I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I was playing racquetball against a master level player. He was picking my shots apart and barely sweating, while I was running all over the court and breathing hard. I was so angry that I was losing that I actually hit him with the ball on purpose! He called time and I slammed my racquet against the floor, breaking the frame. “Dean, what is wrong?” He gently asked me. “I can’t beat you” I said between breaths. “I can’t f-ing beat you!” I spat out, forgetting that I was the state director for the fellowship of Christian athletes at the time. He said, “No, you probably can’t Dean. Is it that important for you to beat me? What will that prove?” Then he got to the next level with me. “Better question for you, what do you think you have to prove?” I spat out “I need to prove I can beat you in this game!” “Why?” he asked. “I don’t know.” I responded, slumping back against the wall, and taking a deep calming breath. Then he spoke a message to me that I have cherished and shared for the past 40 years. He said that if you have something to prove, then you have something to lose. If you have something to lose you have something to fear, if you have something to fear, you will become threatened and angry when you start losing the thing you feel you have to prove. Wow, that was what I needed to hear.
We all struggle with the need to matter, to make it, to be something we believe will bring us recognition, respect, and reward. When we set our hearts on it, and demand that it happens, the something to prove equation begins. There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, but when our emotions are tied up in the moment and we feel the need to prove something, we get set up for stress and angst and all kinds of explosive emotions, or the kind of emotions that simmer and get stuffed down only to pop up somewhere else.
I had the need to prove I was a great racquetball player. I actually was pretty good, but not good enough to ever beat a master level player. My need to prove I was great collided with a reality that I wasn’t good enough to beat this guy. That created the over-the-top response I see in so many people today-
The father whose son embarrasses him at the mall with bad behavior.
The coworker who outshines you at work and gets the promotion.
The guy at the gym who lifts more and makes it look easy.
The friend who always looks better in the outfit you want to wear.
In each case, it should not be a big deal, but it is. Success comes and goes for everybody, and there will always be somebody faster, stronger, richer, prettier, younger or smarter. I learned that day that if I have nothing to prove, I have nothing to lose. If I have nothing to lose, I have no fear of losing it. That revelation has become a lifelong pursuit to wake up every morning with nothing to prove. I know that I am loved and indwelt by the God of the universe. I am eternally bound to God in a relationship where I am at peace, and I am filled with purpose and joy. When I have nothing to prove, I have nothing to lose. Knowing I have nothing to lose makes me take more chances, try things that I may fail at, or even things that may make me look bad.
I learned that when I miss a shot, instead of getting mad and communicating to my competitor that he has me, I merely stop, take a few practice swings to correct my mistake, and wait for the next chance to execute. No angst, no fear, just focus and commitment to improve the next time I get the chance. Can you see that, the small but profound change in attitude? Having nothing to prove allows me to respond to my misbehaving son, not explode at him in anger because he’s making me look bad as a father. Having nothing to prove allows me to compliment the coworker who does a good job and gets the credit I wanted to get. Having nothing to prove allows me to set my own personal exercise goals and celebrate my improvements as I compete with just myself for the personal prize of health and confidence.
So, what is it you are holding on to so tight that you’re squeezing the life out of it? What is it you have to prove so much that it consumes you and frustrates you when something threatens to undermine your position? I have a newsflash for you, it will always happen this side of heaven. Give it up, surrender the need to be something God never asked you to be. Repent of looking to impress people, who always move the line to be impressed a little further every time you do manage to impress them. Learn to grow and improve in your life, but not because you want to prove yourself to somebody, but because you want to become the best person God has intended you to be. Ask yourself when you feel the emotions welling up, “What am I trying to prove right now? What is it I’m afraid of losing right now?” In that moment, God will show up and help you understand the freedom that is yours when you give up the need to prove. Release the false belief that you have to prove something to somebody, and rest in the truth that you are loved and accepted right now, right here, by the one who came, died, rose and returned to prove His eternal love for you.