This week a friend sent me a poignant and compelling image that describes what it’s like to live in a climate or with a spirit of fear. But the image is so strong, I think it describes anybody who feels as though they are in a no-win situation.
I feel like a grasshopper on the ocean hanging onto a leaf. I cling to the leaf to keep from drowning. If I eat the leaf to keep from starving, I lose my life preserver, and drown.
I’ll tell you later what he learned in the process. But can you relate?
Some people are there financially. How do you respond when you’re told it’s your patriotic duty to go out and spend money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t like, and keep people employed that you don’t know? Save your money or reduce your debt – keep ruining the economy. Spend your money – drown in the bills.
Some people are there relationally. Do you ever feel like the hallways of your brain are haunted with questions – real or implied – that begin with “Don’t,” “Can’t,” “Why,” or “If?” Questions like:
• “Don’t you care?”
• “Can’t you ever do anything right?”
• “Why do you always hurt me?”
• “If you really cared, you would _______.”
The problem, young grasshopper, is that no matter how you answer, you get the answer wrong.
Some people are floating on the leaf emotionally. They’ll go to their grave feeling guilty about their feelings. Never loved enough, or loved too much (whatever that means). Knew it was wrong to worry, and worried about worrying too much. Knew the destructiveness of anger, but their situation was different.
Some people are there with their addictions or codependent relationships. They’ve built a prison and a poison out of their “life preservers,” but are terrified of life without them.
And so we float, hungry.
Double binds are nothing new, and we all encounter them. But how you respond to them is a reflection of your maturity and health, and will chart your course – sometimes for years to come.
Four Ways to Ensure You’re Going Under
Back to the grasshopper’s dilemma. Floating on your ocean (whatever it is), clinging to your edible life preserver, there are four ways to virtually guarantee you’ll be in the drink or the stink:
1. Mindlessly consume.
Go for it. Start chewing. Spend all your money. Use all your relational credibility. Say yes to your desires, consequences be damned.
2. Fearfully hoard.
Brace for it. The disaster is coming, sooner or later, so you may as well live as though it has already happened. Say yes to your fears; at least you can say you were right when the ship starts sinking.
3. Recklessly gamble.
Act on it. Don’t just stand there, do something. Pull the trigger, from the hip. Say yes to your restlessness; better to die moving than to survive sitting still.
4. Desperately please.
Love on it. Find another grasshopper and do whatever it takes to make him or her happy. Eat if he/she says eat; cling if he/she says cling. Say yes to your neediness. You may die, but God forbid you die alone.
So What’s a Grasshopper to Do?
If you find yourself facing a grasshopper’s dilemma, here are some things you may want to consider:
1. Reframe your questions.
Grasshopper dilemmas ask black-and-white, either-or questions. Try a little nuance instead. Ask questions like, “How much of the leaf should I allocate for food today, and how much should go to being my life preserver?” In Moneyland, we call this budgeting. And what many people miss is that the greatest thing a budget will buy is time. In whatever the subject, fatalistic questions are, well, fatal!
2. Challenge your assumptions.
Who the heck said you were a grasshopper? My friend’s first words were, “I feel like…” Fair enough. But as he later was reminded, God has not given us a spirit of fear. And he was not doomed to live a grasshopper existence just because his feelings told him to.
Moreover, grasshopper dilemmas are often built on scarcity thinking. After all, as you know, it’s a well-established fact that there’s only one leaf in the whole dad-gummed universe for each grasshopper! (And if some corporate grasshopper gets a bonus, then look out – there’ll be hell to pay.) Here’s a thought: maybe your assumptions are backwards. Maybe in truth you’re a grasshopper in a sea of leaves, watered by the morning dew. Remember, the difference between a poor man and a rich one isn’t in the size of their bank accounts, but in the quantity of choices available to them. “I have no choices” is a declaration of poverty.
3. Reconnect with your passion.
Nothing like a good crisis or dilemma to help you clarify your values and bring you back to your first love(s). And those who order their entire lives around one clarifying principle or relationship will always have more clarity and direction than those who are double-minded.
4. Make plans, not excuses.
Using your best connections to truth, faith and love, decide something. And decide what to decide if the first decision doesn’t produce the results you are expecting. The difference between a plan and reckless gambling is that a plan is based on a connection between your goals and the actions you need to take to reach them. The idea here is not to be busy, but to be about your business.
5. Protect your most valuable assets.
Herein lies the dilemma for grasshoppers – what’s the most valuable asset? In the analogy, the proper answer was neither the insect’s safety nor his appetite. The most valuable asset was time, and the clock was certainly ticking. For those of us with only two legs, the most important asset is always relationships – first with God, then when others. Whatever you do in your dilemma situations, nothing matters more than your Creator and your neighbor. Nothing.
6. Sharpen your axe.
What do grasshoppers do with all that time on the water? Well, if you can’t drain the ocean or reproduce leaves, maybe you can stretch your wings. Maybe you can recalibrate your antennae, to hear more effectively. Maybe you can strengthen your jumping capabilities. While you can’t always control the circumstances or even the outcomes, you can control how you respond to them in ways that increase your strength or wisdom.
7. Give God time.
Just because you don’t see a way out of the dilemma right now doesn’t mean there is no way out. Just because you see yourself as alone doesn’t mean you are. Just because you see your resources as limited doesn’t mean you’re completely broke. Sometimes the only thing missing is time! And today’s no-win situation, placed in the hands of a God who is infinitely wiser and more purposeful than you, may look breathtakingly different next week, or next year.
“Lord,” my friend said in tears, “I need help.”
He said he felt something surge through him that was beyond an emotional high from the music he was listening to:
“Yes, I’ll help. Either way, you are on a rock, not floating in the ocean clinging to a leaf.”
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