The Fallacy of Striving


“Stop trying. Stop forcing reality. Learn the mystery of surrender and trust, and then it will be done unto you, through you, with you, in you, and very often, in spite of you.”
–Richard Rohr

We live in a culture that so inculcates striving, seeking, trying, and forcing into our very being, that we are often unaware of how much energy we are expending on a daily basis in our efforts to force the world into our picture of reality. We compete for everything – from racing to get the best parking place, to having the most stuff, to winning the most prestigious title in our work place. When something finally forces us to slow down–illness, loss of our position, or even a vacation, we often find that we are exhausted and perhaps even disillusioned. We wonder where all of this striving has taken us, and whether it is even a place where we want to be.

At this point we may turn to God – religion – spirituality. We realize we are somehow out of touch. But guess what? The striving starts all over again as we seek to “get it right”. What is the fast track to enlightenment? Who has the deepest practice? We try to find the best teacher, the perfect retreat, the one book that will have all the answers. It turns out our spiritual seeking is often as futile as its more secular counterparts.

The quotation above points out the fallacy of striving in all its various forms. When I came across Rohr’s statement in his book on scripture and spirituality, Things Hidden, I paused. Later I found myself going back to the passage to read it again and again. Rohr’s words seemed to bestow a blessing on me; they gave me permission to stop—to let go. They called me back to myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t know deep down in the center of my being that striving is futile. But I had forgotten. I needed to be reminded, because like most of us I was caught up in the busyness of my life .And the things I was striving for seemed to be good things – stretching the Cove’s budget to provide more programs and services, recruiting excellent teachers, studying, and teaching. But all my forceful striving only places limits on what I am able to accomplish; forcing reality narrows my vision.

Does not striving mean I will stop being busy – that I will quit my job and move to Tahiti? No, I’ll still be just as busy, but I probably will be more effective. What will change is my willful attitude—my mistaken notion that it is all up to me. This is a heavy burden to bear.

When I shift my attitude to one of willingness, I surrender to a power greater than myself. I begin to pay attention to what is arising around me and I get out of the way so that what wants to happen can happen – often as Rohr says “in spite of me”, but sometimes too, “with me and through me”. You and I are made in the image of God. We have everything we need right now; it is our incessant striving that keeps us from awakening to this truth.