After my wife and I had been married for a few years, we went on a little retreat. I can't really remember where we went, but it was some kind of Christian camp and it was off-season. That means we were about the only ones there. We took a walk and noticed a tether ball just hanging there begging for a game.
Now I'm a reasonably good-hearted guy and I wanted to make sure I didn't do anything to spoil the great time we were having. Therefore, I decided to "take it easy" on her. She immediate took advantage of the situation and demolished me! Certain that I had made it too simple for her to win, I amped it up a bit. She stomped me again! After several games and total humiliation of my male ego, we (blessedly) quit.
It turns out that my wife is quite a competitor and she LOVES games. We play some sort of table game at mealtime almost every day and sometimes we play at both lunch and supper. It only takes 10 or 15 minutes and it's an important part of our marriage. Our current game is a fast-paced double solitaire we call Pounce. Some of you call it Nerts. We both have winning streaks from time to time and she is currently heaping me with daily doses of humility.
Still, I hate to lose! It's as if a volcano erupts within me when I can't seem to get ahead. Why is that? Am I really so fragile that a meaningless table game can spoil my meal? How does that fit in with the Fruit of the Spirit?
My struggle in this part of life is like a microcosm of something which I think is far more important: it's hard to rejoice when my church seems to struggle and another one is doing well! I started learning this many years ago. A young married couple started attending the church I pastored in Phoenix. Our church was growing rapidly at the time and they were an important part of it, leading a class of others their age. After about two years with us, the man approached me and asked my permission to try other churches. I was impressed by his humility and knew that I must say "yes" even though it broke my heart.
They tried a church or two, then he started a small fellowship of his own. What made it especially painful was that most of the people in his new church were ones who used to attend the class he taught in ours. They had gradually filtered away from us and most were still looking for a place to call home and he was able to provide it.
Within a year or so after that, I was asked to be pastor in Yuma. The move to a place three hours away completely changed my perspective! I'm sad to admit this now, by I no longer saw my friend as a competitor. In fact, before long, he was calling me asking for help with things like preschool policies.
Over twenty years have gone by. That church my young friend started with a handful of people is now one of the largest churches in Arizona. Literally hundreds and hundreds of people have come to Christ through their ministry. Once I got past the horrible thoughts of competition, I was able to embrace what had really happened: God was expanding His Kingdom and I got to be a part of it. I now proudly refer to that pastor as a son in ministry. One of the men who came to Christ in that church told me some years ago: "You're my spiritual grandfather!" Definitely not the competition.
I'll leave this one here for now. My wife is at the table shuffling cards!