Quitting the Rat Race

In this mad world where we live, we’re constantly getting beat down under pressure, zooming down the fast lanes of life, trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, straining to keep pace. Maybe, like me, you feel the weight of trying to measure up as a man, husband, father, friend, provider, worker, etc.. So you get up earlier, work harder, work longer, and stay up later trying to stay ahead of the all the demands and expectations of running the Rat Race.

Alex Parks laments this same strain singing,

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
It’s a very, very
Mad World 

Some of us are oblivious to what we’re doing and how we’re living. Some are starting to wonder about it. Others are weary. Still others have “hit the wall.” In the process of pursuing career goals (or maybe worse, ministry goals), it’s easy for us to neglect our wives emotionally, and slowly, we grow apart. Taking a cue from us, our kids today often run in their own mini-rat races by juggling sports, school, band, youth group, etc.. As dads, we can begin to feel left out and unappreciated. Twenty years later it will slowly dawn on us that we gave our best years to careers that promised what they couldn’t deliver. We may be well respected as “the Closer” in the workplace, but feel disrespected in our own home.  As a result, many guys have been knocked off balance. Of those, many guys never make it back on their feet, so they just stay on the couch controlling the remote and grabbing another beer. It’s a very, very sad world.

Others of us, however, ask honest questions: “How can I be successful and yet unfulfilled at the same time? Is this all there is?” The rat race charges an expensive toll. It will take everything we are willing to give.

What is the rat race? It is the conflict between who we are created to be and who we are tempted to be. It is the endless pursuit of an ever-increasing success that results in never-ending frustration rather than fulfillment. Tired and and restless, the rat race delivers a pervasive lack of contentment. Feeling the constant criticism of others, most of us feel the heat of the spotlight or the pressure to perform for our next review. We walk until we run and then run until we’re out of gas and have to walk again without ever seeing the finish line. The high price of this fast pace is peace. We have created and we live in a culture that requires more energy than we have to give.

How do we get caught up in the rat race? In Galatians 5:7 Paul asks the question this way: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” He teaches the answer two verses later: “A little yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9). Although the context of Galatians is about living in legalism rather than by grace, the application to the rat race is clear: Craving the approval of others, we become slaves to working and living for things that have no lasting value. Like George Jetson, we get trapped on the treadmill with Astro but realize we’re going nowhere. Ruh-roh!

Hane Wagner said it well, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” It’s time we quit the rat race.

There is another race. The race that matters in this mad world is a life of faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Perseverance in life comes from fixing our eyes on our Invisible Friend, Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (see Hebrews 12:1-3). When we look to Him and His grace as sons rather than relying on the performance of ourselves or trying to meet the expectations of others, we find the rest that’s elusive in the rat race. God’s grace – unmerited without any basis on performance – is where we find peace. It’s time to get off the treadmill (and stay off) to join the walk of life we were created for (Eph. 2:10).

Twenty years from now, I want my wife and kids say that I gave my best years to relationships with them. Thirty years from now, no one will remember what I did or even one single sermon I preached during my life, but I pray that my kids, grandkids and friends will remember how I lived and for Whom I lived it. Forty years from now, I want the One who called me to fellowship with His Son to say I finished the race and kept my eyes on Him as I longed for Him (2 Tim. 4:7). That’s a race worth running in this very, very mad world! 

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