The following is Part 3 of a seven week “Reality Radio” series. The series was advertised on secular radio and unfolded online at a special website that no longer exists.
Dead! That’s what I was…or at least that’s what I felt inside. The years of carrying the weight of emotional baggage finally reduced my life to lifelessness. I had shut down. I had always been a high performer, a high achiever…and now my employer was asking where I was. And the sad thing is, I did not even know the answer to that question…
I wanted to recover from this place of ruin so I started seeking counseling – my employer highly “suggested” that I do so in order to maintain my job! Through the counseling, I was able to learn some things about myself and find that I was not alone in dealing with the issues of life. It seems that everyone has “something” they’re dealing with that’s tough. Many people don’t talk about this kind of thing until they have their own break-back moment where they can take it no more.
I shut down from being oppressed by the notion – a false notion – that I was the only person in the world dealing with baggage. Learning I was not alone started to give me a measure of freedom from anxiety and depression. I could start to see the way out of the dark cave I was in…a way toward happiness and a brighter future. Maybe, just maybe I could start to see my value and purpose as something separate from pleasing others…
I still remember the day I woke up and realized that this would be THE DAY that I start to live how I want to live. Every other day of my life, I had only focused on being the good boy, the obedient student, the follower friend and the parent pleaser. But all of a sudden a new dawn rose this one morning and for the first time in my life I felt the freedom to say “No, I am me. I am going to do this my way.”
What was it? A super-natural experience? A para-psychological moment? A natural stage of development? At 23, had I just stumbled upon what it means to become a man? Whatever happened during my sleep the night before, I woke up a new person. I called my parents and scheduled a dinner with them. I had a few things to share with them about how I was going to live going forward. It might not have been their fault, but it was still important that in this moment I claim my independence and tell them who I am and what I plan to do with my life. And so I did…
Not everything about that conversation was comfortable! There were tears…there was hurt…there were questions. But at the end of the night, I knew I was accepted by my parents – I knew they loved me and realized I had to make my own way in life. Their boy had become a man…the son who always followed them was now venturing off onto his own journey of life. I walked away from that evening with one of the highest natural highs I’ve ever experienced. I felt free for the first time in my life and I literally felt as though I was walking on air…I was free.
There’s this old story about a son who walks away from his father. The father actually is quite kind and when his son makes some rather abrupt demands and determines to leave his father…the father very gently lets his son go. He was not rejecting his son…he simply respected the wishes of his son to leave even as he grieved the loss of his son. The son is called a prodigal…one who ventures off on his or her own path.
I thought…“Yeah, I’m a prodigal…I am now on my own. I can now live however I want.” In that old story, that’s exactly what the son did…he ran away to a foreign country and lived extravagantly however he wished. In fact the word prodigal means “extravagant.” His father had no clue where his son was – he longed for his son to come home but he had no clue where to go to visit his son…so he simply waited and dreamed of the day his son would return. I am sure he worried greatly about his son’s safety and health…
I thought to myself, “There’s no turning back for me. This is what my life was made for. I’m moving forward.” This is THE WAY to go…the only way for me. And so with a measure of joy and a measure of peace and a high sense of anticipation and excitement, I finally cut the strings there were holding back a boy who desperately wanted to become his own man. I did it…I was on my way.
Unlike the boy in that old story, I could still go home whenever I wanted. I was not so much running away from a place…or people…I was running away from a “stuckness” that I had lived in for way too long. If my parents tried too hard to hold me back, I’d have to cut the strings a bit further. It happened occasionally. But most of the time, they did a great job of respecting that I was now a man and my path in life was my decision. Over time, they grew more comfortable with letting go…but it took some time.
Where would I go? What would I do? Who would go with me? I guess the truth is I ended up going many places. Professionally, I started excelling in my job. A-vocationally, I found purpose volunteering at a children’s hospital. Romantically, I was madly in love. Athletically, I was hitting my peak. Spiritually, I was seeking peace through a post-modern religion.
My belief was that God lived within me and was someone to be pursued. I would turn out the lights and open the windows on a cold winter night and light candles and just journal words about my past and my hope for the future. I would talk with God openly about every desire I felt. When I say every desire, I mean everything. I was not afraid to tell him anything that came to my mind. I sensed that a crack in my soul was opening, and I was starting to see a small light of who God might be. It was awesome.
The love of my life and I traveled to grand destinations all over the world. We had a charmed life together. This relationship was not perfect but it was very satisfying emotionally and physically. We felt safe. We were madly in love with each other. We were made to be together. And we looked good together. Many people looked at us and said, “That’s what I want…what you all have in each other.”
I was working out 5 to 6 days a week building my thin frame into a muscle machine. I felt great every time I finished working out. I liked who I was and I felt good about taking care of myself. I often received compliments about my muscular body and that really fed me.
Last week, I mentioned that when identity is secure, I can more forward. For so many years, I was stuck in a rut because I was unsure who I was and I was too afraid to do anything that might fall outside the box of expectations others had for my life. But now, for the first time in my life, I was starting to figure out who I was. I felt secure, and I was moving forward.
Life was good…the boy who was dead had come alive to manhood.
The interesting thing about identity is that it is a journey, not a destination. The image I see when I picture “a journey” is like a long road trip where you come upon a city, see the beauty of that city, experience the great food and attractions of that city…but eventually you have to keep on traveling to the next city and at some point that original city that seemed so awesome is but a fading memory. Not that it will ever leave my memory…it’s simply that I have now moved on past it to the next place on the map. Seals & Croft – one of my Dad’s favorite bands – said it best when they sang, “We may never pass this way again.”
So life is a journey of discovering our identity…of who we are and why we are here and what we’re to do with our lives while we are here. Yes, that’s it…that’s the kind of wisdom that the ancient writer spoke of – a wisdom that gives life! Life lived wisely is a journey that continues to unfold the next “city” or stage or growth or realization in such a way that it adds vigor and satisfaction to our lives. That’s what I was looking for…
For every “coming alive” to, there is a “saying goodbye” to. I had to say to myself in my place of ruin, “Goodbye Boy.” That opened the door to becoming a man. But if a journey continues to unfold, then what might be next? If I am already a man and there is no such thing as super-man…then what is the next “city” that will unfold for me? What is the next nugget of wisdom that will give my life an even deeper satisfaction? What is the next discovery about my identity…why am I here and what am I to do while I am here.
I would soon find out…
My name is Will, and I desire the “real thing” in life. What about you? Does that resonate with you? If so, come back next week as my journey continues…I’ll see you next week!
NOTE: Tune in each week as Will’s story continues to unfold in seven (7) weekly segments. Click here to easily navigate to Week 4.