Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gain attraction…

I need to stop mentioning my sports rooting interests at church. It’s hurting my soul. Twice in the past two months, my favorite teams made it to their sports’ respective championship games. And twice, I made a mention of that at church. And twice, my teams lost.

To the casual (sane?) observer, these connections carry no deeper meaning. To the dedicated fan, however, we know- KNOW!- that our daily actions matter for our favorite teams’ performance. After all, I preached in a Broncos jersey before the Super Bowl, and Denver was embarrassed. Having learned my lesson, I left the UK basketball shirt at home before the NCAA championship, but couldn’t stop from making an unplanned reference to the game during my sermon. The following night, UK wasn’t blown out, but neither did they win. Had I simply kept my gloating mouth shut, they’d have gone on to victory, amen?!

Well, maybe not. But that won’t keep the sports fan inside me from wondering, “What might’ve been…” Indeed, I’ve mentioned that recently to several people who know my sports allegiances. And some of them were long-suffering Twins fans. They said, essentially, “Shut up Shane. At least, your teams played for a championship!” To which I had no morally acceptable answer other than, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Still, isn’t it strange that I’d focus on the downside- that my teams got so close but lost- rather than the upside- that they had a chance for ultimate glory at all? Apparently not. Have you ever heard of “loss aversion”? It’s a term psychologists and behavioral economists use, describing a near universal attitude among people, including yours truly, apparently. What it means is that people tend to value the possibility of losing something more than they value the possibility of gaining something. For instance, no one wants to lose $100, and everyone wants to receive $100. But when tested, people receive more satisfaction in not losing that money than in gaining it. In fact, we’re likely to choose to not lose $50 than risk winning $100, all odds being equal. In other words, we care more about avoiding loss than we do pursuing gain.

Is that because loss hurts more than victory thrills? It can feel that way in relationships. The idea of losing a friend strikes me as more painful than making a new one strikes me as exciting. Something similar happens to generals in war, or investors in stocks. One fights longer in a losing cause than is reasonable in order to “honor fallen comrades.” Another waits too long to sell a falling stock, hoping it will rebound, correcting already incurred losses (aka “sunk costs”). Maybe things turn around for these people. More often, they don’t. Indeed, researchers find that loss aversion causes folk to make more costly decisions, delay solving problems longer than is wise, and miss risk-taking opportunities that would benefit them because they’re too worried they’ll fail.

Or they might see negative outcomes in the past more clearly than positive ones. A person in my shoes- two near-championship teams in two months!- should be higher than a kite on a windy day. Yet when loss aversion kicks in I focus on “what we did wrong” or “what needs to change next year.”

That’s what I love about Easter. This day should remind Christians that our most fearful loss- life itself- has no power anymore. Christ is risen! New life is ours! Death lost its sting! So that tendency to fear failure too much, to avoid risk and pain more than seek opportunity, we needn’t nurture that. Our lives are held into eternity by Creation’s Creator who calls us, “Beloved child.”

So the next time you’re tempted to wallow in loss, define your past or future through negative happenings, not possible victories, ask, “Am I seeing things clearly, in light of Christ’s resurrection? Or am I overvaluing loss and pain?” If the latter, remember Christ is alive, walking beside you with grace at all times. So you can shoot for the stars! And if you land on the moon? Well, that’s something, isn’t it? Now, about next year’s Super Bowl and the Broncos…

Grace and Peace,
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