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Repentance: the Path from a Type A Jungle to a Christian Paradise

December 10, 2013

Studies concerning Type A behavior have uncovered its relationship to certain core beliefs about self, others and the world. These core beliefs are essentially stressful and pessimistic lenses for viewing reality, leading to anxiety, hostility, and the fear of failure. As I’ve noted in other blog posts, core beliefs are learned in childhood and become firmly set as one enters adulthood. They are not only the foundational building blocks from which our own idiosyncratic worldview is constructed, but they are also the magnetic compass that we use to navigate our way through the world. According to his dissertation, Tony John Sorensen notes that the core beliefs that characterize many Type A persons are “comprised of three core beliefs about self and others: a) one must constantly prove oneself worthy through successful, socially recognized accomplishments, b) resources needed to be successful are scarce and insufficient, and c) universal moral principles do not exist to ensure fairness, justice, and goodness. These organizing schemas are the foundation for excessive competitiveness, hostility, impatience, and quick anger.”

When seen through such a schema, the world is a jungle and the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” becomes a life philosophy. Unfortunately such core beliefs foster an underlying cynicism and negativity that make it nearly impossible to form close, intimate human friendships. You can readily recognize scenarios in our contemporary world that reflect the survival-of-the-fittest jungle of modern life. Each year, the media reports on some horrific “Black-Friday” shopping experience where customers fight over an item. The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes described such a world as “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Sorensen notes that anxiety management training coupled with relaxation techniques have proven successful behavioral therapy interventions for Type A behaviors. Yet, while these are good first steps, they don’t address the deeper, underlying problem of core beliefs. The issue isn’t just about relaxing tensed muscles and accepting a racing heartbeat. It’s not even really about competing with others or the scarcity of resources. The central issue is the human heart. The lasting remedy is therefore to be found in turning to God in repentance with a deep desire to change. Metanoia (μετάνοια) is a radical change of mind or heart. It is a transformational turning away from former core beliefs and modes of behavior toward God Who is the only One capable of effecting such a change in the human heart.  Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in The Arena writes, “It is natural for divine grace, when it stretches out its finger to heal a man, crushed and broken to pieces by his fall, to join together his severed parts and to unite the mind not only with the heart and soul but even with the body, and to give it a single true ardor for God. With the union of the mind and heart the ascetic receives the power to resist all passionate thoughts and passionate feelings. Can this be the result of any technique? No! It is the result of grace; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit Who overshadows the unseen labor of the Christian ascetic; and it is incomprehensible to carnal and natural man.”

When failure or tragedy befalls someone in the throes of debilitating Type A beliefs, that tragedy or failure can reinforce those beliefs if the person chooses that broad and easy path leading to destruction. There is, however, always a choice. Even at this point of tragedy that seems to prove what one believes about the world, one can allow the pain and disappointment to fuel a radical change in direction and focus. Instead of fixating on the scarcity, on the unfairness, and on the need to push even harder to achieve, one can turn from the world as jungle to the paradise that God is calling us to enter through communion with Him. The failure or tragedy need not be perceived as a chastisement, but as a calling to leave behind the nets of debilitating core beliefs in which Type A people are ensnared, and to follow Christ, the King of Peace, the abundantly merciful Lord. It is an opportunity to look up from all our projects and aims and perhaps see the world for the first time in its true significance. In such a state, proving self-worth or believing that the world and everyone in that world is unfair, unjust, or lacking goodness slips away in the light of God’s boundless love for each of His children. In this new life we understand the beautiful words of Saint Gregory Nazianzus who wrote In Praise of Virginity, “To others I relinquish the things lauded in this life. But for me there is but one law, one purpose commingled with love: to journey thence towards the resplendent Deity Who reigns from on high. The longing for any other good which men covet and unwisely praise, which is suddenly gained and still more swiftly vanishes, so much holds sway over my mind as smoke and mist, as a gentle breeze, as sand swept up by the wind and everywhere…I should wish to remain dishonored among men—and possess in the heavens some small portion of eternal glory than to rule the world entire and fall away from God” (PG 37.550a).

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