This is a loaded question, and one with no really good answer to the average person. Though, it does carry with it a sense of finality and its elusive context provides the backdrop to our finite reality on this earth. When I turned 35, I didn’t go out and do anything uncharacteristic, nor did I push the envelope of proper behavior. No, what I did was take a figurative look back at the previous 35 years, and my first thought was, “whew, this went by way too quickly”, but as this began to set in, so did my mortality. Just who am I? What is my purpose in this life? What am I truly meant to do? Where is it I go, when I die? You know, the easy questions in life. Of course, it’s been several years since I asked these questions, and although the answers were not necessarily what I wanted to hear, they were what I needed all along. I hope in the next few paragraphs, you will see some of your own questions come to light, and perhaps you will find an answer yourself. At the end of the day, God is always the answer we look for, but finding the path, He crafted Himself for us, is the first step to the hardest and most rewarding decision of your lives.
Let me start from where my “mortality enlightenment” occurred, and then I will push forward from there. My realization of a world which passed me by, like bullet train, was beginning to sink in. My kids were much older now, I was much older now, and I wasn’t further along in my career. I wasn’t doing anything professionally or socially important with my life. I wasn’t attending church on a regular basis. I didn’t have many friend or even acquaintances, except for those people I talked with at work. Though, I hated my work, so I understood, as much as I enjoyed talking with people, this eventually would go away. So, back to square one, I thought, “where am I supposed to go from here?” I intuited I needed people in my life, but at the same time, I didn’t want anyone else but my immediate family. I was going to take the quasi loner’s life, and I would wear the invisible cloak of struggle. At the end of the day, I was creating my own paradigm of failure, and this mortification of self through a deprivation of human contact was probably one of the lowest times in my life. I didn’t feel unhappy though, I was content in my solitude, but desperately seeking human interaction. I only noticed this, when someone would give me the slightest attention, and it was as though my world was set to right, and I could function as I should. At the end of the day, it would always go away, and a false reality would set in. The words seemed to pop into my head, indicating, “This is all you’ll ever have, and you should be happy”. Now, I’m not sure about anyone else, but sometimes faced with an acceptance of less than we anticipated can be demoralizing at times. At any rate, this is where I was at in my life.
Now, it’s taken me years to seemingly self-diagnose this and realize, I was the problem, not everyone else. God isn’t asking me to suffer my situation, but rather as St. Theresa of Lisieux would point out in “Story of A Soul” it was a matter of embracing what it is I am and giving it to God in every possible way. To begin, I looked at all the years which to this point passed me by, gone, I can’t get them back now! I sat quietly thinking, at best, I may have another 35 or 40 years left, and I’m on a downhill trajectory at this point. I was very depressing to be around, but it is just like the darkness next to the light, always seems to be more enveloping and consuming until we become illuminated. As was the case for me. I began to move my thoughts from, why the years seem to move so fast, to just who I am as a man. What is expected of me as a man? What is my purpose?
As a man, this was a pretty hard question to answer for a couple of reasons, the first being, and my expectations as a man, because I’m a man. The second being, my expectations as a man, because society sees me as a man. When I tackled the first, I was constantly convoluting it with our cultural expectations, and rendering a poorly imaged portrayal of what a man should be. There was always a defect in my mind’s eye, and I continuously was exposing the flawed characteristics of my manly personality and my frustration began to grow. This mixed with my attempts to teach my son about being a man, becomes more confusing to him, which in turn frustrated me. However, just like anything we do, with enough time and attention, we begin to get a little better, we look for better sources of information in what we seek, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard as we increase our skill. My higher standard is God, and my recognition of the source of my manhood was the illumination I wrote of earlier, it exposed the good and the bad. It was the medicine I needed to heal the festering wounds of pride, hubris, ignorance, and a lack of love in my life. Let me be the first to say though, it wasn’t easy to take, it wasn’t a picnic facing the exposure. My wife, in her unconditional love, fought hard to ask me the question and have me realize the answer, “where is the love in what you do”. Seemingly a simple question, but when we dig deep, the exposure of an answer, “I haven’t been giving my love, I’ve been holding back for fear of rejection, loss, and failure” entered my mind. I was in my anger and removal of myself in situations creating a distance which allowed an insularly effect protecting me from my fears (at least I thought so). As hard as it was to take the answer to the question posed, I found it harder to look in the direction of God, shame was winning and the worst part was, I was letting it win.
I must emphasize my shame in this, I thought I looked like the biggest fool to everyone and to everything. I was arrogant, and put myself in a place where I didn’t need anything or anyone (or so I thought), it was like being a mile in front of everyone in the race, only to realize I took a wrong turn. My embarrassment, especially to my wife, created a sense of anger in me and confusion. I always felt as if I need all the answers to anything asked. I read, study, and constantly try to know everything I can for a couple of reasons. I need the human attention so bad, I wanted to immediately be valuable to anyone if they just asked, and the second reason was I needed to know as much as possible, so I can never look foolish. When my wife pulled me back in, she did so in the way a wife loves a husband or as a woman can love a man. She unconditionally asked me the question, and I had to answer. It’s the best question I was ever asked, and I didn’t have the answer this time. I couldn’t make an excuse for me any longer. Happy 35th birthday, right? It was probably the best birthday, I’ve ever had. It was as if the door was opened, and I was exposed to the “real world” the objective truth as it were.
A couple of things changed on the onset, first of all, every detail didn’t escape my notice. Now, I’ve always been hypersensitive to my environment, but in a way which was entirely self-serving. This time though, I noticed one simple change to my perspective, and then everything seemingly fit into place, even when I didn’t have an answer. I could see love, in everything. I don’t just mean, pink hearts, or people smiling a lot (which is nice, but overrated). No, I could see the love of God, in everything. It’s truly amazing!!! I can’t describe, the joy which can overwhelm me in an instant at the thought of what I see. I have stopped to embrace this all-consuming experience, and many times, because of our cultural perspective of manliness, I will conceal my tears. Peter Kreeft, once remarked in his dis-belief of those who claim to speak with God, and yet seem to have no emotion or memory of emotion which isn’t fervent or believable. In other words he indicated, God, in His sheer goodness should shake us to our core and in being within the presence of this goodness will inadvertently cause us to look within ourselves and be repulsed at the sin which we have allowed to corrupt our very nature. I would use this example to further explain my point, when I’m around someone who I can very clearly tell is good and kind in their nature, I carry with me a sense of shame because, in my pursuit of God’s love, I am immediately exposed to the truth, I can do more than I am doing as this person has clearly (without saying a word in chastisement) has shown me. This is what my wife’s question did for me, and this is what my experience is when my hypersensitive experiences are introduced. I have less of those experiences now, than when I first started having them, but they still come back, and I fully embrace the chance for a realization of emotion attached with a recognition of my failures. Embracing our sin as a cognitive device to remove it would be the same as a doctor acknowledging the sickness before he can remove it and make you well again.
Right, so there I was answering the most important questions of my life, and the next question popped up, “what is my purpose?” This question, is on the minds of everyone at some point, I would imagine, and some have answers and some don’t. When I asked this question, I was at a point in my career and my life where it was evident I wasn’t achieving the goals I set forth for myself. I had clear intent to attain my degrees and work a job, all the while moving up the ladder of success. This did not happen, at least not in the way I would ever have imagined. I was challenged to look at my perceptions and goals, and place a new perspective on something other than a material view. What was I doing for others, how did I show God’s love in everything I did. This was further exposed by an understanding of God’s place in my life. God, who lovingly created me, put me where I would have the greatest opportunity to find love in my life, he does this for all of us, although be it, in different ways. Some of us must go through great struggle and there are others of us, who must be willing to push those earthly gifts away to create a sacrifice in life for God. Those little sacrifices are to push those things which keep us further away for the light of Christ and embrace everything we see with an acknowledgement of love.
I was meant to be a loving husband and father. I was always meant to pursue God and embrace His love with every fiber and ounce of my being. These were my true goals, and at 35, I realized I had wasted too much time on my personal wants, rather than a determined focus on the unmitigated love of God.
My wife deserves a husband who is patient and loves her for who she is. This meant for me (I’m still working on this), accepting those things which make her who she is, not who I want her to be. This can’t be stated more clearly, how can we love anyone if they are not free to choose who and how they want to reciprocate the love in return. My children deserve a father who is willing to place the principle of love before all things. This doesn’t mean, I’m their best friend or I won’t become upset at their actions, what it means is I’m willing to teach them what true, unconditional love actually is, and I do this through my actions towards them. I will admit, my son tests my patience beyond measure at times, but when I give myself enough time to think about him, I am transported to what my mind imagines the pain God must feel when we constantly and without rest test his love.
We test God every second of the day when we fail to repent, through our sinful behavior and through the repulsive behaviors which push Him away from us.
This brings us to the final question, and the hardest from the standpoint of truth. We as humans have the power to decide two pathways to travel down. The first is the pathway which God has placed before us, a pathway which is laid with obstructions and bends so severe we risk failure at every turn. Though this is our perception when we look with our eyes, it is much different when we acknowledge what we see with our hearts. Those bends and slopes create in us a need to slow down and find God, nothing in life is truly gained by running so fast we miss everything around us. This is the first path, the journey is our journey of love, the pathway we might seek to embrace an unconditional love of God. The second path is a path of self. A pathway where we control our destiny, or at least we try to control our means and end. This pathway is straighter and less narrow, it has less obstructions, and we find there are many people on this path but no one person is concerned about us and our journey just their own. How can we find joy in people who aren’t concerned, at every unconditional level, about us? The answer is, we just can’t, and we can’t pursue the desires of another and hope to find the joy of God. Ok, so the moment of truth came when I was tasked to answer, “Where do we go when we die”? This was the fundamental question, the question when once asked and answered should be the direction we base our entire lives going forward on. So, I did. Based on everything I know of this world, and those who’ve been kind enough in their lives to exhibit God’s love, I chose God. I want to be in an existence where I can fall in love with the creator of all things and do so in a way where I’m not creating an issue of being forced to decide. This was the inevitable truth and I accepted it with all my heart.
At the end of the day, the decision was a fork in the road. Either I could believe or not believe, and if I chose to not believe (deluding myself from every bit of evidence and what I knew to be certain in my heart), then I would lead a life answering only unto myself with a moral compass set only to an emotive true north. On the other hand, believing in God presented a multifaceted acceptance. An acceptance of an objective truth, a way as it were for me to direct my energies. I was given a solid black and white paradigm to accept, it was the belief in a true right and a true wrong. Something I could tangibly rest my back upon for the rest of my life, and this was what I was always searching for. My heart longed for something and I tried to fill it with everything possible, except the one thing which would keep it full. God’s love is what I was searching for, and in this I found the answer to absolutely every question I ever had.
The meaning in my life was God, the joy which was a side-effect of loving God has brought a fulfillment of riches regarding my marriage and my family life. I see people so much more differently now than I ever did, and in the process of seeing them differently I recognize everyone is precious in the sight of God. If God loves you as much as he does me, then how can I not love whom my heavenly father loves. Heaven is the joining of this world and the throne with which God sits. Since my pitiful attempt to describe the indescribable is the best I can do, we will just have to imagine the original tear in the fabric of life being brought back together where we will walk in communion with God in the cool of the evening as Adam once did. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!