Chapter OneThe Rat Race
Like a rat in a maze, the path before me lies. Simon and Garfunkel
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you
and kept you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7
The timer clicked, the TV screen fluttered, and the speaker
blared the morning news.
"Morning already?" groaned Larry. He rolled over and
squeezed the pillow tightly over his ears, not seriously thinking
he could muffle the announcement of another day in the rat
race. Then the aroma of coffee from the timer-operated percolator
lured him toward the kitchen.
Six hours of sleep may not have been the house rule growing
up, but success at the end of the twentieth century
demanded a premium from its active participants. A rising star
like Larry couldn't squander time sleeping.
Curls of steam rose from the bowl of instant oatmeal; the
microwave had produced predictably perfect results in perfect
cadence with his thirty-five-minute wake-up schedule.
Slouched in his chair, propped against his elbow, Larry
noticed the computer screen staring back at him. Last night he
balanced his checkbook after the eleven o'clock news, and, weary
from the long day, he must have neglected to switch it off.
His wife, Carol, had a welcomed day off, so she slept in.
Larry went through the rote motions of getting the kids off to
school. After the two younger children had been dropped off at
day-care, he was alone in the car with Julie. Twelve-year-old
Julie seemed troubled lately. "Daddy, do you love Mom anymore?"
she asked. The question came out of the blue to Larry,
but Julie had been building the courage to ask it for months.
Their family life was changing, and Julie seemed to be the only
member of the family diagnosing the changes. Larry reassured
her he loved Mom very much.
Carol didn't plan to go back to work when she first started
on her MBA degree. Bored with her traditional, nonworking-housewife
role, she just wanted more personal self-fulfillment.
Her magazines conferred no dignity on the role of mother-tutor.
Although her family satisfied her self-esteem need for many
years, other neighborhood women her same age seemed to lead
glamorous lives in the business world. She couldn't help but
question her traditional values.
"Maybe I'm too old-fashioned-out of step with the
times," she thought to herself.
So, two nights each week for three and a half years she journeyed
off to the local university, a big investment-not to mention
the homework. By the time she walked across the stage to
receive her diploma, Carol was convinced women had a right
to professional fulfillment just as much as men.
Larry, a tenacious, carefree sales representative, advanced
quickly in his company. Fifteen years of dream chasing rewarded
him with a vice-president's title. The pay covered the essentials,
but they both wanted more of the good life.
"I've been thinking about going back to work," Carol told
Larry didn't protest. She earned extra money as a bank
teller at the beginning of their marriage, and the money helped
furnish their honeymoon apartment. By mutual agreement,
Carol stopped working when Julie was born, and ever since they
had been hard-pressed to make ends meet.
Even though his own mother didn't work, Larry knew
things were different now for women. Still, he had mixed emotions
about sending their two small children to a day-care center.
But since money was always a problem, he just shrugged
and kept silent when Carol announced she had started interviewing
for a job.
Larry clearly understood the trade-off. More money, less
family. More family, less money. Yet, they really wanted the
Their neighbors bought a twenty-four-foot cabin cruiser.
Larry was surprised to learn they could own one, too, for only
$328 per month. By scrimping for five months they pulled
together $1,000 which, when added to their savings, gave them
enough for the $2,500 down payment.
Larry loved cars. His gentle dad had always loved cars. If a
shiny two-door pulled up next to him at a traffic light, Larry's
heart always beat faster-he could just picture himself shifting
through the gears of a fancy European import. By accident he discovered
that for only $424 a month he could lease the car of his
fantasies-a racy import! Leasing never occurred to him before.
Carol desperately wanted to vacation in Hawaii that year;
her Tuesday tennis partner went last spring. But they couldn't
"If you go along with me on this one, I'll make it up to
you, Carol. I promise!" Larry told her, his infectious grin spreading
across his face. She reminisced how that impish, little-boy
smile had first attracted her to him. He had been good to her,
"Okay, go ahead," Carol told him.
His dad always loved Chevys. Larry's tastes had evolved
with the times.
Carol dreamed of living in a two-story home with a swimming
pool, but, with the car and boat payments so high, it
remained a dream for years. Larry slaved twelve- and fourteen-hour
days-always thinking of ways to earn more money for
Carol's dream house. When Carol went to work, they added
up the numbers and were elated to see they could finally make
The strain of keeping their household afloat discouraged
them. There were bills to pay, kids to pick up from day-care,
deadlines to meet, quotas to beat, but not much time to enjoy
the possessions they had accumulated.
Words from a Simon and Garfunkel song haunted Larry's
thoughts: "Like a rat in a maze, the path before me lies. And the
pattern never alters, until the rat dies." He was trapped.
Carol pressured out-she just couldn't take it anymore.
She believed Larry had let her down. He was supposed to be
strong. He was supposed to know how to keep everything
going. But Larry was just as confused about their situation as
As the U-haul van pulled away from the house, Larry
couldn't quite believe she was actually doing it-Carol was moving
out. She said she just needed some time and space to sort
things out, that she was confused. The question Julie had asked
a few months earlier burned in his mind, "Daddy, do you love
Mom anymore?" Yes . yes, he loved her, but was it too late?
How did things get so out of hand?
Do you know anyone who has ever won the rat race? This
question deserves more than a chuckle, because, upon reflection,
most of us will have to acknowledge we really don't know
anyone who has.
If that's the case, then why do we compete in an
unwinnable race? Frankly, I would rather win, so I would rather
run in a race which has a history of producing winners. Tragically,
most men don't know what race that is.
The proverbial questions of the rat race-"What's it all
about?" and "Is this all there is?"-have tortured us all at one
time or another. No matter how successful we become, these
questions always lurk in the shadows, just waiting to pounce on
us when life's inevitable problems overtake us.
We strain to keep it all together, but the pressure is often
like a tight band around our chest. Sometimes, the gravity of our
debts and duties weighs us down so much that our interior posture
is in a slump-even if we fake it and stand tall to the world.
"What is the purpose of my life?"
"Why do I exist?"
"How do I find meaning?"
"How do I satisfy my need to be significant?"
"Why are my relationships in a shambles?"
"How did I get so far in debt?"
"Who am I trying to please, anyway?"
"How did I get caught up in the rat race in the first place?"
Confusion exists about how to achieve the desired result:
the good life. We all want to improve our standard of living-that's
normal. But the world where we live has implemented its
own ideas about how to accomplish the good life, ideas which
are far different from God's order. Doesn't it seem like everyone
has their own unique theory?
This dichotomy between God's order and the order of this
world produces a strain on the Christian man trying to sort out
his thinking. Are there absolutes? Do biblical principles really
address the twentieth-century, day-to-day problems we men
have? Is it possible for us to sort through our problems and
build a workable model for us to live by?
Any good business plan starts with a description of the current
environment. So let's begin our look at the problems of
men by first getting a handle on the environment in which we
live and work. The first question we need to delve into is, "How
do we measure our standard of living?"
The Standard of Living Fallacy
We Americans enjoy unprecedented material success. Yet
it's deceptive to measure our standard of living in only one
dimension. To comprehend the standard of living we have actually
achieved, we first need to unbundle the concept of standard
of living and look at some of the component parts.
On a recent plane trip I sat next to a distinguished couple
in their mid-sixties. Mr. Silver was the kind, gentle, grandfather
type with a perpetual smile traced across the creases in his face.
I learned they were just leaving Orlando where they attended
their son's wedding-in a hot-air balloon. He was trying hard
to take a philosophical view of such contemporary values.
As we talked he reflected how all his financial dreams had
been met. Yet something bothered him. Yes, his financial standard
of living was up, but an eerie feeling lingered that something
wasn't quite right about his life.
I happened to have with me a graph related to our discussion,
so I showed it to him. He perked up and bellowed loudly,
"Yes, yes, that's me! That's exactly what has happened to my
Figure 1.1, the same graph I showed Mr. Silver, shows two
components of our standard of living. They are on sharply different
vectors. While our material standard of living has soared
over the last forty years, our moral/spiritual/relational standard
of living has plummeted. They have, more or less, traded places.
Remember Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, traditional
families, prayer in schools, happy pregnancies? Yes, there were
problems. But they were Chevrolet problems for Chevrolet families
who lived in Chevrolet neighborhoods and had Chevrolet
paychecks. Life was gradual, life was linear: Chevy, Buick,
Oldsmobile, Cadillac, gold watch, funeral.
The desire for instant gratification, however, has taken the
place of deferring to a time when we can pay cash for our wants.
Today men are consumed by desires to buy things they don't
need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't
like. Where do these desires come from?
The technology explosion of the last eighty years marks this
century as the apex of human potential and achievement in all
of history. We are blessed with technological enhancements in
our creature comforts, our travel, our communications, and our
jobs. Do you remember how tedious it was putting together a
set of financial projections before personal computers-not to
mention making a change? Can you recall what it was like to
redo a marketing proposal before word processing?
But at the same time we have run up the score, we have
injured most of our players. The changes come quickly, game
plans have to be altered, our best players get no rest, tired players
injure the easiest. Yes, we are prosperous, but at what price?
We have a winning score, but most of us are tired. As individual
members of the team are injured, the team as a whole begins
to lose its rhythm, courage, and will.
Men today are worn out. Many who chased their dreams
have lost their families. Too many children have grown up with
an absentee father. Still, the invoices for the debts to accumulate
the things we didn't need and don't use arrive in the mailbox
like clockwork at the first of each and every month.
At a time when we are shooting off cannons to celebrate
our country's great anniversaries, why has the moral fabric of
our nation gone threadbare? America was founded by men
who sought spiritual freedom to worship God. Where are the
descendants of these men? Was their courage not hereditary?
The most lasting satisfaction of life is in our relationships, so
why are we trading them in for careers with companies that
will drop us like hot potatoes if we miss our quota? Our standard
of living must be measured in more than one dimension.
The Dominant Economic Theory in America
The material prosperity we enjoy is a modern miracle.
Remember the now tiny homes of forty years ago? Television
was new then (color telecasts didn't begin until 1953), no one
had a computer yet, Greyhound was how America traveled, the
interstate highway system didn't exist, space exploration was an
abstract idea, nuclear power was a mystery, Madison Avenue
was still in its infancy, and a millionaire was an anomaly.
Think of it! God has blessed this nation with the greatest
thinkers, leaders, and implementers in history. He has granted
prosperity that would make even Solomon burn with envy! But
how did it come about? Have you ever wondered how, in the
forty short years since World War II (1945) and the end of the
Great Depression (1942), America has achieved such a remarkable
standard of living?
The dominant economic theory in America for the past
forty years or so has been consumerism. Webster's Dictionary
defines consumerism as "the economic theory that a progressively
greater consumption of goods is beneficial." Is this true?
Is a progressively greater consumption of goods beneficial?
Whether true or not-and I think not-we know from
glancing at newspaper ads and TV commercials that American
industry applies this theory diligently in its business plans.
In 1957 Vance Packard wrote a book, The Hidden Persuaders,
which shocked and alarmed the nation. He discovered,
and blew the whistle on, a large-scale effort to channel our
unconscious habits and manipulate our purchasing behavior.
The Madison Avenue pin-stripers formed an unholy alliance
with the practitioners of psychology to manipulate the American
At the end of World War II, our industrial machine had
the capacity to produce far greater amounts of products than
people were buying. So the pin-stripers probed the question of
how to stimulate people to buy more, and the science of motivation
research was born.
Have you ever wondered why, after only two or three years,
you begin to itch for a shiny new car? Why don't we simply
drive our cars until they stop running before we buy new ones?
The answer, a creation of the unholy alliance, is termed psychological
Madison Avenue figured out how to make us feel ashamed
to own a slightly used car.