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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Consequences of Winning

Winning can be satisfying. It can make us feel good that we accomplished something we set out to achieve. Winning can cheer us up when we’re having a bad day. And it can make what we’re doing more fun. These are a few of the positive consequences that can come from winning, and the ones we most often focus on because we experience their direct impacts.

If we were to step back from the glory of winning for a few moments, would we find that everyone around us shares our excitement? Or would we find that while we’re celebrating our victory, someone else is grieving his loss? This topic has been on my mind for the past few months and I wanted to share some of my thoughts as I wrestle with this difficult life challenge.

The Dark Hole of Winning and Losing

I’ve dug deep into the rabbit hole of life’s experiences to uncover the mysteries of winning. And what I’ve uncovered in my quest is far more disturbing than I imagined. My conclusion is this: When there’s a winner, there’s also a loser.

When the New England Patriots competed against the Los Angeles Rams in the most recent Super Bowl, the Patriots won and the Rams lost. When Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Hillary Clinton and a host of other candidates lost the election. When an entrepreneur opens a new business and gains a loyal customer, another entrepreneur loses a loyal customer. When someone interviews and is offered a job, a host of other applicants are denied the job.

It’s a lot of fun to end up on the winning side. But how do you think the people on the losing side feel? How do you think the opposing hockey team feels when you win 10-0? How do you think the person feels who didn’t get offered the job because it was offered to you? How do you think the business owner feels when he loses a loyal customer because you won over that customer? How do you think your spouse feels when you seek out sexual satisfaction from adult movies rather than with her?

Do you think the losers feel discouraged, let down, or hopeless? Do you think they feel like they don’t have what it takes to be a man or woman? Do you think they feel shame? Of course we all hope that the people around us wouldn’t take a loss so personally. And many times we try to brush it off as if the other person is in the wrong for feeling that way, but we don’t even have to look beyond ourselves to realize how great of an impact winning and losing have on our identity. We seem to be impacted more by the outcome of competition than by anything else in our lives.

Why Is Our Identity Wrapped Up in How We Compete?

I think it’s important to do some self-introspection to ask ourselves why our identity is so wrapped up in how we compete. Although I can’t answer this question for you since you know you far better than I do, I can tell you where it comes from for me which I explained in more detail in my previous article titled “Winning Isn’t Everything.”

For me, winning has always been associated with acceptance. If I win, I feel worthy of being accepted by others. Losing, on the other hand, has always been associated with rejection. If I lose, I feel unworthy of acceptance. And my level of acceptance is what has always seemed to drive my identity, value, and self-worth.

Our Response

Once we can answer this question, it’s time for us to move on to figuring out what we’re going to do about it. Honestly, I’m still wrestling with this one. Maybe you have some ideas that you’d be willing to share in the comments section. But here’s where I’ve landed so far.

I want winning and losing to have less of an impact on my identity. I don’t want them to run my life anymore. When I first came to this conclusion, I decided I needed to do one of two things: (1) break my mental connection between winning and acceptance (and losing and rejection) or (2) break the dependence I have on acceptance for my identity.

As someone who used to have a lot of faith in my own abilities to change myself, I attempted both of these solutions. The summary version of the story is that neither option panned out for me. When I tried the first option, I did nothing more than starved myself of acceptance, which left my need for acceptance unsatisfied. When I tried the second option, I found no purpose to my life. Both of these options proved to be nothing more than black holes.

So I decided to go a different direction: I looked to the God who created the universe to find relief from my struggles. In the midst of seeking him, I learned that the reason my identity was so intricately tied to acceptance was because he designed it that way. As long as I remained sinless, I would be accepted. But there’s one rather large problem with this realization: I was born a sinner. It wasn’t my choice to be born a sinner. It wasn’t even my parent’s choice for me to be born a sinner. It was the choice of two people many many years ago that made it so that I was born a sinner. Right from the start, I was already out of God’s favor and there was nothing I could do to earn it back. No infant baptism or resumé of good works could wash away my inherent sinfulness. My situation was hopeless. How’s that for being dealt a bad hand?

But God, made the conscious decision to do something about it: He sent his Son, Jesus, to earth in the form of a human being to live a sinless life, yet he suffered my death penalty and paid for my sins. To say it another way, he took my place. Now when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sinfulness, but instead sees the righteousness of Jesus. The consequence is that he accepts me and there’s nothing I can do to lose his acceptance, no matter how many times I’m a loser.

I guess in a way you could say that both of the options I was trying to accomplish on my own are being fulfilled in the work God is doing in me. He is breaking my mental connection between winning and acceptance since he accepts me regardless of whether I win or lose. And he is breaking my identity’s dependence on acceptance from others and is replacing it with an identity I find merely by being his child. My hope and prayer is that God would perform this same work in you.

Final Thoughts

Does this mean I let others win all the time? Not at all. I don’t lay down like a door mat and let people walk all over me because I want to spare them from a painful experience. Of course I hate seeing other people experience the identity crises they often face when they lose. But I also see God working in the lives of the people around me and he often uses pain to draw his people to him. If I spend the rest of my life intentionally letting everyone around me win, I’d be trying to play God for them because I’d be manipulating the outcome of the competition in order to produce the results I want to see. That’s called having faith in ourselves rather than in God. Instead, no matter what I’m doing, I’ll give it my best effort and trust in God to produce his desired outcome, something which he has proven time and time again that he is both capable of doing and will do.[1]

Do you agree that whenever there’s a winner, there’s also a loser? What situations can you think of which either support or deny that claim? How will your answer to this question impact the way you live?

[1] For an example of God producing the outcome he desires, see the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Examples similar to this show up throughout the Bible.