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On top of that, I could sense that the way I went about things I was always elevating myself in my mind for the good stuff and rationalizing away the bad/weak stuff; and the way I was obsessed with competing and comparing, made it very hard for me to be authentic with people. I saw how hard friendships were and I just knew inside that it would be impossible for me to stay married (let alone get married) if something did not fundamentally change in these areas. I had no hope that I could be a consistently good dad guiding my kids to the fulfillment I craved.
I was pretty sure that people would really not like me for who I was if my achievements were not validating me…..if they knew me for my failings and weakness. Every time a parent told me that they would be so proud if their kid turned out like me, I would scream inside myself “Oh no, I wouldn’t be wishing for that!”
A seminal moment came just several months into my career when one of my brothers invited me down to inner city New York (Bedford Stuyvesant – the worst of the worst) for a day. He was involved in a church’s outreach ministry to kids. What they did on Saturdays is that they would bus in hundreds and hundreds of kids to 3 worship services. I went out for a couple of the bus routes. I was appalled by the abject poverty – kids running out of what looked to be bombed out post-war high rise tenements (no window panes in many of them), vomit and other filth in the hair of many of them, lots of gnarly odors, obvious medical conditions, ratty clothes, etc. And, I was blown away by the joy and enthusiasm they had in even the slightest attention given to them – a hug or a pat on the head and many of them would be my little buddy for the duration of the event.
After a joy-filled and exhausting day and upon leaving and driving back home to Boston, I remember like it was yesterday what hit me out of the blue like a ton of bricks and brought me to tears. I could bring you to the exact spot on I-91 just south of Hartford where I had to pull over and collect myself. How could loving kindness mean so much to these kids? How could I take any credit for anything I did that day and credit it to me as my achievement? How could I take any personal credit for being born into a loving and safe family and achieving what I had in life so far? Any number of those kids could be twice as talented and driven as me…..and still likely be dead before 27 (that was the life expectancy for them).
Well, that stuck with me in the forefront of my mind……for about a day, and then Monday came. Well, fast-forward through 7 months filled with lots of windsurfing, playing Ultimate Frisbee, taking a trip to Europe, and other fun stuff; I found myself begrudgingly studying the Bible with a couple guys I had met. I found myself arguing a lot with them about things I was reading (some of those same things I still think lots of Christians are wrong about), but more so I found myself rationalizing that I was pretty good and had lived a good life and had not really hurt anyone and that God should therefore be cool with me.
But a few things jumped off the pages at me that just resonated:
“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.”
I saw the first part in play in my life, and the second part haunted me – what does that mean?!
I read a story of a remarkable man who did remarkable things and is still renowned to this day (and I thought my achievements were pretty cool). He said,
“I do can do nothing by myself; I can do only what I see my Father doing.”
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
You mean that there are regular people in the church that if I can just talk about my failings, not only will they still accept me, but they will try to help me overcome the stuff?! Wow. I took the risk, and found out that it was true. In another case, I heard the CEO of a large oil company (undeniably more successful than me) talk in public about ways he had messed up (sinned) without taking my approach of rationalizing and justifying.
I was puzzled by Jesus’ statement,
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
How could anyone be set free by dogmatic adherence to a list of moral conduct?! But I started to see an undeniable theme emerge in Jesus’ teachings and his life – that of an “upside down economy”: instead of the survival of the fittest, instead of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, instead of the American Dream of getting yourself to the top by ruthless hard work, instead of justice and retaliation…..Jesus taught and demonstrated the radical concept of living a life of love.
“Love God above all and put other people’s needs above your own”
….that is the call to love. Simply believing this concept was not enough to produce freedom, but putting it into action would! That was strange to me but it made perfect sense in a strange way (the memory of the children in NYC stirred in me). It was plausible enough that I just had to give it a shot.
Well, like clockwork everything that Jesus said about me (from the words of Bible) exposed me for who I was and for who I really wanted to be. He explained why I was doing what I was doing and correctly predicted why it was not working out to anything that was fulfilling. I saw lists of what he calls sins and could easily see that he was simply telling me that he designed me and that he knows that following the path of those sins does not lead to good places (even sins like envy/comparing, goals of self-interest, and unresolved conflict). Instead, I saw how setting my mind and heart on the lists of positive traits and actions would lead to good places (even though many seemed counter-intuitive compared to my old perspectives). But I also saw how what he had designed ran much better on that fuel.
I simply saw evidence after evidence after evidence that what I tried to do by patterning my life after the “wisdom” of society and science was not working out too well. And I saw that by reasoning and by evidence in my life and by evidence in the lives of many around me that the “upside down economy” made much more sense.
I knew he knew me and I knew he loved me despite me being me.
At a family picnic at my kids’ elementary school tonight I was walking up to say “hi” to this guy whom I am friends with. His kids and my kids are classmates and I also know him from our church. He was talking to another guy I did not know or recognize. Just as I got within earshot I hear the other guy say something about “faith story” and my ears perked up. It turns out this guy has a project at our church collecting stories just like mine that you just read. Interestingly, I had been thinking and grappling and praying all day about whether or not to write this and what to include in the story while in my car driving all over Wisconsin between customer visits.
Coincidence? Maybe. More than coincidence? Maybe….but certainly curious. But, this kind of stuff has happened all the time in my 22 years since the story above ended.....and I have heard countless similar stories from others. Repeatable and measurable and verifiable enough for me to rationally call it evidence.
"Repeatable and measurable and verifiable enough for me to rationally call it evidence."
Again, your standards of evidence are very low and would never be accepted by a scientific body. By your standards, people have also "proven" that UFO/alien encounters are factual.
It's easy for most people to take a handful of events in their life and convince them that a divine power had something to do with it. Just wearing a pair of shades with that "Christian tint" can make everything appear that way. But when you examine it, coincidences happen to everyone. We're all bound to have a bunch in our lifetimes.
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