Self-will

Isolation

Some of the most profound lessons in life can only be discovered face down in a proverbial ditch.  And that’s where I found myself about 25 years ago.  My career was crumbling. My family life was devastated. Whatever influence I had was waning quickly.  My dreams were being shattered.  I was a complete failure privately, and was about to be exposed as one publicly.  And for the moment, it was right where God wanted me to be.

There as life was crashing in all around me, I asked the Lord one of the most life-changing questions I could have asked, and He was gracious enough to give me an answer.

How did I wind up here?

The Lord showed me three things – three huge, blinding, colossal choices or habits that set me up for a trip to the ditch.  The first I’ve already covered here – I allowed myself to get discouraged in one area of my life, and soon discouragement spread like spiritual cancer.

Here is the second.  I read it on the 18th of the month – I know this because it was in Proverbs 18. But reading it was like reading a lab report on the condition of my heart.

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment (Proverbs 18:1, NKJ)

At first blush it was obvious what that meant.  I was a pastor.  I was a public figure who made my living with words and relationships and eternal truths.  I was “on” 24/7, or so I thought.  So I gave every effort to play the part.  I smiled pastor smiles. I prayed pastor prayers.  I said pastor things.  And when people asked me how I was doing, I gave pastor replies.  “Good!” I would say, smiling.

I never told anybody otherwise.

I never shared what my biggest, most challenging obstacles were.  I never shared the depths of what my dreams were, either for myself or for the church.  I never told anybody I had gotten discouraged. I never asked for wisdom or help. I was a professional problem solver. I was supposed to be the solution to other people’s problems and the complete solution to my own… all the while presenting a front and leaving an impression that all was well.

The only way to pull all this off was to isolate myself.  I even had a name for it – I called it “transparency to a point.”  I would let people see and hear enough to believe I was being open and honest, but wouldn’t tell them too much.

Why?  Pride, for sure, but that’s the third answer to the question… more on that later.  Why isolate, then?  Because I didn’t want people advising me to do what I didn’t want to do.  I didn’t want to ask for anybody else’s help to succeed.  And I didn’t want to expose my life and work to somebody else’s opinion, wisdom, or direction.

In short, I isolated myself, and I was an idiot to do so.  I would caution you against the same mistake. [click to continue…]

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Couple looking serious

(A Conversation)

Stuck.

Stuck?

Yeah, that’s probably the best word for it.

As in, you’ve hit the ditch and can’t get out?

Maybe.  Or more like I get so far and every time I hit this wall I can’t ever seem to break through.

Maybe you don’t really want to break through.

What’s that supposed to mean?

Maybe you’d rather lose a thousand pounds than 20.

I don’t follow.

Isn’t it easier to lose one pound and gain it back, then repeat the process a thousand times, than losing 20 and keeping it off?

Okay now you’ve gone to meddling!  And yeah, maybe that’s true, but humor me.  Let’s assume I really want to lose the 20 pounds.  Or I really want to pray consistently.  Or I really want to stop feeling so insecure.

But you feel stuck?

I feel stuck.

Powerless to break free?

Yeah, that.

Tired of 1 John 1:9 being your life verse?

Yeah… Hey!  Wait a minute! Are we talking about me or you?

Well, let’s just say, to quote two former presidents, “Ah feel yur pain” because I’ve been “knee-deep in doo-doo” myself.

And what did you learn?

That I was a bad liar. [click to continue…]

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Christmas 2004.  I’m pretty sure it was the last time I made the trek to Deer Bluff.  Pictures were the thing this year, and one day Joel wanted to go to Deer Bluff to take some.  It was nice to be back there, this place near the family farm that has always captured my imagination.

At one point I was up on top of the bluff and Joel was down below taking pictures of the initials carved in the stone near the small cave.  Meandering through the volcanic rock and fallen branches, I tripped over a log and fell with a thud on my stomach and shoulder.  I also hit some sort of piece of wood, and cut a couple of plugs out of my fingers.

The fingers were the ugliest, but the shoulder was the greatest concern.  Lying there, I wondered if something had been broken.  Later, my biggest fear was that I had torn my rotator cuff.  Finally, a year later, the MRI showed I had shredded the tendons in my shoulder and yes, I would need surgery.

Awesome.  So that’s what a stumbling block is.  And I was right in the middle of a stumbling zone. [click to continue…]

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