been driven out by competing interests or perhaps, it wasn’t present in the first place.  We’ll never know, but one thing we know for sure is their intent was to humiliate each other and have the result be as a zero-sum game.  One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that instead of the king simply having the queen killed or banished immediately for her disobedience, he chooses to consult his “lawyers” to see what was permissible (v. 13). As angry as he was (v.12) I would have thought that his actions would have been swift and deadly, after all any restraint or mercy he may show her was only a matter of custom, not law (v. 13). His legal “experts” of course told the king what he wanted to hear, but even better gave the king a self-serving reason for dealing with the queen harshly.  They told him that if he didn’t make an example of her, the wives of other nobles might get ideas and that there was a risk that such demonstrations of disrespect and disobedience may spread beyond the palace walls, causing discord and unrest throughout the kingdom.  An uprising of and among women against their husbands for all the years of disrespect and mistreatment they had endured may ensue.  It should come as no surprise that Queen Vashti became an icon of the early feminist movement by such notable 19th century women writers as Stowe and Stanton.

This is perhaps interesting, but what does it have to do with your marriage and your relationship with your husband or wife?  If you are in the middle of a battle or competition with your spouse, are you scheming and planning to make it a zero-sum game, and if so, how far do you think you can pursue it before there’s no turning back? Have you thought about when you have finally won the day, what you’ll be left with?  Do you really believe that you will be the ultimate winner in the end and that your marriage will be somehow better as a result?  If you are in competition with your spouse, whether it be for respect or any other reason, think again before you continue on a path that will only end badly.  But what if you are competing for who can be the most virtuous, as unlikely as that may be?  I submit that in the end you’ll become what Jesus accused the Pharisees of having become, clean only on the outside, like whitewashed tombs, “full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23).”

We know that the bible teaches that when we are married, although we maintain separate identities, we have been united as “one flesh” having been joined together with God for the rest of our lives.  If you, as a couple, are one with God, then how and why would you engage in competition?  You would only be competing with yourself and ultimately any gains and losses would be at best irrelevant and at worst a self-inflicted wound.  The only victories we should be pursuing, the only competitions we should engage in is, “so that our daily life may win the respect of outsiders (1Thessalonians 4:12).”  Living together in this world in peace and love daily is undoubtedly hard work and impossible to do on our own.  This is why the Holy Spirit was sent to be with was and in us to supply whatever courage, perseverance and energy we will surely need.  Paul urges us, “brothers (and sisters, husbands and wives), warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, and be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody (and that means you) pays back wrong for wrong, but always be kind to each other and to everyone else (5:14-15).”  If this sounds nearly impossible to do, you’re right, but “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, Matthew 19:26).  The Holy Spirit provides us the motivation and the means to “be joyful always; to pray continually; and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (v.16).

Tool #346  Stop competing with each other, you’re on the same team!  What’s more you’re not even competing for position, since you are one and inseparable.

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