Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Freedom From the “Unholy Hamster Wheel”

I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July. I did. It was a great time for gratitude for our special nation and the freedoms and blessings we often take for granted. My thoughts today go from external freedoms to the quest for internal freedom and a picture in my mind from one of my summer vacations. Each summer I visited my cousin Tommy in Sierra Madre, south of Santa Barbara, where my family lived. Besides almost choking to death on the smog and chlorine in my lungs, I have great memories of my times with him.

I remember one summer he had a hamster in his room. That little rodent would hide from us under the wood shavings at day and drive us nuts at night, when we were trying to sleep… just running and running on his wheel, like a terror. Every night this listless lump of fur ran furiously. The faster he would run, the faster he would have to run. He was, of course, in a cage and this was maybe his only form of legitimate exercise, and it was probably good for him, but it reminds me of how I often feel -- enslaved by a drivenness to keep going and never getting “there” (wherever “there” is!)

One night the cage was quiet. The hamster had suddenly died and was no longer making his nocturnal trips to the wheel. That was his way out of his futile existence. Death. I think of the “unholy hamster wheel” I have been caught up on, with the collaboration of my “false self,” my perceptions of what others think about me, and my inaccurate view of God. It all just keeps me running and running…

It is the propping up of my false self that takes so much energy. The false self is that person we try to present to the world, the image that we enjoy so that others don’t see the real self -- and we don’t have to face it ourselves. The harder we run the faster we have to run. In watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew there are some very clear examples of how living for the false self is literally killing this season’s patients.

On the wheel, my relating to others is all about confirming this image of the false self. It is exhausting to keep doing this and it strains relationships.

God, on the unholy hamster wheel, is one I think I can use for my own purposes. I see my activities as ways of keeping the guilt at bay, or pleasing a very hard to please Master, or trying to use Him like some kind of magical genie who will grant my wishes. But eventually I tire of it all and slowly, but surely, move away from Him, disappointed, discouraged, and eventually defeated.

What does it look like when I choose to just step off this futile, enslaving wheel like the hamster that died? It must start with God. I focus back upon who He is and His amazing love poured out on me through His cross. Nothing I can do will make Him love me more or love me less. I bask in His love like a warm Seattle summer morning. I choose not to be overwhelmed at the steady revelation of my faults in contrast to His holiness, as they too can become avenues to know Him, to love Him more. “God will know how to draw glory, even from our faults. Do not be downcast after committing a fault. It is one of the marks of true sanctity.” – Dom Augustin Gillerand.

Others? They are not to be used to prop up my false self but to encourage, showing them a glimpse of God’s love that He has for them. They may reject my efforts, they may accept them, but that is not my issue. I tune into others as divinely placed in my path, as glorious opportunities in what is disguised as ordinary. This may be words or actions or both, but I walk in trusting obedience, no longer running in insecure fear, or allowing other’s reactions to define me.

Myself, I still am “self-focused” but now I examine my heart, my motives, being quick to ask forgiveness, and careful to be teachable. I have nothing to hold onto now, to defend, because I am not defined by the image I need to protect -- “I” have died and now Jesus lives in my place. (Galatians 2:20) You can’t kill a dead man. He’s already dead. It is Christ who now is my life (Colossians 3:4) and as the song says “there is nothing good in me but Jesus.” I truly live in freedom, not oppressive drivenness. I learn to look to Him and rest in Him even as I carry my God-given load. (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is what freedom from the “unholy hamster wheel” looks like for me. But unlike that little hamster I must choose to stay off my wheel everyday (Luke 9:23) and apply daily, by faith, the spiritual exchange that the Bible says occurred through my faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

Free From the Wheel Through the Cross,


Note: Do you have any stories of God’s Glory showing up in the ordinary? I would love to hear them and share them with a larger audience if you would like! Just email me at (

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1 comment:

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