This past Thursday, I was sitting at a coffee shop, wearing a blazer, hopping on and off phone calls and typing on two computers. An older man sat at my table and asked,
“Do you have the time?”
I told him the hour and the minute, and he struck up a conversation with me. He was a veteran who had owned multiple businesses in his life. “Don’t work too much,” he warned, “or your life will pass you by. It almost happened with me.”
“‘Almost?'” I wondered. “What was it that created a shift in the way you lived your life?”
“Actually, it was 9/11,” he answered. “I owned a ground transportation business. After 9/11, everyone was afraid of renting our trucks. Business tanked. It was a wake-up call for me.”
Before he left, I invited him to my church’s Easter service next week. He had preconceived notions of what church was, and I failed to communicate to him just how different the reality of my experience was from his expectation.
“I actually have plans with family that day, but thank you. I’m not really a church kind of guy.
“But if you’re around here, I would love to talk again.”
I value my work highly. I am passionate about what I do, and privileged to do it, and I don’t want to let privilege that go to waste. Work matters. With your work, you can lift people out of otherwise-decaying circumstances. Do it well, and you can potentially influence millions across many generations, through time. Do it without excellence, though, and you leave undone what was your responsibility not to leave undone.
But work is nothing but a machine. Machines and systems are meant for (in favor of, for the benefit of) people, not people for machines. It is a balance, devoting my soul into work, devoting my soul to people. It cannot be just one or just the other.
That man and I are not much different from one another. We both know the value of people, and connecting them to each other and to their purpose. Maybe even to God. We also know what it’s like to get our priorities out of line. And what it often takes to shake up a life.
This year has been one of a few moments of solitude with God, and a lot of feeling estranged from Him, from myself and from other souls in one way or another.
Last night, in my prayers, I confessed to You that I have numbed myself with work because I am disappointed, I feel You are holding out on me, like joy is something I’ll have to live without; I have numbed myself because I don’t know where to put my emotions… because… I don’t trust You with them.
Tonight was the 1-year anniversary of my arrival on the East Coast. In my own natural nature, I do not celebrate. I do not look back. I do not reflect. I do not intentionally bring large groups of people together and put myself in charge of their experience and opinions.
But this week, God challenged me to look past all the projects and side projects and opinions and expectations, to trust Him with my time, and to celebrate the passing of years with friends. And I did.
Because I was given the will and ability and choice to trust God, and I happened to choose it, even just this once, I don’t feel numb. I feel the weight of things, sure. But I also do feel joy.
Organized spiritual practice has hurt a lot of people. But there is something about it that gets it right. There is something about experiencing God that we can’t just do alone. It’s not that He isn’t enough; it’s that He designed us to experience Him *with* other people. Tonight, I felt a little less estranged.
From everyone, God, people, self. Somewhere, somewhen, maybe even here and now, already, I am fully known. And I can’t feel the fullness of that, but I can start to.
So, when I’m retired and sitting with you at a coffee shop, wondering if you have the time — because I don’t have as much — my warning might go something like this:
1) If you feel numb, or you don’t feel God… duck out and find something to celebrate.
Duck out – not forever… but not never. Find something to remember. Find people to remember it with.
2) Don’t be ashamed, like “not feeling God” is wimpy or invalid.
You can believe in God on a deep, conviction level, AND not feel Him, AND admit that feeling Him is legitimately important to you doing what is yet to be done by you in this life.
3) You need joy to endure, the be blameless to the end, to not fall onto the path of least resistance. Emotions are not optional. Feeling is not optional.
This song has been showing up lately. Since I’m finding that things are better off shared, I thought I’d invite you to listen:
You can tell it’s over,
and I can see it’s done.
I’ll take the over-under –
and I’m not the only one.
I gave you all my heart.
I took it back to the start.
I found a way for you
where there once was none.
And this is the hardest part:
That your life has just begun.
Don’t cope, you gotta feel it, feel it.
Don’t cope, you gotta feel it, feel it.
Don’t cope, you gotta feel it.
When all is singed, the world will begin again.
With the past before you,
You’ll never be truly free
You think you’ve figured it out
You beat it into the ground
You’ve made a hell for yourself
In the heaven that you made with me
They say you’ll never find the magic
That you had when it was us
But you’re having delusions again, love.
Don’t make it harder than it has to be.
There’s no comfort in the fantasy
The truth will be found
in the pain,