I turned 40 this week. It is one of those birthdays that begins a whole new chapter in a person’s life. I can imagine getting old and wrinkled and frail now in a way I couldn’t five years ago. I have started considering things like how many grandchildren and great-children I’ll get to meet. It has occurred to me that I won’t live to see another turn of the century. Not in a morbid way–simply as recognition.
But I have to say one thing has been really disappointing about this birthday. I thought I’d be right in the middle of my Calling by now. I thought I’d know precisely what I was meant to be doing and would be doing it with ease and confidence.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m less sure of things than I have ever been.
I thought I knew something about how to lead people toward truth and grace and life and peace. I thought I knew how make a difference for good. I thought I’d studied and thought and prayed carefully enough about how to build a marriage and a family and a church. I thought I’d done enough of the right things that life couldn’t help but turn out well for us. I thought God’s obvious gifts and blessings around us were evidence that we were doing precisely what He meant for us to do.
I thought I wouldn’t regret my choices, my sacrifices, friends I’d lost contact with because of other (higher—so I thought at the time) priorities. I was wrong. The time of certainty had ended. My life today is utterly unrecognizable to the me of five years ago. I want to believe that is a good thing. I want to believe it is all working together for good. But the truth is I’m not sure of much anymore.
In my mind’s eye, I see a pile of ashes in my palm. A strong wind swirls it away until every speck is gone. All that is left is my bare palm. Does it mean nothingness? A fresh start? I want to believe the latter.
The best thing about all the pain and loss is that it has brought me a fresh and much needed humility. I look back on the old me and see lots of qualities and choices I don’t regret. I cared for people. I sacrificed for them and tried to love them well. I tried to model strength and grace and stewardship. So did Kyle. So did Torey. And I don’t believe we failed utterly though I see we were much shorter of the mark than I believed then.
But here’s what else I see. I am ashamed that I had become smug about my spirituality. I believed I knew the truth and was willing to obey it. I harbored a subtle inward derision toward those who were misguided about the ‘right’ way to do church, who wouldn’t let go of sinful habits, who couldn’t make their marriages or families work. Those sorts of people hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t studied enough, didn’t love God enough.
I am so sorry. God, forgive me and heal hurts that inner attitude and its manifestation caused. And if you were someone who was hurt by it, I hope you’ll give me a chance to say I am sorry in person. At the time, I was surrounded by others leaders; some of whom exhibited a pride that was more open and articulate than mine—this isn’t gossip; they have said so themselves. It made me sad and angry for them and for the church. But I truly didn’t see the same sort of seeds in my own heart. I didn’t see how simplistic my thinking had become, how my definition of grace and truth and goodness had narrowed according to terms I and others had created. As excruciating as the past few years have been, at least I’m starting to see it now. And I think I can say it’s worth it. At least I can today.
“He leads the humble in justice,
And teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”