WE ARE ALL STARVING

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Growing up I had happy moments and have happy memories, but they were sandwiched between confusion and mistakes, seeking and not finding, fear and doubt.  I’m sure at some point in your life you can relate.

You and I may go about our search in different ways, but for all of us, the desire for authentic joy is paramount. As much as our bodies desire to breathe, so do our souls long for happiness, and none of us are void of this desire.

I’ve met people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to discover that what I long for is the same thing someone from another continent wants as well. Why is this? It’s because the desire for fulfillment runs deep into our very nature, and we will never be truly happy until we satisfy it. Written into our hearts is a desire, craving, and longing for fulfillment. We want meaning and a purpose in life.

Jesus offers us the answers to our deepest questions. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Christ offers us a new way of living. Through him—the way, the truth, and the life—is the way to true fulfillment.

St. Augustine said, “Where then are these rules written, if not in the book of that light we call the truth? In it is written every just law; from it the law passes into the heart of the man who does justice, not that it migrates into it, but that it places its imprint on it, like a seal on a ring that passes onto wax, without leaving the ring” (quoted in CCC, 1955). St. Augustine was a man who wandered for years in search for meaning. Yet his search wasn’t far away. It was woven in his heart and soul—the place where God writes his love and truth in all of us. Augustine speaks of God’s nature not only from a theological perspective but from a personal conversion—A encounter with the Savior. Jesus.

St. Thomas Aquinas framed it this way: “The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the creation” (quoted in CCC, 1955). The desire of our heart, who we are as humans, draws us to discover our purpose.

I’ve never starved, but there have been times when I’ve been really hungry. I’m sure you have as well, right? Well, my grandmother always said, “The key to good cooking is waiting till people are really hungry, and then they’ll eat just about anything and think it’s good.” When I’m really hungry, everything seems to taste good.

Our bodies were created to crave what they need, and not only during pregnancy. These cravings give us an appetite that leads us to find food. When our appetites are triggered by some complex movement of the hormonal system, we crave; and when we crave, we eat; and when we eat, our hunger is satisfied. This process goes on throughout our lives, and most of the time we don’t even think about it. Without craving and the urge to eat, we would starve and eventually die.

We may need to be taught what to eat or how to eat, but the simple urge to eat is already there, and our bodies obey it.

Just as we crave food, we also have emotional and spiritual cravings. We crave things like attention, love, fame, money, success, happiness, fulfillment, and so on. All of our cravings long to be satisfied.

This search to satisfy my cravings was a driving force in my life for too long. My insecurities, stemming from not knowing myself, led me to seek immediate fulfillment in things that left me hungrier than before.

Often we believe that our cravings are what they seem on the surface, but in reality they run deep into our being. We may think one thing will satisfy our cravings, yet once we set our eyes on something bigger and better, we look to that instead.

I once had a conversation with a wealthy CEO, who told me that he had purchased eight cars in a two-week span. I asked him if he needed eight cars. He said no, not really. Then I asked why he went on a sudden shopping spree for something he didn’t really need. He said that he thought it would satisfy him.

Most of us can’t buy eight cars, but imagine some high-dollar but affordable item you like and consider buying eight of them in two weeks; you start to see where he was coming from. He told me that that he would drive one of his new cars for two days and end up feeling the same as before, so he would go out and buy another one. After two weeks, he had the fleet of his dreams, but he said his dreams weren’t “being fulfilled.” He was still craving more!

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people who follow this pattern and are left in the same position, or worse than they were before. Even more are the conversations I’ve had with individuals who return to the same things over and over again, hoping that the next time they will get a different result.

A young woman once confessed to me that she couldn’t end a bad relationship with a guy she was dating because the emotional and physical intimacy she received in the relationship fed a void in her heart. She filled her craving to be loved with short moments of intimacy from an abusive guy. Her desire to be loved was good and natural, but she chose the wrong thing to satisfy it. Although she had moments of satisfaction, they wore off rapidly, to the point where she wasn’t happy at all. Sad and dejected, she was willing to overlook the abuse to have her needs met temporarily—which only caused more pain. Fortunately, she eventually found a way out and now has true fulfillment.

    It isn’t hard to see the emptiness that lies underneath the surface of our culture. The craving for fame, sex, attention, money, success, and so on only hides what people are really longing for. From a macro view, the world is full of people who are emotionally and spiritually starving. On the micro level, many of my conversations with people center on their malnutrition. What they are feasting on is not only failing to satisfy their deep hunger within, but is actually making them sick. Let’s take a look at my acquaintance Walter for an easy example of this phenomenon.

I spend lots of time traveling for work. One time, I was flying to New York City to speak at a conference and fell asleep. I woke up with about forty-five minutes left on the flight. I had just enough time to work on a few things before arriving. But apparently, my co-passenger, Walter, was eager to talk to someone. He had waited for me to wake up and as soon as I did, he asked me a question.

“Are you coming or going?”

“Kind of both,” I said. “I’m coming and going.”

Silence.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“New York City,” I said, as politely as possible.

Silence.

“What’s taking you to NYC?” he asked.

“Work.”

My answers were short because I didn’t want to chitchat; however, I was cordial and waited to see if he really wanted to talk. He did.

“What do you do?” he asked.

I told him that I’m a speaker. Now I’m knee-deep in this conversation, and since turnaround is fair play, I began to fire back, asking him all the questions he asked me. Walter was headed to France, and he was traveling alone with the hope of meeting an old girlfriend he rediscovered on the internet. (They met long before the Internet existed and lost contact.) He was about sixty-five years old with short gray hair, dressed snappy-casual, tanned, and freshly shaven. He had never married, although he had had a few long-term relationships that “never panned out.” There was loneliness in his eyes. He shared with me how he had retired at age forty after, as he put it, “getting lucky in the commercial real-estate industry.” I was intrigued.

“What have you been doing since forty?” I asked. He said he took up sailing and began traveling around the world by sailboat. He’d seen just about everything in the past twenty-five years.

At this point, I’m not only intrigued but enthralled by his story. Who doesn’t want to retire at forty and travel around the world without a care?

As I immersed myself in Walter’s story, I didn’t grasp that he was just as intrigued by mine. He dominated me when it came to cash, early retirement, leisurely travel, and a carefree life. Apparently, I dominated him when it came to living with purpose, relationships, and faith.

About five minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Walter, and in an awkward moment he looked at me, his eyes a little watery.

“I’ve never been this vulnerable with anyone before,” he said. I leaned away a little bit but kept eye contact with him, waiting for him to follow up his statement.

“I’ve been retired for years and have traveled the world by land, air, and sea,” he said. “I’ve seen and experienced everything, yet I can’t seem to find the happiness and purpose you speak about. You seem to have found something I want to know more about.”

I thought, how can it be possible for someone with so much to long for so much more? Then I realized, he’s human, and his heart longs to be satisfied, just as mine does. Walter continued on to France, but his journey, that day, led him to find the way, the truth, and the life—Jesus. We all wish life could be perfect, but it’s not. And if it was, we would still search for meaning until we found it. How do we find happiness in the midst of an imperfect world? We all ask this question and go through these struggles in some way and at some point in our lives.

My own quest led me to look for fulfillment in external things. Momentary happiness is an epidemic in our culture, and I was addicted to it. We are often afraid to carve out space in our lives for deep introspection and contemplation, so we continually try to fill the void with something else. Some of the things we do are harmless, and some of them are toxic. Either way, satisfying our longings with momentary spurts of happiness gives us superficial consolation and not authentic fulfillment. Things that are external make us feel good, and we can even be applauded for some of them. Accolades and achievement can drive our identity. Then, who we are is all about what we do and what we accomplish. Yet how long can those feelings sustain us? I can’t be team captain, honor-roll student, and class clown my whole life, can I? I can’t keep trying to win the same titles as an adult that I won as a teen and think they will make me happy.

Fr. Alfred Delp, who is famous for leading the Catholic resistance to Nazism in Germany, states, “The created being must cry out to some power beyond itself in order to acquire its share of strength; when we realize and acknowledge that our natural powers on their own are inadequate we have taken the first step towards salvation.”1

We all eventually land on the question of happiness, because we all want the answer, the key, the formula. We crave happiness more than anything. It’s not that we deserve happiness, because that signifies that we must earn it and somehow be worthy of it.

The reality is we don’t deserve, can’t earn, and don’t merit happiness because we are already created for it. Because we are created for it, we crave happiness, and we will continue to starve until we find it.  And true joy is a free gift; a gift of Grace through Jesus.

What if our need to be satisfied was found in relationship with Christ?  How much more would our life take on meaning?  I submit, that when our we surrender our starvation and satisfy our cravings in Christ that our life takes on real meaning and purpose.  I believe that we can only be satisfied by our maker, God.  For it is God alone who satisfies!

 

Regret

I wish I could say I had “one” lesson that is most important to me as a dad and husband.  The lessons, at least for me, are many and unending!  The minute I feel like I have one lesson down here comes another one.  From the moment I said, “Yes,” to my wife twenty years ago, until now, I’ve been learning lessons.  Over the sixteen years since we brought our first of four children home from the hospital, I’ve been learning lessons.  Many of these lessons have been simple (how to change a diaper or help with math homework) but admittedly many of them have been difficult and complicated (dealing with fear, failure, and control).  I wish there was a manual on being a great husband, but I haven’t found one!  I’ve searched for a step by step guide about how to be an amazing dad and haven’t discovered that one, either.  

We all know that the job of being a husband and father is hard; maybe the most difficult job we will ever do.  Yet more than hard, it’s by far the most important job we will ever have.  Jesus makes it clear what is important in our lives.  He tells us in all three of the synoptic Gospel (Matt, Mark, Luke),  “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself (Luke 9:25)?”  I believe for us, as husbands and fathers, the most important thing we are entrusted with is our family.  When I study this verse from scripture I see it through the lens of my primary Vocation as a husband and dad.  I read it this way; “What profit is it for husbands and fathers to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit his family?”  It sounds like a strong statement, but really this is what we are created for; we are made to be husbands and dads.  We’ve all been given gifts and talents.  We’ve figured out how to make money and do our jobs.  But the thing we are created for…the thing that is most important…the thing that is written into our DNA as men, is to be husbands and fathers.  Yet, as much as this is written into our hearts, it’s not easy and we can often feel like we are falling short.   

I’d like to mention one of the important things I’ve learned, and something I see that keeps men from being the father and husband they are created to be.  

Don’t allow regret to define you

The first time I can vividly remember regret hitting me square in the face was when I began dating my future wife.  I had experienced regret before, had made mistakes in my life up to that point (and since).  And often, I wish I could have done some things differently, better or not at all.  But I had moved on from those failures, asked forgiveness and thought regret was in the rearview mirror; until I fell in love with Gretchen.  I thought, “why is this coming up again, and why now?”  Then it became apparent why regret was creeping back in the picture.  It was because I was in love, really in love; and the reality that my past, present and future choices would effect someone I love, hit me hard.  Regret was staring me in the face, dragging me down and pulling me to a place I didn’t need to go.  Regret was defining me and reminding me of who I’m not.

We all have regret.  Regret is human and none of us are void of being human.  Regret is the feeling of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, remorse, fault, or act of sorrow from the past.  We can all make a list of regrets in our lives!  Yet, regret doesn’t just linger in the past it has the ability crop up in the present and to define us if we begin to identify with what we’ve done or what we do instead of who we are!  

Regret also has the ability to steal our joy and peace as husbands and fathers.  Why?  

Regret is even more powerful when we it affects the people we love the most.  We can regret getting in an argument with someone at work and saying things we shouldn’t; but we can make amends and move on.  Yet we have an argument with our wife or kids and say something we shouldn’t, the pain cuts deeper.  We see the affect our words and actions have on them.  We can regret not spending time with a friend, but missing a date with our spouse or missing a kids ballgame or dance recital hurt much more; especially if our excuse is, work.  When we fail as a husband and father our tendency is to retreat, back away, and become detached.  Just as Adam in the Book of Genesis stood idly in the shadows as his wife Eve faced the enemy, so too, do we tend to fade away when we have wronged someone we love.  Regret pushes us to the fringes and keeps us on the sidelines.  But, this is not who God calls us to do.  We are not defined by Adam’s mistake, nor or we defined by our mistakes.  We aren’t called to be bystanders in our own story!

I find that regret paralyzes us and spins us into a pattern of fatherhood we aren’t made for, a pattern that allows regret to determine our future as dads and husbands.  Regrets push us into the past and allows us to be defined by our mistakes, and they can determine our future, too.  Just as the enemy trapped Adam and Eve into regret, the enemy seeks to do the same to us.  Sometimes I mess up and have regrets as a husband and father, but those mess-ups aren’t who I am.  I’m the first to admit that I’ve said things I wish I could take back, but that’s not who I want to be.  I’m the first to say that I’ve missed out on time with my family, but that’s not how I want to keep living.  I know that my record as a “perfect husband and father,” is nonexistent, but those things can’t and don’t define who I am.  God has made me and you for much more.  

Saint John Paul II states, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures.  We are the sum of the Father’s love for us.”  Our future as husbands and fathers starts each day by allowing our identity to be found in God not in our regret. He alone defines who we are.  We aren’t the sum of our past mistakes or current patterns of behavior.  We aren’t even the sum of our successes.  We are the sum of God’s love for us; and our identity is found in knowing who we are in Him.  He’s calling us out of the margins and wants to write a new story for us as husbands and fathers!  

Moving forward

1. Confess - The first major hurdle for getting rid of regret is coming to grips with our mistakes.  Confess your sins to God!  Adam eventually took a step out of the shadows of being hidden and reconciled with God.  We too must take the bold and frequent step of reconciling our hearts back to God.  God searches for us and longs to be in relationship with us.  Scripture says,  “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”  Jesus came to reconcile us back to God, and through His death and resurrection, we are set free.  Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness continues today through the Sacrament of Reconciliation where He heals, restores, loves and forgives us.  We are invited as husband and fathers to bring our failings and all that we are and leave them at the cross of Jesus so we can experience His healing mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

2. Ask - Authentic reconciliation leads to action.  Ask for forgiveness!  This is why we are given penance during confession.  A sorrowful and repentant heart is moved to action…to change!  It is important for us as husbands and fathers to ask our spouse and our kids to forgive us when we fail them.  This is a true exercise in ridding us of our pride; but the fruit of humility is essential to being the man God wants you to be.  I apologize often and I find that when I humble myself and admit to my wife and kids that I’m wrong, they are more forgiving of me than I am of myself.  St. Paul personally asked the people of Corinth to forgive him. “Forgive me this wrong! Now I’m ready to come to you this third time,” he said (2 Co12:13-14).  I believe that after the words “I love you, “I’m sorry,” are the most important words we can speak to our family.

3.  Deal - Ridding ourselves of regret requires real change; and for us, as men, it asks us to make important decisions.  Deal with repetitive behavior!  As I was preparing to get married I was not only faced with regret, but I knew I had patterns of behavior that required change.  I confessed.  I asked forgiveness.  Now it was time for a new way of living.  I sought out counseling, wisdom from mentors and surrounded myself with Godly friends.  These things helped me change old behaviors and figure out new ones.  It was hard.  It took time.  But it was necessary.  Don’t be afraid to face your challenges head on.  Be proactive.  If you regret the the lack of time you have with your family, make changes, real changes, in your schedule.  If you deal with anxiety, stress or depression, seek help for it.  As men we are asked to fight the battle for our families; yet, the fight starts with us, me and you…allowing the battles within ourselves to be won so I can help fight the battles for our family.  “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God (Mark 10:27).”

4.  Be -  Too many men today are wandering the planet looking for meaning, purpose and identity.  Be defined by God!  God alone satisfies a man’s heart.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated. How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you. God alone satisfies (CCC 1781).”  Our true identity as men is found in God.  He alone satisfies, and He alone identifies us.  If we don’t allow ourselves to be identified by Him, we will be identified by someone or something else.  When our identity is found in being a son of God, it’s a game-changer!  St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  The world we are first charged with setting on fire is the world in our homes.

5. Never - I’ve gotten stuck in the trap that it’s too late to change or make a difference.  Never is it too late to be the husband or father God made you to be!  If you’ve had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year or a bad twenty years, it’s not to late to start over.  We can own up to those mistakes and the reality of the damage done.  But our wives and kids, no matter what age, are still waiting for dad to take his rightful place.  Don’t get caught in the trap of it’s too late; because it’s never too late to start anew.  St. Paul said, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.  The old has passed away, behold new things will come (2Co 5:17).”  

Be who God made you to be.  Be his son and be the husband and father he made you to be.

-Paul

 

Made for Transparency

Close your eyes and imagine a world where everyone is always honest, always has good intentions and always looks out for the good of others.  Ok, now open your eyes to the reality that exists in our world.  We live in a world where being sneaky is an art that is awarded, and where transparency is a lost virtue.  I wish we lived in an honest world where honest people said and did honest things.  Don’t you?  

When I fell in love with my, then, future wife and we began to pursue marriage plans, I knew that transparency was essential for our relationship to survive and thrive (I read that somewhere).  That was easier said than done, because before I could be honest with her, I had to be honest with myself and God, which was difficult.  I did it and I found that the real me, the one I had hidden away in fear, was still likable.  When I becamehonest with God, I found that I wasn’t only likable, I was lovable.  I was a son, His son, and He searched for me despite my faults.  

Once I got honest with God, I had to allow someone else into, not only my outward sphere, but also my inner world.  That meant letting “Her,” my future wife into the parts of me no one else could see.  The scariest part was taking a chance that she would not only fall in love with the person she knew, but that she would also fall in love with the person inside, the one she had not yet met.  I needed to become glass.  That’s what I did, and I found that my true self was worthy of being loved and of loving someone else.  More than twenty years later, our marriage continues to mirror transparency in all things; because this is where authentic freedom and love is found.  

I’m tired of trying to sift through people’s rhetoric, trying to pick out what is real and what isn’t, trying to figure out what to believe.  Aren’t you?  

What about me?  I sometimes wonder if my own motives are beyond reproach.  Do I live a transparent life?  Do people know the “real me”?  As quick as I am to judge the world, what does my life look like?  What would Wikileaks say about me?  I believe we are made for transparency.  This might not be a popular trend today, but I’m certain, as certain as the existence of gravity, that transparency is where we find true freedom.   

The word, “transparency,” comes from the Greek word “Hualos,” meaning “glass.”  When something or someone is transparent, we can see through them.  Transparency is the ability to be seen through, whichmeans, nothing is hidden, nothing is left in the dark or compartmentalized.  Herein lies the problem; who wants others to see through us?  

God created us to be transparent, where nothing is hidden from His sight or the sight of others.  The creation story in Genesis, Chapter 1, tells us that Adam and Eve were created in total nakedness; nothing was shameful, hidden, disgraceful, compartmentalized or sneaky. Their union with each other and with God was complete.  Nothing stood in the way of total transparency. Adam and Eve were like glass, God could see through them and they could see through each other.  Life was good.

Yet, in Genesis, Chapter 3, Adam and Eve (mankind) were tempted and hid from God.  They “bit the lure” and got hooked by lies and deception that separated them from God.  Their transparency was immediately gone.  Man and woman became hidden in the garden and were clothed in shame.  Transparency, that is, being known, became shameful.  Being in darkness seemed safe to them but it was all a lie to keep man from it’s original place of freedom; in relationship with God. 

Today this lie and deception still lingers in our world.  It is untrue that we are safer in the shadows, that we are better off when we are not fully known, that we are better off alone.  The belief that we can’t live transparent lives is false.  The compartmentalized approach to life is not what we are meant for, nor is living sneaky the place where we find freedom.  Most of us avoid transparency for many reasons, but the most crippling one is fear.  We are afraid to be seen and known for who we really are. We are all imperfect, but our imperfections make us hide from others, and, in turn, they hide their imperfections from us. Our past, our sins, our regrets, our shame, keep us closed and disengaged.  These things can also keep us in a posture of constantly pointing the finger of blame and shame at others.

I think if we were honest with ourselves, we’d all say we want to live authentic, real, honest, upfront, examined, and transparent lives.  None of us, at least deep down, really desires to live hidden away, fearful and in darkness.  We all desire true freedom; we long for authentic relationships and we crave transparency.  This is why we are turned off when we encounter someone who is not transparent.  We don’t like it because we know there’s more for them, and for us.  In a recent meeting someone asked, “If transparency is what we are made for, why does it seem so difficult?”  Living a transparent life is difficult because we’re often afraid that if we’re fully known, we won’t be fully loved.  As humans, we aren’t always where we need to be, but we are headed in the right direction if we are moving towards becoming more transparent.  So, let’s head that way.

Honesty is not the best policy…it’s the only one:

Honesty is the most crucial aspect of living transparent lives.  We must first be honest with ourselves.  I remember when I finally realized I needed to become transparent.  I had to look in the mirror and be brutally honest with myself, admit that I had flaws and decide to make some serious changes.   This type of self-honesty is not one of self-condemnation but one of self-examination.  It’s a willingness to acknowledge our faultswith the hope of moving forward.  

The second step is to be honest with God.  If Jesus can handle the weight of the sin of the world, he can certainly handle whatever you and I have to say to him.  Are you hurt, angry, fearful?  Speak it!  Tell God about it!  His mercy, forgiveness and love is there for us.  I’m constantly surprised at how many people hold back their feelings with God; like He doesn’t know what’s going on inside us.  God doesn’t love us any less when we are honest.  In fact, when we are honest with God, we open our hearts for him to enter into our inner world.  When we acknowledge our true heart before Him, we allow His Grace to move and His Spirit to release us from the shackles that bind us.  in ways we cannot generate on our own.  

The third and final step is to become honest with those who are closest to us; those that we trust with our hearts.  Without total transparency, their are no authentic relationships.  This was transformative for me with my spouse and with my friends.  I’ve seen first hand how marriages take a turn for the better when spouses become totally transparent with each other.  I’ve also seen marriages struggle because one or both people are not honest and transparent.  Transparency with others is essential to our freedom.  I’m not saying that we have to share everything with the people in the cubical next to us; we must use prudence when we allow people into our lives. God asks nothing of us but that we be who we are and live as His sons and daughters, unafraid to step out of the shadows and onto the path that leads to freedom.

Access is a gain:

Have you ever been afraid to be caught doing something you knew was wrong?  Maybe a lie kept you going on and on.  When I was a teenager I was part of a ring of kids who egged houses in our neighborhood.  This went on for months.  Eventually my conscience bothered me so much I couldn’t sleep at night.  I was constantly worried about being caught.  When my mom finally caught me, I was relieved.  Once my fault was revealed I had a way out.  Don’’t get me wrong, getting caught was hard.  I had to apologize to the people whose paint peeled and whose houses smelled rotten.  I spent my Saturdays cleaning dried, baked-on eggs off houses, and I wasgrounded, which stunk.  Yet, I was relieved.  I was no longer hiding, in darkness, alone.

Jesus is clear that transparency will eventually come to the forefront in our lives.  He said, “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops (LK 12:2-3).”  Since you know that, eventually, you will have to becometransparent, why not start now?  Why not head to the place where you will find authentic freedom?  Many people operate under the notion that hiding from the truth is the best way to live; however, I’ve yet to meet a person who lives in that kind of fear and darkness who is happy.  The adverse is true.  When we live with nothing to hide, we live in freedom.  

When a guy I knew finally confessed to his wife about his struggle with pornography, he was relieved.  The aftermath was hard.  She was heartbroken and healing took time; but he finally stepped out of the darkness and began to walk in freedom. 

Giving others, especially God, access into our lives is not bondage; it’s freedom.  We gain freedom when we allow ourselves to be like glass, “Hualos.”  Do people you trust have total access to the real you?  Do they have access to your calendar, bank statements, computer, emails, phone, texts, social media and vehicle?  I once struggled with keeping all things private, but this only gave me permission to hide things…even if it was little things.  However, once I allowed my life to be an open book, I stopped worrying.  My wife, kids and friends can read my phone, texts, emails, bank statements, calendar entries anytime they want.  I’m relieved about this.  When there’s nothing to hide, there’s total freedom.

It is encouraging and refreshing to meet honest, authentic and transparent people.  It’s life-giving to have a transparent spouse and transparent friends.  Most important is my own transparency, the freedom I have in my everyday life; because transparency begins and ends with me.  You and I are made to be glass and to live in freedom.  

Be who God created you to be!

-Paul

 

 

    

 

 

 

Make Me Stronger

Many years ago a friend of mine was on a road trip and came through the city where I lived.  He stopped at a gas station and called me from a pay phone (this was before cell phones).  He wanted to see if I was around and asked if he could crash at my apartment for the night so we could catch up.  I hadn’t seen him for awhile and was excited to hang out with him.  

At the time of our visit I was engaged to be married and was staring at a huge transition and life change, and wrestled and with getting rid of my “baggage” before I made the leap.  I didn’t get rid of all my baggage before I got married, but I did minimized it.  Over time I went from a room full of luggage down to a over-stuffed carry-on.  I was lighter and leaner but was and am still minimizing.  I learned a valuable lesson during this time of introspection, counseling, mentorship, direction and confession.  I learned how TO BE STRONGER!

Do you want to be stronger?  Do you desire to take control of your life?  Do you desire to stop letting the past determine your future?  Are you ready to win at life?  Are you ready to “take life by the horns?”  

My friend had recently finished college, was a working professional and was dating a girl he wanted to marry. On the outside he seemed fine, and his life plan was coming together.   Yet as we talked something seemed missing.  Something wasn’t right.  Over and over in our conversation he said, “If I was only stronger.”  He lamented over some of the issues (baggage) in his life, and said, “I know I can fix this.”  After some time I looked at him squarely

    “What the hell are you talking about?”  I asked.

    “Huh, what do you mean?”  

    “ I mean, why are you asking to be stronger?”  I asked.  “You are asking for the wrong thing and you are praying the wrong prayer.”  He looked at me, surprised.  I waited to give him time to retort, but he just looked at me with total confusion. So I explained what it means to Be STRONG.  

To be strong means to be weak.  There, I said it!  I know, It sounds weird, right?  Who wants to be weak?  No one does, right?  Before you check out; let me explain!

St. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “. . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  In this scripture passage we see a shift in perspective.  A paradox is at play.  How can weakness and strength go together?  Is it possible that to be weak and strong is one and the same?  St. Paul understood human nature very well.  He encountered much suffering and pain, as well as joy in his life.  Paul was human just like you and me.  Paul understood that life is difficult.  He knew that “adulting” is hard.  Yet, Paul figured out the great mystery of being STRONG.  

St. Paul echoed the words of the greatest Teacher, Jesus, who said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41)  Jesus came to the world to shift our perspective, to change our hearts and to renew our minds; understanding full well that “self-reliance” is not the way we are created to live.  

So what does it mean to be STRONG?

To be Strong means to let go of control:

I’m sure you know the feeling of holding onto something really tight.  I grew up water skiing.  It’s essential to hold on tight to the ski rope; if not the boat will yank it out of your hand.  Skiing is fun, but short lived. Soon after skiing around a lake, you’re exhausted and you have to let go of the rope.  Life is the same way.  When we grab on too tight we are worn out before long.  When we take control over our life, pretend we are strong and believe we can fix everything, we become fatigued. I often come in contact with people who are in total control of their lives; however, they are exhausted and overwhelmed. They pretend to have it all together, but they really don’t.  

I lived life this way many times; and it worked for a while; but in time, without fail, I crashed.   St. Paul reminded us of Jesus’’ words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)  Paul meant that God is enough for us; that His Grace completes us.  When we grab control of our lives, it is difficult for Grace (God’s presence) to move in our lives.  Control is an exit ramp for Grace to move out of our lives.  

When we let go of control God can take over.  Control is either / or not both / and!  We either have control or God does.  

To be strong means to admit weakness:

Have you ever admitted you were wrong?  Have you ever come clean and admitted you cannot do something or are not good at something?  Admitting we fall short is difficult, but as soon as we do, we feel relief.  

I remember taking on a house project.  There were some things I could do, but the more I got into it the more I uncovered other issues.  I can do this, I thought in the beginning; yet, deep down I knew I didn’t have the expertise to do it well.  I finally had to admit that I was in over my head.  Relief set in.  I watched the contractor do the work and felt great; almost as great as I felt when I saw the finished project.  This is true when we admit that we are weak, that we have weaknesses.  St. Paul continued, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:9)  Paul admitted his weaknesses, knowing that his admission allowed God to work in his life.  When we do this; we can let go and watch God do the work for us and in us. 

To be strong means to surrender: 

No one likes to quit or give up.  Why should we ever wave the white flag?  To surrender does not mean you lose or give up. Surrender is winning!  

We all have imperfections.  Our bodies are imperfect.  Our hearts are broken.  Our soul is wounded from sin.  Yet, in all of our imperfections we can have freedom.  How?  

Our Bodies:  We certainly can’t have freedom in fixing our imperfect bodies.  Surely, we need to take care of our bodies and live a healthy life; but, for all of us, no matter how well we eat and work out, our bodies will fail one day.  Our bodies will surrender to the reality of their imperfections.  

Our hearts:  No matter how much we try to protect our feelings; life is hard and our hearts will be broken.  Our hearts long to be healed.

Our Souls: We are sinners and no matter what we do, our souls have the look of sin.  We can repent, go to confession and be renewed; but we all know that our souls long for more. We want freedom.  

Our bodies long to be satisfied.  Our heart longs to be healed.  And our souls desire forgiveness and renewal.  St. Paul said, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults and hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)  Paul understood that surrender is victory.  Jesus taught us this with his life.  Jesus surrendered his life; so that victory over sin would be ours for eternity.  Our hope, our forgiveness, our healing, our freedom is found in uniting with the surrender of Christ.  When we surrender, we allow Christ’s victory to lay claim over our lives.  He wins, we win.  Victory is ours in Christ.  You and I have victory in Christ when we let go, admit and surrender our hearts to Christ!

Allow God to shift your perspective, change your heart and renew your mind.  Let him weed out self-reliance; and let Grace move in your life.  He’s strong!

 

Be weak,

-Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Authentically

Have you ever been in a awkward situation when you had no idea what to do?  I’ve had many weird moments in my life, but there is one in particular that stands out.

Many years ago I was speaking at a youth event of about three thousand participants.  The arena was loud and I could feel the excitement and the energy in the room.  I was introduced walked on stage to my “stick” and began to connect with the audience. However, I was immediately distracted. 

I’m not sure if anyone noticed how distracted I was, but my attention was drawn to one student in the crowd.  In the middle of a sea of people sat a kid with a brown paper bag over his head with eye holes in the bag so he could see.   At first I thought it was a joke and he’d soon remove his costume.  Yet, all evening, through hours of music, entertainment and talks he sat there, motionless in his chair.  I was bothered.  I was distracted.  I was confused.  And I had questions.  Who was this kid?  Why was he wearing a paper bag?  What was going with him?  

I couldn’t let this situation go!  I requested that the staff help me find this guy so I could talk to him.  That night he disappeared in the large crowd as they exited the arena.  The next day, there he was, sure enough, sitting in the middle of the crowd still wearing the paper bag.  I was perturbed! The audacity of this young man! 

Later that evening I walked back stage before my talk.  An adult chaperone pulled me aside and told me she had someone who wanted to talk to me.  I followed her to a room and there he was, “paper bag head”, standing in the middle of the room.  Apparently I said something on stage that made him want to find me.  We were left alone to talk.  He stood there in silence.  I stood there glaring into the holes in his bag trying to get any sense of what his eyes might be trying to say.  I finally spoke up.

“What’s going on with you man, are you ok?”  More silence. 

A minute later I could see tear drops falling out the bottom of the bag.  We sat down, and for the next few minutes I watched tears stream out the bottom of the bag.  When he was finally able to speak I askedif he’d be willing to remove the bag so we could talk face-to-face.  He reluctantly agreed and for the next hour we talked…about life.  The conversation was good; for both of us.

This story reminds me of something very important; a word we hear often, but don’t talk about much, authenticity.  The story of the boy in the paper bag was an invitation to ask myself a tough question.  Am I an authentic person and am I living an authentic life?  Authentic means to be genuine, real, living in our true nature.  This is a very important word and one that I’m convinced is a game changer for all us.

Oddly enough, the paper bag bothered me because it reminded me of me.  I’ve never worn a paper bag over my head, however I have certainly, knowingly or unknowingly, worn many different masks to cover up what was inside me.  The meeting with the paper bag young man was just as much an eye opening for me as it was for him.  When he was faced with the fear of removing the bag and revealing his true self, I too had to look at what things I might be hiding behind.  It was a dose of reality for me and it was the first time I can remember consciously being faced with “inauthenticity.”  

Inauthenticity bothers me.  It bothers me in myself and it bothers me in others.  Why?  It bothers me because I’m not created to live a false life.  I’m not made to be a false version of myself.  I’m made to live in freedom, confident in who I am.  I’m created to live authentically. So when I see inauthenticity in myself, I’m bothered, my soul is uneasy, my conscience is pricked and I feel less free.  Why?  Because I know, deep down, I’m made for more.  And when I see inauthenticity in others I want freedom for them as well, because they, too, are created to live a true version of themselves.  We, all of us, are created for more! 

Why is living authentically important?  

Living authentically is not important-it’s essential! 

Authenticity is essential to living the life we were created to live, in true freedom and experiencing real happiness.  If we want to be free we must be authentic.  And if we want to be authentic we must be free.

God created us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).  We are hand made, unique, molded by the hands of God.  Each of us is sewn together to live authentically as our Creator made us to be.  Yet as good, unique and awesome as we are, we all know that we often feel distant from our true selves.  Our lives, through our sin and brokenness, begins to unravel; and over time we become a false version of ourselves (Genesis 3:1-8).  Our image, you could say, has some cracks.  When cracks start to pull apart the tapestry of our lives, authenticity grows more and more distant and we begin to cover up our lives with various things that allow us to survive, pretend and make-do.  Adam and Eve found leaves.  The guy in my audience found a paper bag.  We find our intellect, our success, our looks, our money, our dress, our sarcasm, our speech, our titles, our relationships, our hobbies, our possessions.  We often hide behind these things, as Adam and Eve hid in the forest.  And these things begin to define us.  I’m no longer Paul, God’s Son, I’m Paul, the (athlete, speaker, husband, writer . . .) fill in the blank.  Adam and Eve defined themselves as naked, we define ourselves as something other than who we truly are.   

God is not satisfied for us to live our lives as a lesser version of ourselves.  Godsearched for Adam and Eve, longing to find them, to be in relationship with them and to remind them of who they really were. (Genesis 3:9).  God does this with us as well;  He calls us back to himself so He can make us new again, restore us, and remind us of who we are.  

Living authentically, living the truest version of ourselves, is important because when we live authentically, we live in freedom.  And when we live in freedom we know what our purpose is and who we are.

How can we live authentically?

Authenticity starts with me!  

We often see the inauthenticity in our world and in others before we see it in ourselves.  I’m the first to admit how easy it is to spot something in someone else.  We are quick to notice, judge and spot faults in others.  Jesus said, “You hypocrite, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly the speck in your brother’s eye.”  Matt 7:5This only distracts us from what’s really going on… keeping the attention off ourselves.  In our desire for freedom and happiness I must admit that authenticity starts with me.  “The buck stops here and starts here.  We can’t change others, we can help, but the only person we can change is ourselves, through grace.  

My encounter with the paper bag kid made me look at myself.  At first this was shocking (not me!), then it became uncomfortable (who me?) then it become hard work (why me?) then it became good (now me . . .) then it became freedom (new me!).  I began a honest journey towards authenticity.  I say journey, because that’s what it is.   

The journey of authenticity begins when we look honestly at our lives, assess the damages and ask ourselves some important questions.  What defines me?  What’s important to me?  Who am I when I am alone?  Am I ok with who I am today?  When we do an honest assessment of our minds, hearts and souls we can be vulnerable with God.  However, when our fear, pride, worry, guilt and regret get in the way, we don’t allow our hearts to turn to Him, and we close ourselves to the Grace God offers to us.  This Grace, God’s presence, gives us the courage to begin the journey and stay on the path of authenticity.  

The journey of authenticity is ultimately a journey to freedom and allowing God to heal us of the things that define us.  We are most free when we are defined by God and who He made us to be.  In turn, our new found freedom in God allows us to live in our true nature…an authentic version of ourselves.  

Be who you are and you will change your world!

-Paul

  

Blazing Speed - Finding a pace that brings joy

I recently reached out to a friendvia email.  We are both in the same season of life; married, in our forties with teenage kids and younger.  We connect every so often, although not as often as we should, to share stories and support each other.  Here was his response to my email, “We are doing well…life is moving at blazing speed. Life seemed slower when the kids were small (I think he’s forgotten what was it was like :) … now with them able to talk, think and drive…it’s all a bit of a frenzy, as I am sure you and Gretchen know…”.  

    He nailed it!  I often feel that way about life.  I feel like life it is moving at “blazing speed” and it’s all “a bit of a frenzy.” Do you ever feel this way?  My friend and I are in a busy season of life; but isn’t everyone?  I had lunch with a guy this week who is in his twenties, recently married with no kids.  My initial question to him as we sat down was “how are you?”  The first thing out of his mouth was, “I’m busy bro”.  He was shocked by my response.

    “Yeah,” I said.  “I’m not that busy and I’m trying to get less busy, then not very busy.”

    I spoke with another friend by phone; a mother with four small kids.

    “I have no idea where my days and weeks go,” she told me. “I’m busy and exhausted!”      

    I keep asking myself, “Is this the way life is supposed to be?”  I try to challenge the notion that life should be busy, and if I’m not busy something, must be wrong.  No matter how busy I am, busyness doesn’t satisfy my deepest longings.  There’s got to be more to life than being busy!  

    I desire a different pace to life.  A pace that keeps me focused on things that are most important.  I desire to live a pace that lets me see the beauty in my life and gives me the time to love people.  I want a life-speed that allows me to enjoy what God created for me.  I need a pace that allows me to live my life to its full.  I desire a pace that brings joy.  Do you?

    Here are a few questions I ask myself and others in an effort to create a new pace of living.

1 - Who’s setting the pace for me?

    I often find that my life’s pace is being set by several factors.  

    First, my pace is often set by an unrealistic expectation I have about who I am.  If we are honest with ourselves we know that our identity is often tangled up in our pace.  If we are busy it affirms this person inside of us who longs to be noticed, admired, important.  I’ve had to come to grips with that little guy, look him in the mirror and let him know that his true identity isn’t found in work, staying busy or being successful.  I’m not defined by perfection and I’m not judged by my speed.  

    Second, we allow others’ expectations to be placed on us.  Misery loves company and overly busy people are usually not always the happiest.  These people throw their unrealistic expectations of busyness on to us, and we accept it and allow unhealthy people to set our pace for us.  I’ve had to look at this in my own life and set boundaries.  I’ve had to come to grips with my insecurities of disappointing others and not meeting their expectations so I could allow myself to be free again.  

    Allow God to be your source of strength, to define your identity, to have healthy expectations and boundaries for your life, and you won’t need busyness to make you feel important.

2 - Am I running on someone else’s track?

    I recently watched the summer olympic games.  What I enjoyed most about the games was watching people do what I can’t do.  I can’t and will never be able to run 100m in under 10 seconds.  I could never do a triple summersault in gymnastics.  I’ll never swim fast enough to compete with anyone.  Yet, for a moment I found myself thinking about what if.  What if I could train to do that.  Before I realized it, my mind had run off course.  

    I find that we often get sidetracked by what others are doing.  We get derailed by others’ gifts, talents and ways of doing things.  When we do this we step off the track we are running on, and onto a track where we don’t belong.  

    I have a friend who is a “multi-tasker” and a “master organizer.”  These are wonderful gifts, I DO NOT HAVE.  As soon as I try to be a “multi-tasker” anda “master organizer” I’ m toast and I find myself living at a speed that I’m not made for.  We are all made with certain gifts, talents and abilities.  When we operate and work within our gifts, talents and abilities we find that our pace is suitable and our life is more enjoyable.

3 - Do I allow myself to be reset?

    Not long ago I visited a friend who was having open heart surgery.  It was scary.  The Dr. told him that they were going to “reach into his chest, stop his heart from beating, and kick it back on in hopes that it would beat on rhythm again.”  And it did!  It reminded me that I’m the happiest when I allow time for my heart to rest and be reset.  I believe that the happiest people are those who take time to pray, reflect and examine.  

    Life is crazy and always will be.  We have no control over the world, but we do have control over our time if we step back and allow our selves to be reset by God.  When we take time to pray we allow God to reach into our heart, stop it from beating and breath new life into it, so it will be on rhythm again.  This is essential for finding the pace we were created for.  When we connect with our creator, He sets the pace for us.  When we live according to His design and His pace for us, we find that our lives have the most peace and joy.  

    Carve out time for yourself each day to pray, reflect and examine, so your life can be reset and beat in rhythm with the One who made you.

Let God define who you are,

-Paul

 

 

HAPPINESS SERIES - DESTINATION HAPPINESS PART 4 "The Void"

When is the last time you were so hungry you could eat anything?  I know in our culture most of us, including myself, don’t know what it’s like to starve; but most of us have been “really” hungry at times.   It is difficult, at least for me, to be picky or stay healthy with what I eat when I’m really famished.  Why?  Because I’m so hungry that I’ll eat anything to satisfy my hunger!  Such is life and how we are designed as humans.  We are made with an internal hunger that needs and longs to be satisfied.  It’s a deep human desire we all are created with.  

In our search to satisfy this hunger one of the ways we are fulfilled is in human relationships.  People play a vital role in our life.  We are meant to be in relationship with others, to love and to be loved.  This is good.  Yet, just as this can be good, so to, can we often find ourselves hurt, broken or unsatisfied by human relationships.  Have you ever felt this way?  I have!  Our longing to be in relationship, to be loved, to be wanted or needed gets twisted with our deep desire to be satisfied.  And we begin to stuff our emptiness with…people.  

This is what I call the “people sized hole”…and It’s a destination where we’ve all landed hoping it would be paradise!  

Destination Happiness Part #4 People Sized Hole

The People Size Hole is often a destination that is tricky to explain, but it’s certainly one worth pointing out as a destination hot-spot.  We must ask ourselves, can one person or a group of people fulfill me or make me happy?  The answer is both, yes and no.  In short, relationships are vital to our happiness, but they aren’t the apex of it.  

The myth that someone can be our source of joy and fulfillment falls short of reality. How often has someone disappointed us? How often have human relationships (even good ones) fallen short of our expectations?  We have all been on both ends of being let down by someone or and letting others down, ourselves.  It’s part of being human.  Some of us have experienced more hurt than others, but we have all encountered the fragility of humanity.  It’s even more eye opening when we realize that the people we love the most and who love us the most are actually, like us, imperfect.  

Imperfection is not a reason to give up on people.  Rather, it’s the reason we should recognize that a person (or people) can’t be a means of satisfying of our deepest longings. 

Many times we see the reality of imperfection in someone we love come to the forefront in marriage. What takes place in marriage (even the best of marriages) is two imperfect people live together in an imperfect world.  Often times people think, ”When I marry this person, he or she will change, will become the person who will make me happy. This person will meet all of my needs and desires!”  

Disillusionment sets in when we realize that the person we marry falls short of our expectations. This of course doesn’t diminish the great things about marriage or the person we marry; it’s simply the reality of it. 

My wife, Gretchen, would agree to this in our own marriage.  At times, especially early on, disillusionment set in and our expectations were left unmet. Gretchen and I both had an eye opening experience when we realized that our amazing love for one another was imperfect and fell short of “completing” the other.  And even with the best of intentions, we often fell short of each other’s expectations. 

I must admit, on my best day, I can’t complete anyone. I can certainly help, but I can’t complete someone, and neither can you. And on her best day, Gretchen can’t complete me.  It’s impossible for a human to complete another human.  Completion is left up to someone much greater then me.  Marriage or a person doesn’t complete us…God does.

In our years of counseling and preparing couples for marriage we have seen The People Sized Hole destination creep in.  Many times in life whether it be a spouse, a parent, a friend, a boyfriend or girl friend, we find ourselves wanting more from that person than they can give. Certainly we need people and people need us. As stated we are created to be in relationship with people but we aren’t created to complete people. 

I’ve seen many people who have lots of friends still feel a void.  I can remember a point in my life when, being around friends, I was happy; yet when everyone left I’d lie in bed alone at night and feel empty inside.  My “happiness” seemed to fade away once I was alone, with myself.  How could I have friends and yet feel “alone” and empty? How could the people I liked the most not fulfill me? How could a dating relationship not satisfy me?  I can also remember being surprised that loneliness didn’t leave once I married Gretchen. How could I be lonely, yet in love?  Married couples face this reality all the time and they don realize it.  Often they simply keep trying to fill the void with something or someone else. I eventually came to a place where I was willing to ask the question…what or who can fulfill me?

Let me tell you two true stories that are similar but with different outcomes. Both of these stories consist of two loving married couples. Sadly both marriages were hit with tragedy; both husbands were faced with a wife diagnosed with a terminal illness. Both illnesses were different, both had no immediate timeline; but both faced a long road ahead with an obvious ending. 

Both men tried hard to see their wife through this tough time. The difficulty and the weight of things wore on both men. Both were faced with the reality that their spouse could no longer love them back the way they were use to; the way they thought completed them. This would be difficult for anyone. One of the men began to fill the void left by his spouse with a life of lies while the other began his search elsewhere.  One he fell into the destination of the people trap, which began by partying with friends while his wife lay at home sick. We all need friend, but the friends were filling a place only God could fill. These friendships led him to fill the void left by his wife with another woman. His void was big and endless! He continued, all while married, to seek another life. By the time his wife was dying, his family was destroyed by his actions and by the grief of the loss of a great woman. Sadly, it didn’t end well because his attempt to fill the void fell short and left him, and everyone else, in more pain. 

The other man however began to seek comfort of his pain and grief by finding good friends who invited him to fill his void with something more substantial. His search led him to the edge of the cliff of possibilities where he was faced with the reality that his void was so deep that only God could carry him across the abyss he faced. He and his family, although suffering, found happiness in the process. The love he showed his wife until her death brought joy, hope and peace to him and his children. Both men experienced great pain, yet one of them found happiness in the process. Why?

You may or may not have heard it said that we all have a God shaped hole in us. The meaning behind this is good.  It basically means that we all have a hole that only God can fill.  This is a good analogy, but I think it falls short. 

First, I don’t think we have a hole in our heart, but we have a void…a deep emptiness.  We have an endless void of emptiness that swallows up anything we attempt to fill it with. The void is like looking out into space…it’s further than the eye can see and more than the mind can imagine. To call it a hole would only limit it’s size. Second, to suggest that God fills a hole, falls short of the reality of who God is. God is much bigger and greater than a hole.  God is vast, beyond, bigger than our minds can imagine and He is more than willing and able to fill our void . God doesn’t want to plug a hole He wants to fill it up; to encompass our soul. The void is so big that only one who is larger than our void can over-match its capacity and take its place in our life.

Throughout our lives we all face times that feel impossible. Whether it’s a situation staring us down, or the sheer reality of the emptiness in our lives, we can feel like our situation is insurmountable.  This can overwhelm us.  Scripture says, “for with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). It is here we grasp the Truth; the reality that only God can fill the impossible void in our life and be the source of our “completeness,” our, “happiness.” 

The void we want others to fill is always left lacking. The void we try to use money, things or recognition to fill, remains half-empty.  Our attempts to fill our emptiness and to find happiness in the world must come to an end. 

Authentic happiness begins when we realize we need something greater than ourselves, to fully be ourselves.  God alone satisfies. 

-Paul

 

-HAPPINESS SERIES- "DESTINATION HAPPINESS": PART 3 At the end of the rainbow

 

Have you ever wished you had more money? Have you ever thought to yourself, if I had more money things would be much better? In one of the crazy national lottery ticket sprees, the jackpot was around one billion dollars. It was interesting, because when the jackpot was at one hundred million dollars few people really cared. Is not one hundred million enough?  When the ticket got close to the billion dollar range people started buying tickets, myself included, in hopes of winning. Why? If you were to ask everyone who bought a ticket, they’d all have different reasons for their purchase, and a different idea of what they’d do with the earnings. 

Needless to say, money gets our attention.  Yet, even without the lottery, money matters. We need it to live. Without it we struggle! Without money we can’t eat or have shelter. Because money is something we need, we are constantly face to face with it.  It’s like food, we need it and can’t live without it, but too much of it, in certain people, can be detrimental.  We can all admit that we have seen both the good and the bad that money can bring into the world. But can money make us happier?  Will arriving at this destination fulfill our deepest desires?

DESTINATION #3 MONEY MATTERS

There is interesting research about the connection between money and happiness.  In my findings, research shows that those who live below the poverty level, who are poor, and in need of the basics to live (food, water, shelter) struggle to be happy. Understandably this would be difficult for anyone. Deep poverty certainly breeds despair. Being without basic necessities is terrible, and, in many cases, dangerous!   Most of us would certainly struggle to find hope without these fundamental provisions.  Studies go on to show that after the basics are met there isn’t much difference in happiness between those with a ton of money and those with little money. Meaning that after certain needs are met, money doesn’t affect your happiness…other things affect it (relationships, faith, outlook on life, pain, unforgiveness, hurts, brokenness, etc.).  

I drive a basic truck that provides my needs of getting to work. Everyday I look out on the road and think about driving a much nicer, newer and more expensive truck. There’s nothing wrong with having either truck, mine or the nicer one; but would having the nicer one make me “happier”? Studies show that the answer is, “No.”  Why?

In my work as a speaker, life coach and youth minister, I have spent significant time with people on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to money. I held a million dollar check in my hand from a generous person (the money wasn’t for me) and I carried a poor, naked man to his bed in a homeless shelter. Yet, I’ve seen myself get distracted many times by seeking more comfort, more success and more of what money could do for me. There was a point in my life where I was confused about the role money played. I found myself longing for something, something more; more simplicity or more wealth, thinking one or the other would make me happy.  Where is the balance? 

I realized that the amount of money I longed for wasn’t the real issue; it was my outlook and my perception of things.  My brokenness inside magnified what was missing from my life.  I began to seek God and asked guidance from those who had wisdom in this area.  In the process, I recognized some unique characteristics in people who were happy both with and without money.  What I saw as common threads in happy people who have little money and those who are wealthy, has drastically transformed my outlook on life, and has become a place of freedom for me.

The first common trait I see in people who are happy wether or not they have wealth, is a sense of detachment. 

There is a passage in scripture that states, “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10)  This verse provides a pretty strong statement about money. Yet, we can’t sum up God’s teaching about money from one scripture verse.  If you zoom out, there is much more at play here. The writer of Timothy’s letters is getting at something. It’s not really about “the money,” it’s about being “attached” to money. It’s about being sidetracked by the lure of money and the things of the world. Being attached to money is what steals our joy and peace. Being attached to anything, steals our joy and peace!!!  We can’t be free to live and to love when we are attached to something…being attached takes away our freedom to choose and our freedom to respond. 

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you love something, let it go.” Why? Because if we hold too tight to something or someone, we can’t fully love, we can’t fully see, and we can’t fully give. Attachment is the exact opposite of detachment. The writer in Timothy speaks about detachment when he states, “For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.” (1 Tim 6:7)  This sums up detachment. Detachment is the reality that nothing belongs to us.   All that we have a gift that we can live with or without. It’s interesting to meet a wealthy person who is content with or without possessions. Their detachment is a witness to what it means to truly live in peace.  They aren’t enslaved by their possessions. 

It is also a witness to see someone who has very little in terms of money, and is still detached from money and possessions. This, too, brings peace and joy to one’s life. Although detachment is difficult, it’s what we long for. We aren’t created to be attached to this world. We are created to live in freedom, detached from earthly possessions and at peace with what we have been given. We are simply “passer-byers” on this planet, waiting and longing for the day we will live forever when our time on earth is complete. Those who find detachment are those who find authentic joy in their life.

The second common trait I see in those with and without money who are happy, are those who have a God centered vision of what money is meant for. 

Stated simply, money is a tool used for the good of all and to provide for our basic needs. This can play out it many different ways, but the trait is the same. It isn’t focused on a specific dollar amount, but on an understanding of how to use the gift of money for good. I’ve seen those with very little money use some of it for selfish reasons and use money out of its context. I have seen people with lots of money do the same thing. I have also seen someone with very little have a full grasp of the gift that money is to him or her, despite having very little. And I have seen someone with much money, do great things with what they have been given. There is a connection with this trait, rooted in a deep sense of faith and respect for what one has and doesn’t have.  There is also an understanding that all things are gifts from God, undeserving, but gifts nonetheless. Those who have this trait of understanding that money is a gift, have an understanding of authentic happiness that goes beyond what money can buy.

The last trait I’ve witnessed in those who are happy with or without money is a deep sense of generosity ingrained in their life. 

Those who are happy are those who are generous. Giving isn’t monetized. Giving is a way of life, a posture of being and a way of existing on this planet. Many people say they will give when they have more; but having more doesn’t always translate into generosity. I’ve seen people with very little share with others what little they have. I’ve also seen those with plenty give plenty. Both are amazing. The one with plenty isn’t more generous than the one with less; they both give what they have, because they want to. 

Sacred Scripture highlights both ends of this spectrum. On one end you have the poor widow with two small coins. (Mark 12:42) These coins, as the passage tells us, is all she has. Jesus takes note of her generosity and points out her actions to his disciples.  Jesus was not impressed by the amount (because it was very little), but He was impressed by her very act of giving the little she had.  Her act touched His heart. This image is a good one for us, because it helps us not to put a amount on giving, but to understand the heart of what giving looks like. 

On the other end of the spectrum you read the story of Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:2-8) Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector. History tells us that tax collectors in those days were not liked and were stingy and greedy individuals.  Zacchaeus had some of those traits. Yet, he met and had a significant encounter with Jesus.  What’s fascinating about Zacchaeus, is that his generosity transformed after he met Jesus.  Zacchaeus became convicted in his interaction with Jesus. You could say he began to “rethink” his ways. His conversion began. In the process he reconciled with his mistakes and decided to give away “half” of his possessions. I’m certain he was “happier” by giving than he was by holding on to his things. 

Who gave more, the widow or Zacchaeus?  Neither, because giving isn’t about the amount, it’s about the heart. Of course Zacchaeus gave away more because he had more, but both gave generously from what they had, gifts from God.

In our quest for authentic happiness, understanding that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn’t the destination that we long for.  What we long for is to be detached from the world and worldly things and to have a God-centered view of our time on earth that creates a generous heart.  My prayer is that our attachment will be on God, and He alone will be our destination.

Let your identity be found in God!

-Paul