I am a very competitive person when it comes to games. Everyone in my family is (except my mum who will let the other team win if she thinks it will mean more to them – no one wants to be on the same team as my mum), and when my three sisters and I were younger this led to a lot of arguments.
However, as I have gotten older I have tried to let go of some of my competitiveness. I’ve even started playing co-operative games (where everyone is working together, and no one in particular wins).
So, in light of this, a few weeks ago I introduced a new co-operative game to our Youth Group. I had only just finished explaining the rules of the game when one of our girls looked up with a frown and asked, “But how do we know who wins?”
“No one wins,” I replied. “It’s just about having fun.”
That didn’t go down so well (we have some very competitive people in our youth group), and in the end we changed the rules of the game so that we could have fun and know who the winner was.
Incidentally, I think I lost every single game.
Competitiveness can be defined as ‘having or displaying a strong desire to be more successful than others,’ which is fine when all I’m desiring is to be more successful at the game ‘Ticket to Ride’ than my sister, but I’ve found that it gets a lot more problematic when I get competitive about my actual life.
See, I find that when I start desiring to be ‘more successful than others’ in my work, study, sport, life, or appearance, I start caring about what others are thinking and saying. Because everyone knows that in order to really know who has won, you need a judge or a referee; and so, I start promoting the people around me to be the judges and referees of my life.
This means that when they tell me that I’ve done well, I’m really excited because I’m winning! But when they complain about me, it cuts me deep because that means that I’m losing. I’m failing at my desire to be more successful than others.
Do you know how stressful it is when I’m constantly trying to win, constantly trying to impress people, constantly trying to be more successful than others around me? Especially since, after I end up promoting everyone I know to the positions of judge and referee, I realise how completely impossible it is to please everyone.
I start working too hard and for too long. I start spending money that I shouldn’t because maybe if I have that new pair of boots I’ll be more successful. I start insulting myself and telling myself that I’m not good enough. I start pretending to better, smarter, stronger than I really am so that other people will give me their approval.
And then bad things happen.
The thing is, though, just like my youth group changed the rules of the game to allow for a winner, I’ve allowed my competitiveness to turn the ‘Game of Life’ into something that God never intended it to be.
Romans 2:29 says that “a person with a changed heart (in other words, a Christian) seeks praise from God, not from people.”
God doesn’t want me to be constantly looking for other people’s approval.
He doesn’t want me to turn the life that he’s given me into a competition to see who will be the most successful.
And he definitely doesn’t want me to beat myself up when the referees and judges I’ve appointed tell me that I’m not good enough.
God wants me to look to him for approval. He wants me to care more about what he thinks of me than what others think of me. He wants me to actually have fun playing ‘The Game of Life’.
And I’m learning that, when I let go of my competitiveness, when I ask God for help in removing my desire to be more successful than others, when I look to God for approval instead of the people around me, I’m a lot happier.
It turns out that fun doesn’t come from winning. Fun comes from enjoying the game, and knowing that my Heavenly Father thinks that I am exactly the kind of successful that he has asked me to be right now.
I once met a lady who told me she wanted to swim to Tahiti, explaining that life was too hard so she was going to get in the warm water, get caught in the current and swim to Tahiti. If she made it, she would be in paradise, and if the sharks got to her first then the pain would be over...
This is quite often like the journey of mental health.
Many of us are unknowingly trying to swim to Tahiti. We have the mind set that 'over there' (where ever that is) is going to be so much better. This is potentially true, keeping in mind that no destination (except heaven) is perfect. It's more importantly about the journey we take in getting there.
Many of us try to run, going for the quick easy option. The option that offers us comfort RIGHT NOW! Which lasts only short term. Sometimes it feels as though turning your back on what's going on means that it's no longer there. Sorry to break it to you, but just because your eyes are no longer on the issue and your focussed on swimming, doesn't mean it's not there. Your brain is going to go with you, where ever you go. As you may know, most mental health issues are connected to physical changes in the brain - scientifically proven. If you decide to swim, it will eventually come back to bite you and usually with a vengeance. There is a chance that the sharks can get you, they can cause more damage, or even worse, take you out. No matter how unwell you are - and even if the sharks are attacking - LIFE IS WORTH IT, SO FIGHT BACK. You are here for a purpose, and eventually, even though what you're going through might be crap, God is going to use it for good. God is our lighthouse while we are frantically fighting for our lives in the storm. He is the light we can hold onto in the darkness - the darker it is, the brighter his light shines.
But there is another option that is more rewarding in the long run. To work on it - earn your plane ticket and then fly. This option is so hard initially! But facing the giants is the most courageous thing you can do, and there is no denying that it is scary. When you're standing in a valley looking up, it's so easy to see how high the mountain is. How steep it is. But look higher - God is there, watching you, guiding you. You're not alone. Look beside you, there are your friends and family - wanting to help you, supporting you in whatever way they know how. They have your back, helping you, encouraging you and ready to climb the mountain with you if you'll let them.
There is no manual with step by step instructions on how to address mental health. It would be nice if there was. Here are some tips though:
1. DONT BATTLE ALONE: Tell someone you trust. Let someone know what's going on for you
2. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF: Do this holistically - exercise, eat well, drink water, get enough sleep, process and reflect - all that stuff we know about but generally just don't do.
3. DO THINGS YOUR PASSIONATE ABOUT: Find something that really lights you up and use it for good.
4. HELP OTHERS: We were made to love others, and when we do, it lifts our spirits
5. SEEK HELP: This is probably one of the hardest things to do. Go to your doctor and tell them. If they brush you off, find another doctor. Medications are available, but they can also offer other options such as referrals to councillors and help with funding.
6. WHOLEHEARTEDLY RUN TO GOD: He is our father, he genuinely loves us. Spend time with him every day. Read your Bible, pray, talk to him, listen, focus on him, run towards him. He is GOOD. He won't let us fall! And if we hit rock bottom, that's ok too, because he is the rock. Wherever we go, we can't hide. There are many people in the Bible who also suffered from mental health issues, especially Elijah and David.
There are so many different ways of dealing with mental health issues, but we are all unique, so find what works for you. Life is worth it. You are worth it. You are loved.
Go and earn your plane ticket and make it to Tahiti if that's still where you want to be.