Our ‘Unhealthy Preoccupations’


If you have ever seen the 1957 Academy Award Winning movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai,’ you will not soon forget it. It tells the story of a captured WWII POW British officer who becomes so obsessed with building ‘the perfect bridge’ over a Japanese river called ‘Kwai,’ that in the end, to this surprise; he discovers that he has aided and abetted the enemy. In his ‘unhealthy preoccupation’ with showing how superior British solders were to their captors, he inadvertently leads his men in building a great bridge that he hopes will stand for all time as a monument to their work. The only problem is that their monument is a bridge that is being used by their enemy to win the war. In a moment of clarity, Nicholson, the British officer in charge, realizes he has become a tool in the hands of his captors. This ‘clarity’ about his ‘unhealthy preoccupation,’ comes just in time to save the day, but too late to save himself!

An honest evaluation of Nicholson would uncover the root of his preoccupation; pride! Many of us find ourselves building bridges that are unhealthy in our lives. We might rationalize that what we are doing is good, as did Nicholson, but we might overlook that the root of our preoccupation could be the feeding of our own avarice. An ‘unhealthy preoccupation can even be doing something good. It doesn’t have to be that we are wasting our time on frivolous things. It’s really when we become obsessed, even with good things, which can lead to an unhealthy balance in our lives. The Savior often chastised the Pharisees because their obsession with the religious law had led them to an unhealthy attitude about others. Jesus was once asked:

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22)

We often quote these verses as one. But note, there is an order given! To love God is the first great commandment. The second is like unto it in that we need to love one another. Can we do the second without the first? I guess it depends on our motives and whose glory we are seeking.

Colonel Nicholson was doing a good thing. He was building a sound bridge, and giving purpose to the men who were held in captivity. But while carrying out those lofty ideals, he lost track of the bigger picture. His final words of ‘What have I done, what have I done!,’ came too late to save himself. Perhaps we should do an inventory of how we are doing when it comes to our ‘unhealthy preoccupations.’ We might be doing good works, but are we doing the work of the Lord? There might be a difference.

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