Do you swap lanes in traffic jams, even though there’s an eternal law that means the lane you’ve joined will always move more slowly than the lane you just left?
When hurtling down the motorway, do you catch yourself doing complicated mathematical sums? So, Manchester is 90 miles away. If I drive at 90mph it’ll take me an hour. If I drive at 180mph it’ll take me half an hour. If I drive at 70mph it’ll take me…err, no, that’s too difficult.
These characteristics are typical of a personality profile that psychologists call ‘Type A’. The idea began with the observations of two cardiologists named Friedman and Rosenman. The duo noticed that some of the patients in their waiting rooms wore out the chairs, but not where you would expect! It was the front edges of the seats that were worn. These people were sitting like racehorses ready to bolt out of the gate.
Type A people often achieve a lot, but success sometimes comes at a high emotional and even physical price. Those who study this type of behaviour believe it is a significant contributor to the development of coronary heart disease.
Some psychologists have suggested that underlying this lifestyle is a need to prove ourselves. Perhaps that’s what the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes was hinting at when he said: ‘I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another’ (4:4).
Those of us caught on this treadmill have no resting place, as we are always moving on to the next thing. We even feel guilty when we try to relax. Often holidays are far from being an oasis; they are to be endured until we can get back to the security of activity.
But with regard to our spiritual lives, there is an even greater problem. We have the ability to run on empty long after the reality of faith has disappeared in our hearts and years after any real sense of communion with God has gone. The driven person may even have a busy life in Christian service but often, even though others are fooled, they know themselves what has happened. They have died inside.
Nobody sums up the dilemma and the solution as well as Henri Nouwen does in The Genesee Diary: ‘When I took a closer look at this I realized that I was caught in a web of strange paradoxes. While complaining about too many demands, I felt uneasy when none were made. While speaking about the burden of letter writing, an empty mailbox made me sad. While fretting about tiring lecture tours, I felt disappointed when there were no invitations. While speaking nostalgically about an empty desk, I feared the day on which that would come true.
‘…The more I became aware of these paradoxes, the more I started to see how much I had indeed fallen in love with my own compulsions and illusions, and how much I needed to step back and wonder, “Is there a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of my little world? Is there a still point where my life is anchored and from which I can reach out with hope and courage and confidence?”’.
By God’s grace, may we each grasp the freedom of having nothing to prove, and find that quiet stream and still point.
Rob Parsons is founder and chairman of Care for the Family Follow Rob @Rob_Parsons_