“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

In America, we are socialized to be competitive and to win. Children learn to compete at an early age in the family with their siblings for their parents love and attention. The oldest child is often rewarded by mom and dad for being the most capable child or the most helpful child. The youngest child learns to take advantage of being the cutest most adorable child. Some children gain recognition by mom and dad for being the smartest, the fastest, the most obedient, or the most talented. Other children learn to gain parental recognition by being a loud mouth, a bully, a trouble maker, or a delinquent. Still other children learn to compete for their parents love and attention by becoming whiny, needy, sickly, or dependent.

In elementary school, children learn that they must compete with their class mates for grades, friends, popularity, and notoriety. In high school, teenagers refine their competitive skills at extra-curricula activities such as sports, drama, yearbook, and by writing for the school newspaper. High school teenagers must also compete for dates, social status, part-time jobs, obtaining a driver’s license, and at entrance exams for getting into college. Brand name clothing, stylish hair cuts, cell phones, and cars become important props for gaining a competitive edge. College students must compete for financial aid, work study positions, and a high grade point average as they develop their intellectual identity and abilities. Only the most determined college students will be able to obtain a BA degree. Fewer college students will obtain a MA degree and very few will obtain a PHD degree. Unless you come from a wealthy family, you must learn how to sacrifice now to gain advantage later.

Adults learn that they must compete for the best jobs, the best spouse, influential friends, and high social standing. Older adults must compete for the best retirement package, medical coverage, and at maintaining good health. Elders must learn to protect themselves and their assets just to survive.

As Christians we are socialized to down play competition in favor of cooperation. We are socialized to believe that it is wrong to be happy and gloat  if our opponent stumbles and falls. We are socialized to believe that it is wrong to try to keep up with the Joneses. As Christians we are socialized to run the heavenly race which can only be won through self-discipline and dependence upon God.

As Christian parents, we must be especially careful not to favor one child more than the others to minimize competition within the family. We must heed the message contained within the story of Jacob and Joseph.  Jacob loved Joseph more than he loved his other children and he made Joseph a coat of many colors. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved Joseph the most, they hated Joseph and plotted to kill him. Ultimately, the brothers did not succeed at killing Joseph and family harmony was restored many years later, but much pain and anguish could have been prevented for Joseph and the entire family if Jacob had been prudent in treating his offspring fairly.

As Christians living in America, we must reconcile the unconscious tensions that result from our conflicting cultural and spiritual values. We must decide if we are competing to run the worldly race to win success and riches or the heavenly race to win eternal life and at what cost.

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