April 23, 2014

Deeds In The Weeds

I have to admit that I am disorientated at midlife. At 45 years old I’ve come to powerful personal and spiritual awareness and it is really messing with my interpretation of the world and myself. In the last five years I have begun to see myself having developed into a person I don’t always recognize. In some cases I have become stuck in certain ways and in others I have changed to be unrecognizable. Most of these changes have taken place unnoticed until now. Others have been purposely shaped and formed by sanctification through prayer, biblical study and spiritual persuasion.

In the past I had instinctively organized things into the little boxes that I carried around in my brain. Call it OCD, call it a need to control my life and surroundings. Whatever.  What I have found is that I have very little or no control over much of anything…especially my life’s circumstances. I have even less over other’s lives. This is where true awareness became evident to me about 6 years ago. These facts have pretty much rendered my categorizations and mental organizations useless. I guess my brain is too small. I had been so busy trying to keep up, pay bills to raise a family and do what I thought was required of me, I lost track of life. All of a sudden I was middle-aged and I realized I barely knew my wife, children or worst of all…Jesus Christ. I had depleted the secular fuel tank and I began to crash against the an invisible wall. I realize I had not correctly prioritized my life and the root of this disorder was that my moral core had been left to spin in a void without the guidance of the Bible or a relationship with God. Where I had been able to organize things I had found that the premise for my organization was flawed.

At some point I began to wise up and to see that my boxes or categorization were too little or too few in quantity. I had tried to make life simple and in doing so I had made my life chaos. I tried to squeeze my life and my family’s life into whatever box I felt like carrying at any given moment. Life doesn't fit in a box. I had misinterpreted actions by not only my friends but even my family. I wasn't driven and motivated I was selfish and narcissistic. I did things for me and not with the well-being of others. I was not biblical and that was my ultimate downfall. My life spiraled farther and farther into confusion and disorder until it all broke.

In doing these things I failed to see how important and influential my interpretive view and perception of life was. Life will always look like the groups and classifications that you bring to it. If I was too myopic in my outlook, my conclusions would be myopic and small too. How I act and what I do in any given situation would be determined by how I have organized my understanding of not only my surroundings but myself also. If I believe I am self-sufficient and am inherently a good person, I will not seek outside myself for help or fellowship with others. This of course is a recipe for disaster. In other words, in my old state, I would not have admitted I was a sinner in need of saving. Midlife forced me to take stock of my life and realize much of life just wasn’t adding up.

I had skipped like a stone over the top of my life without ever diving in more than a few inches. I had packed too much into my life to have spent any quality time on anything in particular. I had lived for just about everything and gain nothing but a depleted bank account and dysfunctional or damaged relationships. What made things worse was the culture told me I was right to pursue selfish desires even when I was dead wrong. Society tells us everyone’s opinions are truth even when they clearly cannot be. Therefore, not only are my measurements and categorizations for life inadequate…so are society’s. They are painfully insufficient and I learned this the hard way.

Crisis in midlife therefore is not only about our true identity is but it seems to expose weaknesses that have been there all along. I allowed them to tag along like a third wheel because they didn’t really hurt anything. The problem with this is that eventually, these problems did become exacerbated or come into sharper focus. Then they have to be dealt with and they are much larger than they should be. Compound this with a new acute awareness of one’s surroundings and BOOM, I had a monster in my life that could crush an 800lb gorilla to death. All these circumstances push towards dissatisfaction with life in general because things didn’t work out the way I had planned. Therein lies the problem. As a Christian, I am under the will of God, not my own.

So how do I turn this lumbering beast around?

The answer has already been hit upon in this post. God needed to be at the center of my life and decision-making. Not just in platitudes, but in the real deal. In my weaknesses that I have exposed or become aware of at midlife, I was strong. How? My weakness is where God can begin to shine through into my life. We see the same thing in Paul’s thorn in the flesh. In Paul’s inadequacies (and ours), we gain the most spiritual strength because this is where God’s grace is the most profound.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ~ “…there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

It was as if I suddenly begin to look around and I didn’t like my life. More specifically, I looked around and I didn’t recognize my life. There are the ever-present and possible job problems, stress or frictions in relationships or marriage. The new acute awareness made me see things in ways that I never had before. At times I looked at my life and it seemed purposeless, routine, and dull. In the haste of chasing everyday chores and duties…things got lost. Once held values lost importance. Things became devalued…even important relationships. Had the Bible and a relationship with Christ been the highest priority, these things probably wouldn’t have happened. Even now with Christ and Scriptures at the center of my life I still struggle.


It is because even though I tell you now that they are at center, the truth is my sinful fallen state assures that they won’t be. This is why I pray and meditate constantly and always attempt to keep God at center. I realize that right now I am extremely vulnerable. If I do not keep a clear intense focus on Jesus at this point in my life… I will miss the mark completely and probably permanently. This ironically…is the exact definition of sin. The word ἁμαρτία/hamartia or sin in the Bible literally means: “To miss the mark”. It is loss of reward for not hitting the target.

What target? The target is God’s standards which I have clearly mentioned above. Holiness. What reward? The reward is an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. The reward is Christ Himself, heaven is secondary believe it or not. The Kingdom is a by-product of our relationship with The King not vice-versa. I will not find contentment in Heaven, I find contentment in Jesus/God Himself. Why? Because I was created by Him for that exact purpose and it brings glory to the Godhead. He doesn’t need me, I need Him and when I am in Him…I am complete…I will be content. This is one of the reasons people (including myself) are so adept at creating idols. We are made to be in relationship with God. When we don’t have a relationship with the real God or cannot because our sin interferes, we end up making one that can adapt to our sin. Our sin therefore makes our god and because it is rooted in sin…we die in it and because of it. Fake gods cannot save, they kill and condemn. Only the Living God can give life.

In the throes of godless dissatisfaction I experienced one of many symptoms like consistent boredom, restlessness, discontent, or disillusionment. The bottom line is that I was not happy with my life's narrative. The lives of others around me seemed much more interesting and attractive in ways that they have not before. This dissatisfaction was not necessarily about a particular thing but a general feeling of discontent.

My midlife struggles had very powerfully revealed the things of my heart like nothing ever had before. My interpretation of events in my life had shown me a failed theology and a theology that had not been applied. My theology was still abstract and subjective. I now had to apply what I actually believed to real life. In other words: I had to walk the walk and talk the talk, not just give lips service. I needed an applicable and functional theology, not an inapplicable and dysfunctional theology. I needed to match up what was in my heart to my actions. They were two completely different things and until I got them together and both aligned to God…it was like having two different personalities (imagine Romans 7 on adrenaline). I had found the discontinuity in life and needed to bridge the gap.

The things I said I had been living for had to become the things I said I had been living for. I had to really live a life for Jesus. I had to really become humble. I had to become meek. I had to allow myself to be wronged without retaliation. I had to be willing to truly die to self. I had to read my Bible every day. I had to pray as much as I said I was praying. I needed to sacrifice. I had to participate in discipleship, teaching, rebuking and do it all in love. Life was about to get serious and seriously hard. What I was to do and live out in my life had to reign in my heart.

I had to stop being bitter about the things I had perceived has having been taken away from me: Jobs, love, money, junk. I also had to not be angry about the unwanted things that had been given to me: Deaths in my family, debt, poor health, pain. I had to get over the fact that things had been forcefully been taken out of my hands right at the time I believed I should be hitting my stride in career, marriage and parenthood. God unraveled it all to show me that He was in charge and until I relinquished any possible ownership of it…a life would not be given back to me. I had found that if I was faithful in the small things I would be given larger things to handle for His Kingdom. Having taken everything that was my life from me at middle-age, God was showing me I was not even capable of handling the things common to most all middle-age men. Humbling and educational at the same time.

When I did things not empowered of by God, my actions were based in my will, not his. I therefore shot a quiver full of arrows in the form of deeds into the weeds that had overgrown my life. I missed God’s intent for me completely. This led ultimately to my discontent and dissatisfaction at midlife. I reached a point where I had swung wide of the mark for half of my life and as a creature of God, I innately sensed that I was not doing what I had been created for. This then triggered a series of events that steered me back to target. Had this not happened I would’ve spiraled off into oblivion and death. It was time to take a mower to the weeds to make things easier to see and to clear the debris from life that didn’t need to be there. God in, junk out.

So now God has begun the rebuilding process and it is slow and in His time. This is a painful process too since I am impatient. This is probably because He is trying to adapt His education process to His student: me. I’m a little slow on the uptake. What else could you say of a man that has been drummed over the head for four decades for the relational basics to begin to take hold in my mind and behavior?

I have now found my lost identity and a little bit of meaning and purpose. It begins with the fact that I am a child of God. What I can no longer afford to do is react without thinking. Reflexive and knee-jerk reactions are what got me into the mess I spoke of. Reactive responses may seem logical, but they were only the twisted logic of hidden sinful desire. I was actually trapped in the turnaround of the thoughts and motives of his heart that were devoid of God. I need to be reflective now, not reactive. I had to think before speaking. I had to mediate on God before action. So this is what I chose to do and most times it works. Sometimes, but not always. It is an ongoing process. It is sanctification in Christ.

The Bible can no longer be functionally sidelined in my life when I struggle. It is a recipe for doom. I must cling to God in times of loss and failure. Sometimes, that is the only way through the destruction of what life can become. If Scripture is functionally sidelined, I begin to lose my identity, ethics, mission, and values. At that point…I am the devil’s plaything. This is just not acceptable for me as a Christian.

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