A common game we play in life is the victimization game.
Something undesirable happens to us. Someone hurts us. Something is withheld from us. We make a horribly sinful choice.
Such experiences are painful. But their real power comes from the meaning or beliefs we assign to them.
We tend to give painful events great power over us. We believe they’ve robbed us of our future. We believe they take away our power. We assume we now have no options.
We’re victimized by the event.
Not just at the time the event happened, but perpetually.
The rest of our life.
Victimization goes something like this: “Because ______ happened, I cannot _________.”
Fill in the blanks.
- Because this person hurt me in that manner, I can never be happy again.
- Because my parents withheld the love and affirmation I wanted from me, I cannot have good relationships in my life.
- Because I was not given that promotion, I’m stuck in this job and can never move forward.
Consciously or unconsciously, we choose to become stuck. We wait for the offending party, or some other power-that-be, to undo the hurt done to us. We believe that since they are the one who took away our opportunity, only they can give it back.
We find ourselves stuck. Helpless. And often bitter.
In the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13ff), we see this dynamic. But with an interesting twist: the disciples play the victimization card on Jesus.
The day has grown long. The large crowd is hungry and tired. It’s late.
The disciples grow anxious, feeling the responsibility to feed the mass of people who’ve been clamoring for Jesus’ attention.
How do you feed that many people on very limited supplies? All the disciples seem to have on hand are five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. That might be enough to feed their own small group (Jesus and the 12), but it won’t come close to meeting the needs of this crowd.
So the disciples do what we do when we are anxious. They shift the responsibility to someone else, in this case Jesus.
“Do something about this Jesus. Send them away so we won’t have to deal with this. We don’t want to be responsible. You take charge.”
Jesus refuses to take on their anxiety. Their perceived problem doesn’t become his.
“It’s not necessary to send them away, You go ahead and feed them,” Jesus counters.
The disciples, probably feeling backed into a corner, play their victimization card.
“We can’t feed them, we don’t have enough food here. Not even close.”
Who knows what they didn’t say that told the real story?
- “If we start feeding them, there won’t be any for us. And we’re really hungry!”
- “You should have told us about this earlier. You should have planned better.”
- “This is a bit irresponsible of you Jesus to wait until now to address this problem. What did you expect to happen?”
The disciples feel helpless. They assume there’s nothing they can do to meet this challenge. And it’s obvious they are waiting for Jesus to do something to rescue them, to take care of it.
Assuming this posture, they are victimized by their own story.
Theirs is not an accurate assumption. They do have something they can use. They have some bread and fish. And they have a choice in what they are going to do with these resources.
They can hoard them for their own use. They can give up and quit.
Or they can give what they have to Jesus and partner with him. They can take this seemingly small step of faith and see what happens.
This is the nature of victimization, and our way through it.
I’m most prone to playing the victimization game with God. I perceive he hasn’t provided me enough of whatever I believe I need to have (usually clear direction for my future), and I hear myself mimicking the disciples in this story.
“I can’t go forward. I don’t have enough resources. I can’t do anything until you do something more for me.”
I blame my sense of being stuck on God. I hold him responsible for why my life isn’t working the way I want it to. I grow inactive and waste potential opportunities under the guise of “waiting on God” to act.
I want (read “demand”) guarantees.
I acknowledge there is a time and place to wait on God. Rushing ahead under my own steam is dangerous.
But most of the time, I believe Jesus is telling me to put what I already have to use.
This is both liberating and terrifying.
It’s liberating in that I don’t have to be a victim. There is something I can do. I do have a choice. I have some leverage, no matter how small it may seem.
It’s terrifying because Jesus calls me to take responsibility. To partner with him calls me to face my fears, step into the unpredictable and move forward with faith. It calls me to own my desires and choose accordingly. I no longer have the luxury of being helpless.
It’s only when I quit playing the victimization card that I get to discover what potential miracle awaits on the other side.
Who knows how many we can feed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?