Becoming Who We Really Are: The Journey of Being Human

We are always becoming. From the day we were born, and really before that—we embarked on a journey of becoming. We do not stay who we were and we will not remain who we are at this very moment.Who of us would ever want to remain our 6 year old self? Is there anyone who wants to go back and remain 13 for ever?We morph. We change. We grow. We transform. This is the story of our lives.Take a look at me and my grandson, Charlie. He’s just six months old in this picture. Every parent knows that the terrible two’s are coming. But that doesn't matter to me. I'm his grandfather--his Pappy.He’ll go through adolescence; go through puberty; challenge his parents, go to school; get a few jobs, date a few girls and marry someone when he’s ready. He will try on vocational clothes—trying on one job, another role—yet another position until he, at lasts can say, “For this—I was made.” It will be a journey.  Sometimes, we seem to lose sight of the fact of our formation. As Charlie's Pappy, I consider it to be my chef--role to help him know his story and claim his story and live out of his story. I don't have to raise him. But I do want to help him understand his story.Then, there is Charlie’s spiritual journey. A person's spiritual story is really EVERY chapter of their life-story: health, past, relationships, vocational journey, fears, dreams, failures, sin, glory and more. Charlie, like all of us has a spiritual story—a sort of flowing and winding road where he will learn about God. He will hear about his original glory—that deep place within his soul that is all good and full of light. I honestly believe that the most important role of a grandparent is to re-enforce the original glory into our grandchildren. I say this because the parents are so consumed, like we all were, with survival, diapers, driving the kids around and discipline. He will be told about his sin—Lord knows, so much emphasis is on that part of his story that most of us have never even considered our original glory. Before there was sin, remember--there was glory.  He will be shaped by love, hurt, rejection, passion, longings and failure. All of it will shape his little soul that you see today.Charlie, like everyone of us, will be soul shaped by geography and place, good people and hurtful people. He will encounter mystery, facts and figures and be drawn to one or more of those shaping realities.  He will have his own distinct dreams and longings separate from his father and mother and his grandparents. He will make his own choices—some good and some not so good that will all shape his soul.Gifted writer, Madeline L’Engle pens these true words for us:“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide... Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup.And Spiritual author and mentor, David Benner writes, “Identifying and embracing your lineage is an important part of any pathway to greater wholeness because it involves remembering your own story. All the parts of your journey must be woven together if you are to transcend your present organization and level of consciousness. For myself, the great challenge was re-embracing traditions that I have grown beyond and that offered—even at the time—an oppressively small worldview. I did not want to be an ex-evangelical or an ex-fundamentalist. Too many people live that life of dis-identification, and I did not want to share their anger and “stuckness.” It was essential, therefore, for me to identify and embrace the gifts that had come to me from these traditions. This was the way in which I came to know that everything in my life belongs, that every part of my story has made important contributions to who I am. And the same is true for you.Charlie will have chapters of his life that he will have to make sense of. Each of us have chapters—some we like and some we don’t. There are sad chapters of failed marriages, broken relationships and following our prodigal hearts.  But what sense can we make of these shattered pieces of our story--these illusions that are so hard to die in us?When I look back at some of my chapters, I’ve noticed that as I’ve “moved on” or “moved through” a particular season or chapter, I had no real way of integrating THAT particular chapter into my story or soul.  At times, I felt like I was shedding old snake skins so that something new could come out.  I felt the need to "get rid" of the old skins rather than embrace them.  How about you?For many years now, I have called myself an “Re-Covering Baptist.” That always gets a good laugh in most circles I speak in except when I am among the Baptist themselves.   But truthfully, there were things—boxy things; narrow things, and some things I could never quite figure out that all seems to be informing me, “This is not you, Steve.” “This is not who you are. Pay attention.”  I'm wondering if in my telling you this about me, what might stir inside of you?  What or who are you "re-covering" from?Some of us will be recovering from some thing; some group; some political affiliation, some denomination or some person. Some of us will have addiction in our story—a lot of us. Some of us will have abuse. Some of us will discover we were abused not by what was “done” to us but by what was not given us—that every human being created in the imago Die deserves, requires and needs to be whole and healthy.I have heard the stories of thousands of souls—and the stories that bother and confound me the most are those that go like this:-I don’t have a past.-My past was buried and all I have is a present and a future.This past Saturday, I took a long drive and came upon a church with a big sign which read, “No one has a past—only a future.” I sat in the parking lot so disturbed by that sign that I had a quiet protest with my coffee, then drove on.What a lie—to say “no one has a past.” Here’s the deal. Charlie is living his past every single day right now.  And so are you.  So am I.So much truth and so much light is in our past that it’s really shocking. Our challenge is that so many of us don’t really know our story. We say, “We can’t remember.” Or, “That was so long ago, I’ve forgotten it.” I doubt it. The mind stores up all of these gold memories for us to mine and find the nuggets of gold that will enrich our lives.  Gwen and I have been working with a gifted therapist who is trained in helping us unlock the memories we can't dredge up--but have "bothered us". It's been such a helpful investment--particularly in our marriage. We felt the need to finally unlock the door of  each of our past that had gone unexplored and unexamined. We did this because we were hitting some impasses--all about our individual formation stories. It felt like our individual "past" stories were colliding and creating friction.  After 37 years, we felt like it was time to dig in and see what was "there".  We are both enjoying the fruits right now of such work--more peace and contentment than ever in our marriage.The apostle Paul reminds us, “We see through a glass dimly but one day, we will see face to face.” I think there’s far, far, far more to that verse than we can ever quite imagine. Our stories and Charlie’s story is already dim. We just don’t quite get or understand the power of people who shape our souls. We have not had enough science to reveal how our memories—our traumas—our beautiful experiences make us who we are.As I review my own story from time to time, I am realizing the power and significance of the shaping experiences of having a dramatic conversation on January 21, 1972 in my university chapel. Later, I was deeply shaped by flaming charismatic friends and one amazing Lutheran Pastor (Herb Mirley) who helped me break out of my boxes and experience an inner life where Jesus lives. Having a creed was not enough for me. I wanted it all. These friends helped me speak in what I though was “tongues”—but gave up after feeling like I forcing "it" to convince my friends, “I had it.” I was discipled diligently for four years by an Inter-Varsity staff worker who singled me out and poured massive time, books and memorizing Scripture into my soul. Some of what he "taught" me, I know now is wrong and not correct. I tried then to make a break from my denominational roots but did not have the courage to do so, so settled in for twenty years until I could find the words and muster the courage to say, “This is not me.”Like Benner, I am learning to embrace all of my chapters—all of my story into one, whole and integrated story that has shaped me.  It feels as close to what David wrote when he prayed, "Give me an undivided heart, that I might praise your name." For many years, my heart has been divided by doctrine, boxed by fears and marshaled by an energy that now I see was man made--not God shaped.Even now, I am still becoming. I am not done. There are still some things I need to lay aside in order to grasp hold of what is ahead of me. Some labels don’t fit me anymore and I want to grow in my gratitude for these chapters rather than be held hostage by them. I want to thank the Lord for the good I got wearing the label and courageously be willing to keep moving forward.How would you tell your story?  Who knows your story?  It would be a good goal in the the year ahead and find some trusted, safe and loving friends to listen to your story--and you listen to their story. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Use my book Soul Shaping to explore your past shaping events and people.
  2. Read or re-read my book The Lazarus LIfe where I tell me story through the story of Lazarus. You'll be given language and vocabulary to dig into your own story. There's a work book also for more and deeper work.
  3. Develop a time line in five year increments where you note the people, places, events and internal awakenings you experienced including abuse, trauma and rich and wonderful events.
  4. Make a time with 2-5 friends and give each person one hour to tell their story uninterrupted and unedited.
  5. Be kind to yourself as you dig into your story. Most stories have chapters and novels of guilt and shame. See if you can find the light and grace in each chapter of your story—for God has been with you all along, just has it is with Charlie right now.
  6. Ask God to help you remember and consider sitting with someone gracious, non-judging and who can deeply listen to your story.

The Shifting of My Emotional Tank

As we age, our capacity to keep our inner buckets filled changes. It’s really that simple. This metaphor, helps me grasp some of the deeper ways and shifts I see taking place in me—in my emotional bucket.If you've not been following me on my thinking about repositioning my life and work, here's a chance to catch up!  I've been writing about my own shifts in how I see my work--my mission and my purpose. You can read about the first blog on my respositioning here.  You can read my second blog-- about the shift from an 8-lane freeway to a 2 lane road here.  This is the third of my entries on my own growing exploration to answer this question: When is enough--enough? And by that word "enough" I mean--work.What mattered to us in our 20’s simply morphs. We shift. No one in their 60's is like they were in their 20's---are they?  We grow, mature, gain wisdom and more life and God experience and we let go of some of the stuff that seemed to consume us in our 20’s.  I think this is a very good thing. I'll explain below. Please keep reading!When I married, my bucket shifted again. There was another person that filled up a big section of my bucket. Her needs. Her story and her desires shifted my own capacity. When we leave singleness—we experience shifts inside. Love stretches us—transforms us and makes us jettison false ideas about shallow kinds of love and affection for the deeper truths that come when we go through hard times, challenges and health scares.  The vows I spoke to my wife in my 20's have a depth now in my 60's that I simply could not understand.  Shifts happen when you actually go through "sickness" and hard times.  The shifts in life deepen the love we thought was love when we were younger. This is an important shift that time teaches us and the God of time reveals to us.When we have children, our emotional buckets shift again. Those little mixtures of ovum and sperm shift our priorities--don't they? Who is ever the same after the birth of your children? Love deepens and so does responsibility. Slow Saturday brunches shift to soccer games, baseball practice and swim meets. Our reality has a way of re-arranging what is important in life.  And here's the truth--we'd never want it any other way. The shifts are good. The shifts are necessary. They shifts are needed to help us become all God intended for us.Our inner buckets shift in our vocational journey as well. Our dreams and passions propel us into high ideals and lofty ambitions. We are driven. We are in a hurry and we are impatient with others who move too slow. We try on our varied vocational clothes to find meaning and purpose. We try this job--then we try another one. Maybe the next job will be "it."  It takes a while--meaning several jobs--to find the right fit. We shift in each job as necessary mentors to teach us who we need to become. We change jobs like migrant workers change fields and climates. We move—become transient seeking a dream status that we believe awaits us. Every shift is needed. Every shift is important. Every shift is an invitation to become more of our true selves.Some of us--when introduced early to the harshness of life, find ourselves shifting far ahead of our peers. Pain in life-- like labor pains in birth--forces us through the dark canal of pain into a new stage--a new shifting. Our bucket gets knocked over through tragedy, divorce, the death of a loved one, something unjust happening to us and more. Emptiness and brokness, come to find out are the real agents of any shift we experience throughout our lives. The spiritual masters tell us that apart from pain--we simply will not shift. We will not change apart from being broken.  These are the real teachers who can morph us into being old souls before our time--before we would ever want to.  Without pain and struggle, some of us simply will not shift. We will hold on--refuse to change--clinging to the same old stage--the same old beliefs. Some of us are so white-fisted about changing that we live immoble--and truly dead before we ever really live.Our aging parents take a place in our emotional buckets like never before. We have to care in ways we never thought about. It’s called being in the “sandwich generation” because we’re squeezed on both ends of life—our own kids and our own parents. Priorities shift. We get stretched in time and money. We are giving out more than we are ever taking in. We long for a shift--for relief perhaps.About this same time, our vocational journey takes on grand importance because we have a sense that we are making a difference. Long hours and good results keep an inner fire stoked inside. We are challenged by our time---thinking we can justify our lack of time by calling some time quality and other time quantity. We will learn later in another phase that this is simply not true. Time is time and time, more than any other factor in our life shifts our emotional tank.My Grandchildren Shifted My Heart Like Nothing Else!When I had my first grandchild, I knew a shift was happening. My inner tectonic plates shifted in a way that was shocking. It was as if a conversion as big as Paul’s falling off his horse in Tarsus had happened to me. Scales fell off my eyes, just as they fell off Paul's eyes. I was once lost--in a way--but my grandchildren's arrival on the planet gave me new sight and vision. My first grandchild brought an awakening—a waking up that is still happening—even after my 10th grandchild is just now announced but still in utero. I care deeply about these souls. I care so deeply in fact, that I want to show up more and be in their lives in a deep way. I’m shifting. I think my four sons see me shifting and are left scratching their heads--perhaps.  My emotional bucket is shifting-- pushing other less important matters out of my bucket—giving more and more room to these little souls who seem to thrive on having time with me. Here's the truth: I cannot keep piling things into my bucket. Something has to shift. My bucket can literally only hold so much. Are you at your limit? If so, it may be time to shift somethings around--perhaps putting some thing out of your bucket.Through time and in time, I am shifting. My emotional bucket is changing its capacity. I cannot carry everything I use to carry in this bucket of mine. Some things will have to go. Somethings will come into my bucket that are not only going to re-arrange my life--but shift my inner life.Let me try to explain this shift more personally now.I am aging. I'm not 20 anymore.  I"m not 40 anymore.I am changing.I am shifting.I am not only aging—I am "sage-ing."I am arriving at a plateau where I can finally look out and see the horizon but also see  some drop offs  and dangerous cliffs.I may not need to take another mountain.  I use to talk this way.  Every challenge was something to conquer. Now, I'm seeing things different.I see the need to be careful. I sense the need to be wise--really wise.I do not want to make a mistake chiefly because there is no longer time to recover from a big mistake.I am seeing shifts in my emotional bucket that are going to inform my life in a different way than I ever thought before.I am growing wise and the shift in me is this: I want to give my wisdom now to only those who really want my wisdom. I no longer feel the need to convince, persuade or coax people to drink from the same cup I am drinking.I am thinking I can relax a bit more by not trying so dad-gum hard--all the time.I want to be available to those who are thirsty—to those who are hungry. I don’t want to have to motivate anyone to change their life unless they WANT to change their life. That’s a shift in me for sure.I'm realizing that only God can shift us anyway.  All change is in God's arena. I see a shift in the writers of our Scriptures.As I have read the second letters of Paul, Peter and John, I have found myself liking their second letters far, far more than than first letters. Take Paul for example. He said some things in I Corinthians that were…well—harsh and hard. As he ages, I’ve seen a remarkable shift in his own bucket. He softens. He’s more mellow. He’s far, more pastoral. Luke tells us about the emotional bucket shifting for Paul in the final verses of the book of Acts. I’ve sat with Acts 28:30-31 for a couple of years now. I’m drawn to how Luke narrates Paul’s inner shift. Here’s how Luke hints at Paul’s shift:“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!”Paul started as a religious zealot as a young man. His zeal was fierce. His energy was extraordinary. He traveled widely. He suffered greatly. He was resilient. Yet, as Paul aged, he shifted and in this passage, we learn that only two things were on his mind and heart: He told people about the Kingdom of God and he told people about Jesus. These two things consumed the final two years of his life. Not church planting strategy. Not leadership development seminars. Not mapping out world evangelization. He simply shifted as an older man to tell people about the two most essential truths: God’s rule and God’s Son. Complete. An amazing reduction of decades crusading for doctrinal purity. A distillation of many things to just a few things. His bucket shifted.  I wish that more and more preachers would shift to how Paul shifted rather than being so cantankerous--like I am sure I was. Can we major on the majors? Can we please major on the majors and let these minors pass away with our childish ways and childhood shifts?Peter too! 2 Peter is just a nicer book than 1 Peter. I learned this while spending a year in 2 Peter when I wrote my book, Inside Job. Peter morphed from a fiery, reactionary wanna-be leader to a real pastoral type. He’s much more passionate from a deeper place in 2 Peter than I see him in his first letter. This morphing—shifting—changing his own emotional bucket led Peter to become the head of the church—not as a young, fiery leader but as a sage like leader. I’m glad to see his shift and it gives me great hope for my own shifting inside.As we go from decade to decade, we simply must shift inside. We must keep growing—keep shedding old snake skins to have soft hearts and wise eyes. We cannot do it all. Perhaps we are not meant to.When we hear the stories of the great men and women in Scripture, we see them shifting. All of them shifted as a matter of fact. No one stays the way they are in their 20’s. Seriously. Would anyone even want to? I doubt it.Preparing for our Final ShiftI am glad to see my own shifting and be a witness to this shifting to you. I hope my words—my shifting may give you words to your own feelings—your own inner rumblings of a change that is not only good—but necessary.All shifting in our lives is only preparation for our final shift into eternity. If we can shift well now--then we will be prepared to shift from our final breath on this earth to the first breath with God.  Now, this is a shift that, more and more, I look forward to making.  How about you?