This week, Major League Baseball suspended New York Yankees superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season for allegedly using performance enhancing drugs which are considered banned substances in professional baseball. Four other players were suspended for 50 games each, two of whom were All-Star caliber players on teams in contention for the playoffs.
Setting aside the millions of dollars lost in this situation, and the possible innocence of Rodriguez (who will have his day in court), thoughts came rushing into my head about what happens when our value becomes contingent on our performance.
I know a great many people who base their existence - their spiritual lives - on the foundation of their performance in a variety of moral or religious activities. Phrases like:
"I spent some time in prayer today, that's why God is blessing me."
"I didn't read Scripture today, no wonder God is putting me through this."
These are not in and of themselves evil statements - the way we begin our day can have an effect on our interaction with God, though the second statement is well off base regarding who God is and how He interacts with us. They're not sin, they're just not true.
There is a deeper issue here, though, if we care to use Alex Rodriguez as an example and take things one step further:
We are all afraid that our performance will be shown to be lacking, and therefore we lose our identity and even worse we may lose the only concept of God we've ever known - God as talent evaluator instead of God as jealous lover.
Much of our lives are based on the premise that whatever we do determines who we are. We believe we are our activity. This is not untrue, but it's simply incomplete. When you live there for too long, you begin to be swayed and moved by the rhythms of broken systems and broken pressures and ultimately end up living with a spirituality of unmet expectations.
We die because we realize we weren't the source of life and meaning after all.
The emphasis of our culture is on youth, performance, perfection and poise. Professional sports are highly competitive, so much so that it's worth emptying yourself of integrity to at least stay in step with other younger and more talented players. I can't imagine the pressure, but I also can't imagine destructive impact of that much money and that high of a profile. That's a separate issue, though.
Work environments are often geared toward those who have it all together, exceed and excel above and beyond anyone else - regardless of what the time commitment may do to your family and your soul.
Relationships fall apart because we are maintaining appearances - either the appearance of happiness or our literal physical appearance - instead of tending to reality.
Let me offer this one statement and I intend it to serve as a starting point:
We must embrace our flaws and failings in order to reveal the deep richness of Christian spirituality in which God is glorious and sufficient.
Into this discussion Jesus says:
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
What could this mean in the Rodriguez situation? What kind of spirituality are we living when we depend on spiritual PEDs, keeping up appearances, finding identity & worth in temporary things? Are we exalting ourselves in some way as eternal, unstoppable, and unflappable when the prophetic word has already been uttered? That path is exhausting and destructive.