I probably should be embarrassed to admit this, but I cope with stress by fantasizing about winning the lottery. I consider the fantasies to be mental vacations. Some folks pack a suitcase and grab a plane; I give my imagination free reign to wander for a while.
Not only is a mental vacation cheaper, but it also allows me to identify underlying causes of stress, primarily because I’ve learned to understand the way in which my mind works. For example, if I stop at Target to pick up bread on the way home and find myself looking at journals, I know my subconscious is telling me I need to sit down and write. I know that indicates I’m ignoring a deep or hidden truth about my current situation.
Knowing the way my mind works and tapping into my deepest truths is important because I am a master of self-deception. I strongly suspect most of us are; I simply acknowledge this truth because I want to live with greater integrity and authenticity. My suspicions are based on the simple fact that I’ve observed in others discrepancies between words and actions.
For example, last year about this time, I was working for a woman who told me two things about herself on the first day we worked together: (1) I am one of the kindest people for which you will ever work. (Actually, she did not express that sentiment in a grammatically correct manner, but most people wouldn’t.) (2) I am not a micromanager. However, as we worked together, I learned she was a micromanager – the worst sort of micromanager: one who becomes a bottleneck impeding others from accomplishing much, and then expecting others to bear the brunt of blame when deadlines are missed due to her inability to delegate and prioritize.
I don’t work well in that type of work environment, and wasn’t sorry when she decided not to hire me for the permanent position. However, when she told me of her decision, she also terminated me as a temporary employee – without the standard two-week notice. She supervised me as I cleaned out my cubicle and then escorted me out of the building so that I could not speak with anyone. As we exited the building, she said to me, “I don’t want you to feel that you are being terminated because your work was unsatisfactory. I just find it uncomfortable to work with temporary employees after I decide not to hire them.” My definition of “kind” does not include behavior that deprives others of their only source of income in order to alleviate personal discomfort.
From these actions, I conclude that either she is deceiving herself, or she believes that she can craft the impression she gives others with words rather than actions. Neither is acceptable to me.
So, when I fantasize about winning the lottery, if I find myself mentally getting even with others – drafting polite refusals for solicitations and citing the individual’s past conduct as my reason for failing to support their cause – I know I am feeling vulnerable, disposable, insecure. I know I need to pray for the grace to trust God with the circumstances of my life and his unfolding will.
And, if I find myself fantasizing about doing great works – starting a homeless shelter that successfully transitions individuals into more traditional roles within our society, starting an art center that also grants emerging artists a place to live and a stipend to develop their voice – I know that I am feeling a need to do something meaningful. I will look for a volunteer activity with which I can become involved, or will disciple myself to move forward on a project that has personal meaning but was set aside.
Most revealing, though, are my fantasies about my family, because I could not win the lottery without sharing it with my girls. Sometimes, I just give them a percentage; that means all is well. At other times, my gifts are conditional; those conditions tell me that I’m worried or angry or hurt. As a single parent, with no back-up if I handled a situation badly, I learned to set aside my feelings, to step back and to look at the big picture in order to make the wisest decision of which I was capable. The habit of denying my feelings is so deeply ingrained that even now I do it intuitively, which isn’t always healthy. Fantasies help me to recognize this.
So, what would I do if I won the lottery? Heaven knows, because I don’t. The first thing I would have to do, undoubtedly, would be to find a new way to uncover what lies hidden within me. If I didn’t, I couldn’t trust that any decision I made had personal integrity.