I actually think I caused more interpersonal damage in my 30s and 40s as a believer trying to do meaningful things for God, than I ever did as a dope chain smoking, whipped-cream-aerosol- inhaling atheist in my 20s.
(…Well, there goes our attempts to get me booked in larger Christian venues.)
There is something disproportionately damaging when newly discovered capacity, gifting and talent is mixed with a sincere but immature ambition, clutching to a lofty spiritual goal.
I need to clarify. During those two decades I loved Jesus immensely. Not all my motives were self-centered. I had some of the greatest friends on the planet. We got to do some really rare, wonderful God things. We had more fun than any group of people should be allowed. In truth, I would probably do most all of it again. But I hurt some people…some I fear irreparably. I still look back and wonder how much beauty was squandered as we each slowly had to take our gloves and bats and go find something else to do with our time and gifts and love.
I’m now 59. I’m still capable of causing hurt, of burning all the ships in the harbor on any given day. I wish I could have another chance with that same group of people. I’m pretty sure I’ll never know a group like them again. I know they would say they love me and look back with great delight on our pictures of what we got to do. But if they had to answer honestly they might admit that my stubborn pride and need to be right eventually robbed a lot of the dream. I’m not blaming myself for the war in Vietnam, but this is my life. And unless my theology is way off, you only get one of them. So, allow me a moment to reflect. And give yourself a moment at this wayside to reflect, before you unwittingly risk spoiling a season you were made for.
Maybe being around the wise has had some impact. Maybe living in an environment of grace has broken through. Maybe this “Christ in me” reality does inevitably mature us over time. Maybe I’m now just too tired and my feet hurt-but I don’t see life the same now. Here’s what I didn’t know then, that I now know for minutes at a time.
*I preached grace and lived it with great affirmation and goodness…when there was little conflict. But I did not understand the power of grace to handle sin or broken dreams.
*I didn’t understand the sovereign, perfect and perfectly loving intention and ability of God. I didn’t yet trust that God was completely able to do His best for me, in His way and in His time, without me manipulating or overpowering the situation.
*I didn’t like His pace, or the influence He didn’t give, so I tried to create my own.
*I fought those who didn’t see it my way. I thought they would ruin this beautiful dream God had given us. In truth, the dream He had given us was us, getting to do whatever we did, together, in great love and delight.
*I didn’t allow almost anyone to tell me how I was affecting them. I am not easy to tell hard things to. People have had to dance around me, in trying to protect me, most of my life. I hate that. But I can at least now type the letters onto a page describing it.
*I had too much to lose. To fail, to not reach our goal, would further cement my shame story-that I wasn’t a person worthy of God doing something incredible through.
*I made myself the issue. That’s what seems to always happen when unresolved issues meet conflict or difficulty. People were reacting to me instead of us solving the actual problems, so we could go forward.
*I wanted to be great. Dang it! I did not want to write that. Wait, there’s more. I still want to be great. I’ve told people I’m free of that. But I’m not. I want every man, woman and child in the free world to think I’m the greatest human since Jimmy Dean. It’s just that back then I didn’t know how to give others access to me to look at what was behind that self-centeredness.
*I didn’t yet believe if you knew the worst about me that you would love me more, not less…so I was forced to try to figure out and fix my stuff on my own, while appearing to be deeply invested in allowing others in.
*I thought I was justified in my overbearing, overly-emotional response to being wronged.
*I was really quick and good with my words and could do great damage before anyone even knew what was happening. I could sound absolutely right and be absolutely wrong.
So there. There’s the seedy underbelly that those really close to me have come to know.
Here’s the deal. I don’t think maturity is about any of these messed up things getting fixed. I believe I’ll have many of them, in some measure, for the rest of my life. It’s my particular, built-in mixture of pain, unbelief, family, hurt, loss, and the Cuban missile crisis back in 62. But I am growing up. That simply means I am learning to receive the love of some trusted others. I am risking against incredible fear that it is possible that some others can know the worst about me and not have it cause them to love me less, but beautifully more. I’m telling on myself, telling the hidden failure I’m intending and watching the cycle get stopped in its tracks.
It’s not a straight line. It’s messy. My own son Caleb recently had to step into the ring with his dad and patiently and gently call me out when I was powering up with some hobbyhorse or other.
But the shame story is slowly being dismantled. I’m healthier and more free to love and give up and let go of than at any other time of my life. This is Christ in me.
And I’ve got protectors who are in it for the long haul. They know me. And they know how to call me off ledges and kindly kick me under the table when I start ramping up.
I used to think I squandered the best years I’d ever be given through my immaturity. And that the rest of the life would be just filler until I discovered coconut cream pie in the rest home. But I’m starting to wonder if growing health brings the hope of new seasons…if God times healing and maturity to match the wonder of new glimpses of destiny.
Anyway, I’ve got that going for me.
John, one of the three amigos, in the ever-growing community of grace.