They’re not like us.  The rich, the talented, the beautiful.  They’re sheltered, strong, immune to the doubt and despair that assails the weak. 

 4 They have no struggles;
   their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
   they are not plagued by human ills. (Psalm 73)

Well, amen to that. I’ve been thinking it for years.

And close on its heels bark the ‘What If’s’. Not to mention the ‘If Only’s’. What if I could be like X?  If only I had this..or this…or this.  Then I’d be sorted.  Then I’d be whole.   Then I’d never say anything like this..

‘Without ..pushing myself as far as I can go, without working on my path towards being the best, who am I? My entire values system has been created around being the best…and doing whatever is required to get there..but where does that leave me?  Under the scrutiny of my own harsh judgement, I don’t fare too well.

This starts as a thought, a single negative notion of myself and my life.  Yet the more I try to figure it out, the further away I am from an answer.  The knock-on effects follow.  I start sleeping terribly, three or four hours a night.

This becomes everyday life…the things I normally wait all year to do don’t feel the same. A DVD may be playing but I’m not really watching it.  I’m just looking at the TV screen, with no idea of what’s actually happening, because my mind is turning over a hundred thoughts a minute about something else. 

A sense of helplessness dominates my days.  Everything feels pointless, and my natural reaction is to treat the problem as I do my kicking – right, work it out and stay here working it out until you have done so.  But by focusing so intensely, I only make it worse.

My obsessive side has truly kicked in. I simply won’t let go till I find an answer, but I can’t find an answer that’s satisfactory to me because the real answer is to move on, and to do that I need an off switch and I don’t have one.  I want to go with the flow, chill, relax, let it go, whatever it is that people say I should do, but I just can’t live like that…

I let out a scream of total desperation. ..No words, just pure desperation.  I carry on screaming as long and as loud as I can and I don’t stop until I am hoarse. I cannot find any other way of dealing with this non-stop barrage of thoughts and negativity.

I am the problem and I have to come to terms with the fact that I need to change.  Right now, though, I am not prepared for it, ready for it or even close to it’.

The outpourings of a weak woman or a muddled teenager? A wastrel, mired in self-hatred and contempt? Someone unable and unwilling to contribute anything to the world, or to those around her?

Or the words of an international superstar, a model of sporting achievement and the paradigm of masculinity?

 A man acknowledged as one of the world’s best rugby players, who scored the winning drop goal in the 2003 World Cup final. Whose dream, since youth, was always and only to play for England. 

A man who suffered a series of injuries. Injuries serious enough to make him face retiring from the sport he had built his life upon. Whose life, once so promising,  started to fall apart.

An excerpt from the autobiography of Jonny Wilkinson, published in today’s Times. A brave and honest account of the struggles that face us all.

The obsession that links to excellence.

Long-term illness/sickness/weakness.

Falling short of your own expectations. Then despairing.

Trying and failing to find ‘the answer’.

Trying and failing to ‘fix it’ yourself.

Oscillating between all systems go and total exhaustion.

The counterfeit solutions – both small (hobbies) and large, (success, celebrity, outstanding achievements).

Recognising that I am the problem.  But I don’t have the solution – either the will or the way.

Discovering something bigger than the dreams I’ve been chasing. Something that, in Wilkinson’s own words, ‘is bigger, way bigger than winning the World Cup or trying to be the best player in the world’.  Finding, in the midst of brokenness, ‘what it is I’m made for’.

Wilkinson seems like an incredible man – humble, gifted, intelligent, attractive. On the pages of the papers, he looks like someone who has – or has had it all.  He has achieved everything that our culture says is necessary for peace and fulfilment. Yet how far this has been from his own experience. And how close it is to our own.

It turns out that the rich aren’t so different to you and me.   We can have all the trapping of success but know ourselves to be failures.  We can be the best of the best – and still fall short of the mark. What follows achievement is not the euphoria we crave.  It’s actually despair. But in the wreckage of our idols, we are not left alone. We can find what we’re really made for. We can cry out to Him.

2 thoughts on “Sandcastles

  1. Very interesting, and particularly timely for me. It’s always a little odd to hear about a “successful” person’s struggles in the mind. I wouldn’t say I struggle with perfectionism though, rather it’s more a kind of ‘good-enough-ism’. And it is terrible to view yourself through the values you didn’t even realise you had, and hate what you see. The struggle for me is to recognise those values as essentially idols, and my attachment to them as idolatry. Not that wanting to be good enough in what I do is a bad thing, but when the accusations come (from wherever accusations come from) it’s important to remember where my trust actually is.

  2. Hi David. Like you say, it’s difficult to identify idols when they’re not as extreme as say, perfectionism. ‘Good-enoughism’ is an interesting example, because in itself it seems so innocuous. I guess the desire in itself may be good, but when we want it to the exclusion of everything else, it enslaves us instead of setting us free.

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