2014 July – Swimming with the Barracudas

Run into any walls lately?

 

Do you remember the story about the barracuda that starved to death in an aquarium full of minnows?

The barracuda was accustomed to eating all the minnows he wanted. But things changed when researchers removed all the minnows, put them in a separate glass container, and then put the container in the aquarium. Now, when the barracuda went after a minnow, he rammed his snout into glass and felt pain rather than the satisfying feeling he got from eating a minnow.

This went on for a while. Again and again, the barracuda tried to catch a minnow. And each time, he got a painful reminder that chasing minnows was no longer working for him. Finally, the barracuda just gave up. He stopped trying to catch minnows.

The researchers then put the minnows back into the aquarium, unprotected, with the barracuda. But now, the barracuda wouldn’t even try to catch a minnow. He had developed a new mental structure that was so focused on avoiding pain that it canceled out his normal, healthy sense of hunger. Chasing minnows now meant just one thing: pain. And so the barracuda starved to death as his food supply swam freely around him.

We sometimes do the same thing: We become so focused on avoiding pain that we miss out on life itself.

Like the barracuda, each of us has a mental structure that influences how we process life. Those times when we have been hurt, threatened, or disappointed have helped shape our mental structure. And this largely subconscious structure influences how we respond to people, events, and circumstances. It’s as though at times, we don’t get to choose. Our mental structure, no matter how limiting and distasteful it may be, chooses for us.

Many people try to change certain behaviors once they recognize them as unhealthy and counterproductive. This is what drives the popularity of self-help books today. But the problem with self -help, and a gospel that sometimes promotes self-improvement rather than exchanging our self-life for Christ-Life, is that you can’t process life through the same old mental structure and expect to make positive, healthy changes.

True, lasting change comes only when we develop a new mental riverbed for our life experiences to flow through. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2


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