Then I had kids. And suddenly life became more complicated because I couldn't keep up with my all or nothing thinking. Some strange quirk in my personality wants things to be perfect and because I can't have it perfect anymore, there are days I just give up and let the house be a mess. If I can't work out every day, I might as well just forget it all together. My mentality can often lead to feast or famine - I give it my gusto for a short time and then sputter out. I see things in black and white, which is not necessarily wrong in issues of morality, but life in general is not all good or all bad.
This kind of thinking sets a person upon the edge of a precipice, precariously waiting for a tumble into a deep pit time and time again. What is it that brings us to this place in betweeen all or nothing? What does Scripture say about it? And how can our minds be transformed to a place of less extremes? According to the book of James, there are three ways we exhibit this all or nothing mentality.
Let's Tackle that 'Tude together!
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
People with "all or nothing" thinking have visions of grandeur sometimes. If she can't be the president of the United States, then why even try to do anything else worthwhile? We all have the desire to do something that will make a difference for future generations, but healthy people don't pursue unrealistic desires to the exclusion of all other pursuits.
The problem here isn't dreaming, because dreams and visions keep us moving forward. The desire becomes a stumbling block when anything short of that dream is considered worthless. If my only goal in life is some dream which is practically unattainable, then I will face discouragement around every corner.
The questions we need to ask ourselves regarding our dreams are these: Am I seeking something that is worldy? What are my motives? Is this a selfish pursuit?
Even my desire for sanctification can be selfish.
Ouch! God wants me to be wrapped up in HIS desires and to be completely focused on His redemptive power to the point that I'm not worrying about my petty weaknesses anymore.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double‑minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Neil Anderson taught me long ago about appropriate goals and how my emotions signal wrong thinking and wrong goals. You see, if I am constantly getting angry at everyone around me, it is probably because they are blocking my goals. Which means that my goals include the cooperation of others and this sets me up for failure.
Let's go back to my presidential example. If I want to be the president (Please NO! - but for the sake of example), I must realize this is not completely dependant upon my own efforts. I cannot force this to happen because millions of people will ultimately make that decision. A better goal would be to run for president and to have a strong campaign, based upon my own personal efforts.
When a clean house is my goal (sounds nice, doesn't it?), it gets blocked regularly. There are just too many other people who live here and they like to mess it up (I mean, play in it!). So, maybe my goal should be slightly different. I'd like to clean the house once a day and train my children to do the same. Do you see how changing my goal sets me up for less frustration?
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
Ultimately, the way to escape all or nothing thinking is to take life one step at a time. When God makes it clear He wants me to obey Him in a particular area, I must take that step of obedience. Visions of grandeur for my future will not help me to do God's work for TODAY. I must seek to commit each step to Him, to live in submissive reverence for His leading and trust Him to the extraordinary through my ordinary obedience.
I am planning on tackling attitudes that cause us to stumble each Monday. I hope you can join me! I would really appreciate your feedback. Have you ever struggled with all or nothing thinking? How have you combatted this attitude?