You know, I still get sad sometimes when I think about what material and worldly things are missing from my life. It’s a sense of: gosh, I really haven’t lived up to my potential, and I am on pace to be remembered as your average dud and nobody. I read about people who are constantly getting to travel to places for work and pleasure, or see folks who are enjoying over a decade of marriage with children who only have a few years left before they leave the nest. And, these are folks my age or slightly older than me.
I think about other ways in which men my age might be in possession of more than me, and just how overall more grown up they seem to be.
It’s like there is a piece of me–not quite a fully-formed personality–maybe once it was a persona–that still is like a cat looking at a toy mouse being jiggled just out of its reach. The real me, the part of me that I actually enjoy spending time with, and don’t feel as uncertain about when it comes to spending eternity in heaven–this me thinks that just about all there is in this world to chase after is nothing but emptiness cloaked in a lie. That lie is, of course, that whatever is dangled in front of you will make you happy once you’ve jumped through whatever social hoops are required to have it.
The real me is striving to be someone who is completely empty, and only has room for the triune God to fill him up.
Which means I have to spend the rest of my life trying to empty myself of all the pride, vainglory, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, etc. that still abide within me. It means I have to spend a lot of time yanking back my fake me from the edge of leaping out into the world and making a fool out of me, or causing me to make terrible decisions that lead me further and further away from God.
Yes, I still intend to pursue seminary–because I believe that being a pastor is the best way for me to spend my time and effort getting closer to God. As a married man with a little boy, I don’t have the option to join a monastery. I am not sure that being in a monastery was ever God’s plan in the first place, though I sometimes get the same sadness for missing out on being a monk or priest as I do for being some kind of artsy, secular man of the world in a place like NYC.
But, I really need to constantly remind myself that all of the books in the world on theology and Bible history can’t add up to take the place of the emptiness of self that should wait to be filled by God. The real challenge, then, is one that can be approached during just about any period of the day or my life, as long as I am mindful that it is the number one challenge.
Rather than try to purge myself of my sinful nature as if I were operating a holy vacuum cleaner, I should always be seeking that which will leave me no room inside for a sinful nature to exist. In short, I should be running toward Jesus, rather than running away from sin. If I am completely sincere in my running toward Jesus, the sinful parts of me will wither and die because there is nothing there to feed them.
For me, it is easy to lose any sort of desire for physical things. I can quickly sense and dismiss the kind of lust others might have for gadgets, cars, sports, collectibles, clothes, shoes, etc. I think that this often causes me to have an increase in pride, which only makes the areas I struggle with seem to be that much worse.
I get upset when people around me don’t recognize what a great man I am, though I’ve known for years that nobody calls you great unless you bother to do something great. Being chosen and special for doing absolutely nothing, like Harry Potter, or some other kid’s tale, is for kids only. The number of adults who might discover that they were royalty or had a distant wealthy family member are probably even smaller than the number of adults who will be successful as musicians, writers, athletes, etc.–perhaps even fewer than the ones who will win the lottery.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with is just how little I effect change in what makes news or history. People out there have managed to work harder or be born into luckier circumstances, and they are the ones who make the news and history. I don’t even have a clue about how to get involved with the community in a meaningful way so that I am at least playing a supporting role in making a difference in homelessness and child education. I did what I thought was trying hard and being focused during my three years at United Way and summer working on a political campaign, but it always seemed like there were brighter lights around me ready to catch the spotlight and attention–not necessarily because they worked harder or were smarter, but just because they ran their mouths more and moreso in a way that was pleasing to those around them and those in power.
If you were raised in such a way that you never learned how to play the game, then every effort you make as an adult to learn how to play the game and subsequently play the game is going to be thwarted by those who have been playing the game for decades longer than you have.
I’ve also had to accept that most people around me are not necessarily mean or scowling at me, they are simply feeding off of my anxiety, and at best might care enough to acknowledge that I am there. How to befriend them is part of the game, and I may know how to play the game in a rudimentary way, but I never learned how to offer up the right amount of myself in conversation to demonstrate that I’m not stuck up while not offering so much that people think I’m crazy or unstable for sharing too much information.
The more failures I’ve experienced as a man out in the world, the more I’ve come to see the need to search for something bigger than myself and the world from within. The determining factor of whether I participate in this or that attempt at inner transformation is mostly around whether it actually works or not. The more I embrace Christ, the happier I am on the inside, and the more “filled up” I seem to be as a self-aware being. Jesus Christ is the antithesis of darkness, and after so many abortive tries to be a worldly man, I began to see that much of what others clung to for illumination was simply gilded darkness. So many of the people I knew in college and right after college seem to be perpetually disillusioned and going through the same motions of seeking fulfillment via pop culture entertainment. Getting dressed up as a Star Wars character and going to see the latest Star Wars movie when it opens seems to be a sad, pathetic attempt to glory in something that is bigger than you. In the end, so many of these folks who have turned their back on God and declared that He doesn’t exist, are busy re-creating a god piecemeal through pop culture, sports, gadgets, Burning Man, etc., and the amount of joy and fun they are getting from these sad efforts appears to be forced and inauthentic.
But, I don’t think I will ever be a street preacher who screams at people they are going to hell. I want to develop something wonderful at the church I pastor where the people who attend are excited about it and say “come and see for yourself” to their friends, and their friends can decide if they are ready to embrace the awesomeness that is Christ, or if they still can get everything they need out of a humanist, atheist kind of life. Come and see if this works for you–give it an honest, grown up’s shot–don’t allow whatever baggage you carry around about your childhood Christ to get in the way of coming and seeing what He is about as an adult. And, if it’s not for you, that’s okay, too. Christ is loving and merciful and patient, and will wait as long as it takes for you to see that a life with Christ is so much lighter, peaceful and joyous than a life carrying around the burdens of what you owe the world after you have consumed some of its pleasures.