Winning. It isn't everything.

I was the third grader who cried when she lost - early! - in the school spelling bee.

I'd won my class spelling bee easily (a big nerd then, a big nerd now), to advance to the all-school round. It took place on the stage in the gymnasium, as a special assembly, which meant that the whole school came to watch it.

I'd studied and studied, reviewing words over the dinner table, crossing off the easy ones from the list and fretting over the hard ones.

It was the first or second round, and they gave me the word, "pursue." A word that, in my mom's estimation, was simple enough that we hadn't worked on it.


BZZZZZ. Wrong.

Ok, so there wasn't actually a buzzer. But it felt that way. My face got red with embarrassment and frustration, and I walked off the stage. In the little stairwell that led back to the gym, I stopped and I cried. I wanted to win. I believed that I was going to win. I hated losing.

Jesus says, "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

For someone who loves winning and hates losing, these gospel words are a big bucket of ouch. It's like Jesus knows my competitive side and wants to poke at it the same way that you poke a bruise: just to see if it still hurts.

It hurts to lose. Even more than that, it hurts to let go of the need to be right all the time. Because, more often than not, the most heated battles that we get into are not heated because the thing at stake is so crucial. They get heated because we want to be right.

We want to win. And winning for the sake of winning becomes the thing instead of the thing itself, because pride is at stake, and honor, and not one of us likes being embarrassed or shamed, and we really really prefer to be in control.

It happens all too often in the church.

Budgets. Worship style. Leadership style. Mission projects. Building use. Coffee hour volunteering. Appropriate clothing or footwear for worship. Use of social media (or not). How we arrange furniture in the sanctuary. Committee structure.

Often the smallest things - or at least things farthest from the core mission of the gospel - become huge battles. Because we want to win. We want to be right. We want to feel valued and validated. We want our voices to be heard and taken seriously. Sometimes it is about control. Sometimes it is about a deep love for a particular point of view, experience, or idea. Sometimes it is about ownership. Sometimes it is about pushing other people's buttons...or letting your own buttons get pushed.

It doesn't take much for winning to become the goal. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.

This is where the gospel knocks us down a few pegs.

With every decision made for the sake of building up the body of Christ in the world, we have only a few hard and fast guidelines:

Does this serve and love God? - This is a question of faithfulness.

Does this serve and love neighbor? - This is a question of compassion.

Does this require "losing" our lives - that is, becoming humble and giving away more than we expect to get in return? - This is a question of generosity.

In the kingdom of God, winning looks an awful lot like losing. And vice versa. Because it is in losing, in humility, in giving ourselves up, in letting go of the need to be right - and instead, seeking to be faithful, compassionate, and generous - we leave space for God to work with creativity among us. We give up enough control to leave space for the Spirit to move. We relax just enough to realize that budget line items and hymn choices and furniture rearranging will not make or break the kingdom of God. And it's freeing.

Those who want to save their life will lose it.
Those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will save it.

Winning. It isn't everything.
And it looks a lot like losing.
And it feels a lot like letting go.

And once you are willing to lose, you find that you have actually lost nothing, but gained everything.