I have taken a few wrong turns in my life, some on purpose with an arrogant disregard for reality or responsibility. And while those have had their own costs, most much higher than I had expected, none have been as painful than the poor turns I took in ignorance and with the best of intentions. God has allowed all of us to make our own choices and He waits patiently for us to accept His will for our lives. But I have discovered some of the consequences for following your own designs and leaving God’s plan behind. Some choices you make will always haunt you, their payments taking a lifetime to close the ledger on.
In 2004 I began to feel the joy and zest of life slipping away from me, slowly at first but noticeably day by day. At first I thought it was a phase or contributed it to pressures at work or home. As time progressed and months had not provided a way out I began to get a little worried. It was not so much my feelings that bothered me but my lack of finding a cause. My wife and two children were healthy and happy; I was at the height of my professional career making a great deal of money and amazing benefits. We had our issues but nothing more and much less, than other families.
As months stretched into a year it was clear that this feeling of emptiness was affecting more than my state of mind and impacting all aspects of my life. My career started to unravel and home became a battleground. I was watching everything I had valued slip away and my concern mutated into panic. Life became like food without taste, watching television with no sound or touching but not feeling. One night while driving, over the mountains, home from work I remember thinking “If I drive this car home, I am going to eat dinner, go to bed and wake up to do this day all over again. It might be better to just drive this car over the edge.”
It was those terrifying thoughts of suicide that finally drove me to my knees, seeking God for the first time in twenty years. True to His Word I found restoration and acceptance, albeit there were, and still are, some things that I have to get right. In the years since, leading up to now, God has restored my joy and peace. At the age of 40 I began a work of submission to God’s design for this life and it is the lessons from this experience I want to share.
A question I hear often from young people is “What is my purpose?” and this truly was the heart of the problems I experienced. I was ignorant of the purposes that God had intended for this life, and to be outside of God is to be empty, unfulfilled and without hope. I had to understand that the question itself “What is my purpose” is deceptive because it puts the focus on you. The real question is “What is God’s purpose for this life?” Answering this question took me almost two years, mostly because I am pretty stubborn and thick headed.
In teaching this to young men I use the illustration of Football tryouts. I have not had to teach this to young women yet so for all you ladies who read this I apologize now for swerving into sports. The first thing I teach the boys is that you don’t get to tryouts without a scouting report. Someone took time to observe you in action and made an assessment of your talents and potential. This report is passed to someone who then invites you to tryouts.
Trying to understand what purpose God had for me started here. I sought out a set of people I respected for their character and trusted for their candor and asked them for three things. I asked them to describe me in one word adjectives, tell me what they thought I did well or had a natural talent for and site examples how I positively impacted others. I did a self assessment on the same criteria and compared my perceptions with theirs. The difference between our assessments was astounding. Things I took for granted or discarded as irrelevant were the exact things that they found of most value. For the first time I was able to see, in tangible examples, what I had to offer to others.
The next thing I did was a series of tryouts. It is one thing to have a scouting report but testing that reports accuracy is another matter. I setup little drills or events in my work, home and church where I could use the gifts and talents written in my assessments. As I began participating in the different activities, feelings of validation and success poured upon me. Some activities tested my courage like teaching Bible studies, giving testimony and sharing personal essays with the world. I was growing in confidence for where my value could be expressed, although not everything in my scouting reports were accurate.
The last thing I had to do was understand what God was doing around me. I had a good tryout and training camp, and now had to join with God on what He was already doing. I spent time to understand my church and community more and see where in God’s work I could apply the gifts He gave me. This may seem like an obvious thing to do but I believe that many people miss it and take their talents back for their own purposes. The major test for me was our youth mission trip to Mexico because it was the one thing that I was adamant about not joining, and, of course, the very thing God pushed at me.
I was made the mission director by our pastor for a program that did not exist. I had no experience with this and found myself in the dual position of trusting God and trusting the gifts He gave me. A team had to be created and trained. Leaders had to be assigned and mentored. Fundraisers organized and conducted. Field work completed and the team brought home safely. It is an amazing amount of work but our team was even more amazing in their success. For me this was the championship game and I made a whole lot of errors. At times I felt close to failure but God remained true, leading me and through me the team.
This latest transformation in my life, starting close to three years ago, was not easy. I had to throw many false hopes and dreams away in order to cling to those God had for me. I suspect there are still a few of those I have to discard or have torn away from me. I want to be an encouragement, if I can, and confirm the rewards for being close to God and being used by God for God are without compare to what you can produce on your own.
Looking externaly, my life is not much different than before. I have a good career and loving family. I have about the same community of people around me and live in the same house. The differences from then and now are internal. Food will never taste so good, music sound as pure or love be as warm as when you take them from God’s hand and enjoy them at God’s table.