For the last few weeks I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 6, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to do things because of the chemical rush it gives us.
The Chemical Rush
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has made our bodies so that we can survive and thrive in this world. But humans have a knack for turning things meant for good into something harmful. Just a few examples of turning the good into bad: sex, fire, gunpowder, nuclear energy, and fast food. We have been given a wonderful brain with all sorts of chemicals that help us thrive in our environment. When there is danger or something larger than ourselves that must be accomplished, our brains give us a nice shot of adrenaline to give us a boost in this important situation. It is like Popeye on spinach, but to a lesser degree. We feel strong and confident and say, “Bring it on Brutus!” We enjoy feeling strong. We like when our hearts race. We enjoy it so much that we seek out situations that will produce this rush. Teenagers play chicken with Mack trucks. Day traders play the stock market. Senior citizens play bingo. In all these situations there is uncertainty or danger in losing something valuable. Like a well-oiled machine, the body senses this uncertainty and gives us adrenaline. We feel alive. People can seek the adrenaline rush in ways that are looked down on: gambling, racing trains, etc. or in ways that are actually encouraged by our society. Doing job-oriented tasks, playing sports, and building stuff are all endorsed by our culture. The Bible agrees that it is good to perform on the job, exercise, and make things. The danger is when we do these things for the sake of getting a rush. If we work for the rush then we are no different in principle than a compulsive gambler or a daredevil. When “doing” becomes compulsive in this way it leads to burnout and strained relationships with those close to us (God included).
I know what you’re thinking, “C’mon, what real harm can come from getting a charge out of doing stuff that is good?” Well, I hope I have emphasized the fact that compulsively doing stuff can distract us from hearing God’s voice. That distraction itself is a great tragedy. But we are fooling ourselves, perhaps justifying our actions, if we think that being addicted to the performance rush doesn’t hurt our other relationships.
I have recently realized that one of the reasons I like to play team sports is for the rush. I live in a rural area and many men play in softball and basketball leagues. Some of these men literally spend 4 or 5 nights a week playing sports. They arrange their lives around the game. Some of their wives (girlfriends actually, marriage isn’t considered necessary in these circles) see their husbands less than the teammates. Most of the men have kids too. But the pull of getting a rush causes them to rationalize playing so much so they keep playing. Other men, in more white-collar circles, rationalize their long nights at the office for the same reason. They claim they are trying to provide for the family or keeping the boss happy, but they really stay for the rush of achievement. I once looked down on these compulsive doers, thinking, “Where are their priorities?” Now I realize I am one of those doers. I assumed I liked to play sports for the exercise and for the chance to meet unbelievers. The real reason was that I wanted the rush. How else can I explain the anticipation that I felt the day of a game or how much I thought about playing? If I honestly looked at my thought life I had to admit that sometimes my thoughts about playing equaled my thoughts about God or family. In my head, I knew how ridiculous this was. But my heart was pulled toward the rush whether I admitted it or not. I have learned that whenever tasks occupy my mind more than relationships, a red flag should go up.
God revealed my need for the chemical rush through a particularly bad softball season. I am usually a center fielder and for the few years prior to this season I was one of the best fielders in the league I played in. I was trying out a new league so no one knew how I played. For some reason, maybe it was my new glove or a spiritual thing, I was horrible in the field the first few games. Because I was so bad the coach didn’t want to play me. He would put me in only for a couple of innings because he was afraid I would mess up. After a few games my play improved but my playing time didn’t. The roster was pretty much set based on the first few games. I would fume on the days after a game, thinking about how I could improve: wondering if I would get back to my old level, if I would get more playing time. After a while, I stopped making errors and the other players caught up to the amount I had at the beginning. But I suspected the coach didn’t like me because I received so little playing time. I found myself not liking the coach very much. Why? Why did I care so much if I played or didn’t play this silly game? Why did I start harboring ill feelings against the coach? Because he kept me from my rush. It was that simple. I knew it was just a silly game and that I should be a servant, but my guts wanted the rush. My relationship with the coach, a man who needed Jesus, was hurt because he was keeping me from my fix. I call this the “fiending begets fiend” phenomenon. When an addict really wants his fix, he/she is said to be “fiending.” If someone gets in the way of the addict getting his fix, that person is seen as evil, or as a “fiend” to that addict. The interference could be accidental or innocent but in the addicts mind this person is a fiend of the worst sort.
I wonder how many people have a strained relationship with a co-worker, friend or relative because that person is getting in the way of a fix. When we yell at our kids because we are trying to get something done, I wonder if it is because they are misbehaving or because they are getting in the way of our rush. When we are about to complete a task we get myopic. All we can see is the end and we anticipate that satisfied feeling of completion – then the kids interrupt. Jesus didn’t have this problem. He always seized the opportunity to build relationships, even if it meant putting off tasks. In Matthew, chapter 19, we read that Jesus was very busy. He had just arrived in Judea and large crowds came out to hear him teach and to be healed. In addition to all the people wanting his attention, the religious leaders came out to try to catch him in some sort of misstatement. In the middle of it all, some people brought their children to be blessed by Jesus. The scripture says, “The disciples rebuked them.” The disciples may have thought, “Are you crazy. Don’t you see how much we have to complete? The master has more important things to do.”
Isn’t that how we treat our children and our relationships in general? We see all that we have to finish and the thought of connecting with someone to bless them seems like a waste of precious time and a waste of a good fix. The disciples may have been thinking, “We just outflanked some of our critics who were trying to discredit us. We are about to meet the deadline and finish this pile of work (the crowd). We are on the verge of feeling that satisfied glow of having conquered a big task and now you bring these kids around to distract us?”
Some of the disciples may have been frustrated with the delay in getting the achievement fix, but Jesus was not. He saw the interruption as an opportunity. He saw an opportunity to connect with malleable young souls and their parents. He sensed the opportunity to teach his disciples the value of being like dependent children just wanting attention from the Father. The children were not fiends in the way of a fix. The only thing that Jesus “fiended” for was to be in connection with His Father and inviting a lost world into relationship with God. That is why in the midst of a mountain of tasks; Jesus would connect with people one on one. Look at the story of Zacheus, the Samaritan woman, the woman with the unclean blood flow, these children, and others. In each of these instances Jesus stepped back from His tasks to connect with someone in a personal relationship. The disciples themselves were often twelve big distractions that needed Jesus’ constant attention. Jesus poured His life into these twelve in real relationship because He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to do the same to others. For Jesus, none of these people were fiends getting in the way of His fix. These people were opportunities to spread God’s offer of relationship to an estranged world. What Jesus offered, He possessed. He was in close relationship with His Heavenly Father and the Father is where Jesus went to get His fix. The only thing that Jesus needed was connection with the Father. He did not have a compulsive desire to do things. Whatever Jesus did was an outflow of His relationship with God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” (John 5:19-20)
Jesus’ connection was so close that Jesus did the things that His Father did. No compulsion. The Father loved Jesus and showed Him what He needed to do. Doing was the outflow of relationships and Jesus’ doing served His relationships.
This connection with God was the only thing that Jesus felt a deep down compulsion to do. The Gospel of Luke provides this example, “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:15-16). With every person in the crowd came another task. This one needed healing, this one needed an exorcism, that one needed to repent. Through it all, Jesus never let the tasks get in the way of his relationship with God. God never had to give Jesus a “time out.” Jesus would take the time he needed to connect with God because hearing the Father’s voice was his top priority. This loving connection with the Father enabled Jesus to lovingly connect with people.
Jesus invited people who were merely interested in religious tasks into relationship. In John 6: 26-34, Jesus was trying to draw the crowd’s attention away from His miracles and towards God. The crowd was interested in the tasks and “tricks” that Jesus performed, especially the miracle of multiplying the loaves. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” The crowd responded, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus managed to get the crowd’s mind off of His miracles but instead of focusing on eternal things, they began wondering what tasks, or work, they should do. Not ready to give up on the crowd Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Jesus was explaining that what God wanted from them wasn’t ritual or task completion – God wanted them to have a faith relationship to His Son.
Today we are in a crowd very similar to the crowd Jesus spoke to. We are so focused on doing things for the rush that we lose sight of the relationship that God is calling us to in Jesus. Our motivations become so driven by the rush that instead of loving our family and neighbors, we see them as a nuisance.
Are we so addicted to the rush of doing things that our relationships take a back seat? If so, God may give us a “time out” and pull back the curtain of our motivations so that our relationships will once again thrive.
Questions to Ponder
*When you aren’t doing anything do you have withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, depression, irritability and trouble sleeping?
*Can you remember any instances in your life when your need to accomplish certain tasks hurt your relationships – or a time when someone became a “fiend in way of your fix”?
*What have you chosen to do recently, and in the past, because it gave you a rush?
*Do you treat others as opportunities or distractions?
*How did Jesus balance accomplishing many tasks while maintaining a strong relationship with God and strong relationships with people?
*What concrete steps can you take to approach this Jesus-type of balance?