Get Out of Our Own Way

Wilt Chamberlin was a career 50% free throw shooter which, for an NBA player, is considered poor. However, during the 1961-62 season he shot 61% and in one game that year, where he scored 100 points, he made 85% of his free throws. He accomplished this by shooting “granny style” or underhand. Despite his improvement, he didn’t like the way he looked shooting this way and stopped. In his autobiography, Wilt wrote, “I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong. I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. I just couldn’t do it.” So, despite being completely aware of the right behavior, he still made the decision to keep shooting overhanded. He let his vanity hold him back from overcoming his weakness. He couldn’t get out of his own way.

One year coaching High School football we lacked a decent place kicker. I asked the boys soccer coach after making his cuts to tell players who had an interest in being a place kicker to contact me. Well one did, and I ended up with a young man who knew nothing about the game of football but was a natural kicker. His lack of knowledge of football was a blessing in disguise because all he did was kick the ball. In fact, the more he learned about the game, the more he over thought the details. For a while, he made everything more difficult than it needed to be. He was able to get out of his own way, such that his freshman year in college, he was the Conference’s Rookie of the Year and made the All-Conference team, plus set a school record for kicking points in a game.

When it comes to accomplishing big goals, it’s typically not everything else that is the problem—it’s us. We can be our worst enemy. We get in our own way. Our habits, feelings, thoughts and social concerns stop us.

Psychologists have long known that the more we think a negative thought, the more entrenched the thought becomes. Negative and traumatic thoughts also tend to “loop”–they play themselves over and over until we do something consciously to stop them. The more these negative thoughts loop, the stronger the neural pathways become, and the more difficult it becomes to stop them.

The opposite is also true with positive thoughts. I myself have followed the aphorism “fake it till you make it” by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset till eventually those qualities seem to naturally appear. There is a similar phrase “neurons that fire together wire together” first used in 1949 by Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist known for his work in the field of associative learning. Brain cells communicate with one another via synaptic transmission; one brain cell releases a chemical that the next brain cell absorbs. This process is known as “neuronal firing.” When brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens and with enough repetition, they become automatic.

With social concerns, culture undertow can take us where we don’t want to go. Undertow currents don’t pull us under the water or directly drown us, they act more subtly and pull us in the wrong direction. Culture baits us to the brink, as close to the bad decision as possible while leaving the last step and choice to us. Every day we can be tempted to move in a poor, but still not wrong, direction. One alcoholic drink is still under limits and right by the law, but is it wise? Consider one drink and then driving with your kids in car. Right is more than just ‘not wrong’. Do what is wise; not what is right.

The Biblical story of Lot warns us what can happen when we get cozy with culture and forget what’s important. It shows how over time, small compromises lead to huge pitfalls. Lot was a successful man in terms of the world, with wealth, power, and possessions. He lived in Sodom which culturally, had developed immoral ways. He did nothing to protect his family from the influence. He was so busy thinking about his comforts he failed to see the spiritual decline that engulfed him. Lot’s own materialism got in the way of his priorities and values.

The meaning of the song “The Wall” by Kansas truly represents this matter. I was a huge Kansas fan in high school and saw them in concert twice. “The Wall” is my favorite Kansas song, above their more commercially successful songs. The song has no refrain or chorus, some refer to it as a Poem Song – I think of it as a Prayer. It speaks of “something dear was lost”; “a silent barrier between all I am and all that I would ever want to be”; and “to pass beyond is what I seek.” The line referring to the wall as “the symbol and the sum of all that’s me” is awesome, spells out that the wall or barrier is himself. Next time you hear it, pay attention to the lyrics as well as where the instrumental interludes are placed in the song.

God will give us a calling, who are we to say, ‘no thanks.’ If we are blessed with children, then be open to God changing our lives to be a parent. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; God chose the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, and the lowly to diminish those who felt they were exceptional. As Mark Batterson said, “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.”

Chapter 5 of Ephesians gives scriptural guidelines to getting out of our own way. Verses 1-4, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving.” And verses 15-17 “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.”

Give way to God and trust Him to be a generous guide. When we communicate frequently in prayer, the connection strengthens. With enough repetition, we get out of our own way and God re-wires us.

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