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Divide and Conquer is a Game Every Child Knows How to Play

toys at storeThe smallest children must rely on adults to supply all their needs, but soon, they learn how to get their own way. They want something they’ve been told they can’t have, and the wheels start turning. If Mom is decisive and consistent, she can withstand these forays. But, if she is the least bit equivocal, they plead and they whine. They cajole and convince. As soon as they sense Mom is wavering, they up their efforts. They can smell victory. Now, they’ve got her. What’s a few dollars to avoid a scene?

Kids hone these “negotiation” skills as they get older and the stakes get higher. No longer is it the My Little Pony or the Transformer toy, now it’s… Who can I hang out with? What am I allowed to say? How far can I push back curfew? Same kid, advanced version.

If Mom and Dad have discussed this child and agreed on the proper response to these onslaughts before the heat of battle, they can stand firm in the withering fire. But, if the child senses the smallest crevice between the two – perhaps Mom is willing to give a little while Dad is rigid and won’t discuss it (or vice versa) – the child knows this instantly. And plays it to his advantage. He approaches one without the other. He panders to one and not the other. He plays one against the other. Something inside of him knows, without ever having been taught or trained, how to drive a wedge between his opposition.

What is this inside us that seems to arrive with us, which convinces us we should have what we want or what others have and seeks things for our own good even though we aren’t old enough to know our own good? How is it that a ten or twelve year old knows that if she can set her opposition to arguing about their differences, she gets the upper hand? If she can sow distrust and division, perhaps even get them fighting among themselves, she can get away with whatever she wants.


  1. It’s born in us.
  2. It’s taught to us.
  3. It’s confirmed in us.

We are born with the desire to make our way. We are taught we should make our own way. We see that if we are very good at it, we can get what we want. In spite of, in the face of, in ignorance of, or in defiance of, the needs, wants and desires of every other being. That ‘good’ may displace the very humanity born in us.

We must guard against any desire we see in the other who seeks to set us at odds with our friend, our neighbor, our spouse, our child, or our best selves. It is a very clever force. When it senses wavering, indecision or dissension in us, it preys upon this. That’s how it gets its way. That’s how it wins.

It’s child play. And kids can be a holy terror, can’t they?

Striving for second place

We are good at preparing people to lead, but how good are we at preparing people to follow?

On the day after Easter, this seems a reasonable question. Because, let’s face it, if Jesus is for real, none of is gonna be the leader when this is all over with.

2nd place loserBut it sets me thinking about me, my community, my nation, my world. We place a huge burden on our leaders, but refuse to follow – unless they are doing what we want, in the way we want, by the means we have approved. Frankly, we like to lead ourselves. We do not like to follow. How does one even be a good follower? No one has ever taught me this. In fact, I have been warned against it. Be a winner; don’t settle for second best! That’s the first loser.

And so I wonder if we have gotten it all wrong. As we send our children onto the field of play, shouting as they score, celebrating when they win, rewarding them for defeating the other team, are we failing to fully prepare them?

If they do lose we encourage them to try harder. If they win or if they show promise – which of course we all see in our children – we want them to try out for the ‘select’ squad, to distinguish themselves in some manner so they will be first on the list. First to be chosen. First in line. But how many can be first? Would we do better to prepare them to take their place in line? Any place. Behind the person in front of them. Perhaps the most important thing of all is the line itself. 2nd place ribbon

Instead, we have kids shoving their way. Hey, I was there. I want to stand next to him or her. Get out of my way. And our punishment when they act this way? We send them to the back of the line, because that is the worst place to be. The place of dishonor and shame.

Yet, that is the place of those who aren’t so physically capable, aren’t so quick with their minds, aren’t so socially adept. We have a place for those people, back there, where we don’t have to see you or hear from you or make way for you. You hold the rest of us back. Get out of the way. We’re coming through; we’re leaders. You follow us.

Jesus said this to Peter when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “Get behind me Satan!” When all Peter was doing was trying to be first in line. To follow most closely. Jesus was teaching Peter how to follow. To leave some room for other people. A bit of space for latecomers – the deaf, the blind, the sick and the lame. All those who didn’t have the privilege Peter did to hear Jesus first hand, or were out of earshot because they had been shoved aside.

Were Jesus to stand physically before me today, I fear He would say the same to me. “Get behind me Satan!” And elaborate with a loud voice, “Leave some room for others. Learn how to follow me. Start with that problem you have about being first. I am first.” And then to the crowd gathered, “The rest of you are second, every last one of you. Stop fighting for your place in line!”

Falling in line, wherever there was space or wherever someone was kind enough to let me in, would be fine. No jostling. No shoving. No hard feelings. And if all the spaces were taken it would be fine to take my place at the end of the line. Oh, what a trip that is, walking past all those people, curved in and around, wound through, up and over. All of humanity would be there, waiting patiently to be next.

But what to do about that guy who wants to cut? No sense pushing and shoving him because you’ll both end up at the back of the line. Why not let ’em in. Might be fun to see the look on his face when he makes his way to the front and sees who the Leader really is. And THAT thought just sent me to the back of the line.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Winning. Competition. Trophies. Prizes. Those things all held real sway for me as a young athlete. I wanted them. And, many times, I got what I wanted. I was successful, often a winner. Much celebrated and complemented. When I became a Christian I came to see myself on the winner’s podium, and I didn’t necessarily like what I saw. I didn’t like:

  • the elevation
  • the view
  • the way people were looking at me.

But most of all I didn’t like the pride I took in myself  or the temptation to hold myself in high regard. So I “graciously” stepped down to “help others less fortunate.” Now here was something that wouldn’t be a temptation, right? No podium. No trophy. No prizes. No striving.

Problem was…there was still this matter of running the race. The race for the prize, that being the heavenly call.

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Philippians 3:13-15

God has designs on my life. He has designed me for this race. Not to meander along the way. My husband, ironically not a professing Christian or a student of the Bible, told me last night, “Your goal is to keep your eyes on the prize.” He meant, don’t let distractions stop you. Don’t interrupt your race to correct the folks who are misbehaving, the people who trip you up. Don’t stumble over the stuff that isn’t worth stopping for. Keep your eyes on your objective. Eyes forward.

Funny, because this put competing in a whole new light. It was okay to push ahead as hard as I could, as long as I kept my eye clearly on my goal, the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus would not justify “all means” to get to Himself, but my stopping to tidy up around every turn, to make sure that everyone who interrupts my progress is set straight, is not my calling. They are running their own races. I have been dallying in mine and this is not of God.

Along the course of every road race there are many, many intersections. I am pledged to look both ways before crossing, perhaps lend a hand at one or grab a cup of water at another, but the main thing is the race.

Let my eyes not stray and my will not waver from His course and His will which, for me, is the race set before me. This kind of freedom is the only way I can run the race of my life.

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