Do you hate stopping for petrol? If so, it could be because when you pull into the service station you see all the cars you’d previously overtaken going past!
Do you do most things quickly? Walking, talking and eating? People say, ‘You’re such a fast eater!’ (What they really mean is, ‘AM I so boring to talk to that you’ve finished your main course while I’m still on my starter?)
When you are driving, do you swap lanes in traffic jams even though you know full well the eternal law that says the lane you have joined will now move more slowly than the lane you have just left? As you are hurtling down the motorway,. Do you catch yourself doing complicated mathematical sums: ‘Manchester is 90 miles away. If I drive at 90 it’ll take me an hour. If I drive at 180 it would take half an hour. If I drive at 70….No that’s too difficult?’
These characteristics are typical of a personality that psychologists call Type A. The theory about this behaviour type began with two cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenman, noticing that some of the patients with heart condition were unable to sit in their seats in the waiting room for long. They tended to sit on the edge of the seat and leap up frequently, and they wore out the chairs in a particular way. Typically, the back areas of a chair are worn down, bit what was unusual was that these people wore out the front edges and armrests. They were like racehorses ready to burst out of the gate.
Even if we want to take issue with Friedman and Rosenman’s findings, many of us recognise the personality type. Of course, Type A people often achieve a lot, but sometimes the price is very high – not only emotionally but physically. In fact, in several studies this type of behaviour has been shown to be 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 Ecclesiastes was hinting at when he said: ‘I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another’. Those of us caught on this treadmill have no resting place, for we must always move on to the next thing. We can feel guilty when we try to relax; holidays are often not an oasis but something to be endured until we can get back to the security of activity.
And there is an even greater problem with regard to our spiritual lives: we have the ability to run on empty long after the reality of faith in our heart and any real sense of communion with God has gone.
Nobody Sums up both the dilemma and the solution for me as well as Henri Nouwen:
I realised 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 hours, 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. In short, while desiring to be alone, I was frightened of being left alone. The more I became aware of these paradoxes, the more I started to see how much I had 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 in my little world? Is there a still point where my life is anchored and from where I can reach out with hope and courage and confidence?’
May we each grasp the freedom of having nothing to prove.
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62v1-2)