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Confessions of a Mad Journalist in Search of Life’s Purpose

February 27, 2010

Well folks, it’s the end-of-month repost time! I have a tasty selection for you here,one of those stories that somehow sums up all of what life’s about, in both it’s mess and it’s glory. So relax and take your time with this one.

Like most insecure and spiritually frustrated white men in their forties, I keep a journal. Some men hunt. Others play golf. I know one gentleman whose passion is collecting kaleidoscopes.

Me, I’ve taken to transcribing the obsessive voices in my head into a handsome series of leather-bound, hand-written manuscripts. Because if you were to secretly hold up a glass to my skull and listen in at any given moment, I’m afraid you would hear a terrorizing barrage of chatter that even a fully staffed NSA would find difficult keep up with:

You better get started on those legal documents if you Oh, did you write that check for the Why was Sally so moody today do you think I did something don’t forget to sign up for the fundraiser Bob’s been asking you about he’ll think you don’t care if you don’t Oh Dear God I can’t believe Sophie has a boyfriend now, they better be careful or else You are really such a lousy time manager and you waste so much when Hey that was funny, wasn’t it, when Gail tripped on the Won’t it be great if Sam buys into that real estate concept I am so sinful why can’t I be more like John he is such a godly man at least it comes across that way Hey what were those sales guys doing in that meeting without inviting me…”

Thus the journal is a form of therapy, you might say. Or, it is simply a practical method to organize my random, screaming thoughts.

I have actually kept a journal since college. Back then, the journal-writing mostly reflected upon scriptures and devotions where I would expound upon my spiritually superior state of being. To be honest, those were much simpler times, and you can see that when you read through those entries. They went something like this:

“Today I read in James chapter 1 about not being tossed around like the waves. I thank God my faith is solid and jesus is my redeemer, there is no other. Praise you Lord Jesus! Thank you for saving my soul. I have Calc test tomorrow, and I pray the Lord give me strength to study and recall the material.”

It’s fun to read those early writings from a more innocent era. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go back in time and talk to myself then as a grown-up Forty-eight year old. “Dude.” I would say. “Stop praising Jesus and crack open that calc book. No wonder your grades are slipping. Now get to work!” I don’t think I would be too easy on myself.

When I hit my thirties, life naturally became more complicated as I entered the haze of parenting and all the responsibilities associated with full-fledged adulthood. The journal reflected the struggles and dreams of my changing world. I started keeping track of my unfolding life, in all of its excitement and drama: the jobs; career aspirations; navigating my marital relationship; the joy of having children; the burden of growing responsibilities; new questions about my faith and my spiritual journey; and changing church affiliations. There was plenty of self-analysis, hopeful visions, passionate prayers, and even a couple of book reviews. Not unlike this Blog, I guess.

It is interesting now to see how so many of those dreams came true once I wrote them down. It was uncanny, how the very act of writing down a goal, complemented with prayer, would soon manifest itself in one form or another in real life. At one point I wrote this:

“I am feeling restless with my job, wanting to contribute more, but am not ready to jump ship just yet. I think it’s time that I joined a board…maybe that would provide a channel for this energy and allow me to make some new contributions – make some new connections. Lord, I give this to you.”
I had never been asked by anyone to serve on their Board of Directors before, but within two weeks of that entry I received four different offers out of the clear blue sky to join various boards. I accepted two of them. After describing this amazing coincidence to my family as a testament to God’s hand at work in my life, my daughters begged me to write down their special dreams in my magic book, so that they too could see them come true the way mine did. It wasn’t the same thing, I tried to explain.

By the time I entered my forties, the journal had also become an outlet for processing all of my increasingly heretical and disturbing thoughts. I am afraid that if you were to read from select pages of my journal over the past several years, you might wonder if I would be better off placed securely in a psych ward, or banished forever to an isolated island. My journal became the unfortunate recipient of the deepest fears, anxieties and unfulfilled spiritual longings that prowled around in the darkest depths of my soul. Perhaps most people find it best to suppress their insecurities, or else they privately confide in their spouse, their priest, or their shrink. But for me, it all gets washed out in my journal. Here is an example:

2/21 ” I’m lazy, busy, undisciplined, sinful, that’s how I really feel most of the time. Why do I even care? Thank God He accepts me just as I am but I’m sure He’s also sick and tired of me too. I don’t know what to do or how to be or how much to give up or fight or be myself or be different. Maybe if I stopped spending so much time complaining about myself and more time acknowledging and seeking after God I’d be blah blah blah purpose blah blah blah fulfillment blah blah blah whine whine whine God Jesus blah blah I have no passion blah blah I’m too busy blah”

I did not often reach a spiritual resolution during these existential rants. But the very act of confessing, pouring out my soul in all its ugliness and messiness, eventually led me to a more peaceful and accepting place in my faith.

Oftentimes, my journal acted as a sounding board for my career – a personal assistant of sorts, to help me think through major issues, or grapple with risk. Sure, being an executive can be fun, you are thinking. You get to make big decisions. People respect you. You get to tell others what to do. And, let’s see. What else? Oh yes – the fate of the entire organization rests upon your shoulders. That’s not completely accurate, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

After working so hard for many years clawing my way to the top, I relished in those first few years of making it to the executive suite. Confident. Bold. Full of conviction. That’s the image I wanted to project. That’s what you would have read in my journal those days. But soon enough, the glimmer wore off, and I was faced with the daunting realization that everyone expected me to make some pretty tough decisions, and to get them right. Owning those major decisions took some getting used to. What if I made a mistake? What if I was wrong? What will happen if I make a twenty million dollar boggle?

When it came time to actually make those big decisions, I frequently would have cold feet, and second thoughts. “Do you really know what you are doing?” my journal would ask. That’s what I would be thinking on the way home from work, or waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. “Who do you think you are? I’ll tell you who you are, you are a big fat Loser who is trying to fake everyone out with your fancy business plans and big ideas. They are on to you, boy!” Those same thoughts crossed my mind as I drove past the construction site of an enormously expensive project that I had recently launched. A project that I had fought for and wrestled with for three years, doing market research, studying the competition, building a business plan, getting advice from experts, and then victoriously convincing the Board that it would provide a superior return for the investors, giving us a formidable edge in the industry. But sitting in my car a few weeks later watching the steel going up, I suddenly felt a lump in my stomach. “Dear Lord in heaven, what have I done?” I thought to myself, gripping the steering wheel with white-knuckles as the friendly construction workers smiled and waved at me.

In a brief moment of desperate panic, I secretly reneged on all of my bold predictions for growth and profits. All I wanted to do was run and hide. It all crumbled before me in an imaginary meltdown, as I pictured myself standing before the Board, trying to explain the massive failure of my plan.

In moments like this, I need to step back, to gain some perspective, and to be less emotional – more objective. I need a helping hand. I turn to my journal, and let it all out in a flurry of cries and pleas to God, followed by a good deal of man-to-man straight-talk. It calms me down. A few months later, I go back and read through those escalating crazy-man thoughts, and I chuckle. “Ha, Ha, wasn’t that funny how I got so worked up over that little thing! Oh, Ye of Little Faith! Sheesh!”

A few months after the fact, it is now so obvious that any dummy could have seen how God was with me then. He was there the whole time. Everything worked out just fine, even though it was a little touch and go for a while. I had done all the right homework; I received plenty of input and advice. I was not being arrogant and cavalier in promoting my ideas. So why did I panic?

I think about that Woody Allen quote, the one that says “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” That’s all God wants from me, is to just show up every day and do my job – at home, at work, with my kids, with my friends and church. And if I’m doing it right, if I’m stepping out in faith and taking calculated risks once in a while, there might be times when it feels like what I am doing is crazy. It’s like an old saying I heard once from a youth leader in high school: “God can’t steer a parked car.” It may take a while, we may fumble around and bump into things at first, but He’s got to start somewhere.

I’ll bet that in God’s playbook, one hundred percent of success is based on just showing up. And to be honest, some days that’s barely all we can manage. But, really, what other choice do we have? We wake up, turn over in bed, and sooner or later we are going to have to get up and start moving around. That’s when the Holy Spirit can sneak in and start doing some good work with us. He can prod and push us, nudging us along a little at a time. “So, now that you’re up, why not make that phone call?” He might ask, in a cheerful, encouraging voice. You might as well go and talk to that person you were thinking about. And it wouldn’t hurt to organize that meeting you’ve had on that list for a while. A little at a time. Things start getting mobilized. And before you know it, God is doing something in your life that you didn’t even expect.

There has been one overriding, familiar theme woven throughout all of my journal writings during the past twenty years: I was constantly searching for some greater purpose and meaning for my life. But I never really got it, not in the way I thought it should be at the time when I was writing it down. I kept waiting for some huge Master Plan from God to overlay my life, like it would click into place and I would be set. But does anyone ever really get that?

I guess that’s how life is – you just have to try and make good decisions every day, give of yourself to others, take care of the ones you love, and work hard at whatever it is your dreams are. And then surrender it all to God. There’s no magic or secret formula. Even though that’s what we long for sometimes.

There is a tenet of the Presbyterian denomination that I really like, which kind of explains this for me. It says, “We are reformed and always reforming.” That means that we’re never done. We’ll never figure it all out. Spiritually speaking, there’s never an end point for our understanding, our experience of God, or our ability to define what God’s purpose is in and for our life. Just like time unfolds before us in the seconds, minutes, hours and days, so does God’s presence and purpose. It’s always before me. He’s always before me.

Looking back on the two decades of life captured in my journal writings – through all the ups and downs, the dreams and fears, the frustrations and victories – there are a few things I have learned:

  1. God is present, one hundred percent of the time
  2. Joy is always an option
  3. Grace is available everywhere
  4. I must participate

You know, I do have a choice in these matters. If I make an attempt to pay attention to these few, small details, then the gap between my real life and my idealized spiritual life gets smaller. I just need to be aware. I have to look around with more of a discerning eye. 

“And don’t forget to write it all down,” I can hear God saying to me. “Tell Me all about it, and you’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. simplifylearning permalink
    February 27, 2010 6:20 pm

    So much wisdom.

    I need to show up more often…

  2. Andrew Turner permalink
    February 28, 2010 1:19 am

    Wonderful Bradley.

    I first noticed this struggle when I was about 14. I’d just watched a girl-friend and my best friend walk away south down the train tracks high as kites on cheap dope and I wasn’t and it wasn’t fun watching it happen.

    It was about sunset and on the prairies that means a lot because it’s lovely. Right about then I was shot through with such a deep pain that it almost broke me; it was the first time I’d felt it and have since learned to recognize it.

    It’s the agony I think of being separated from God by our mortal selves and the barrier it represents between us and our Source, which will one day be rectified in perfection. And even in my own journals, which are largely a record of struggle, I can see that battle being fought: the battle to last through to the end whatever it may be, simply because there’s no other option…only God.

    What does it mean? I’m not sure. It’s of our spirit and of the Holy Spirit and both I know little of. But creation does grown as with childbirth and I’m sure we all feel it. From masculine point of view I do not know what a woman feels; my wife’s mind is as close between her and God as myself and my Lord’s, and part of the mystery of growing old together lies in our not ever fully understanding each other. But I do know that even when those pangs hit, Truth is no farther away then it was the moment before and one day we will know it fully, although now we see as in a mirror…a forged bronze mirror identical I think to the setting sun I saw when I was 14, watching my girl-friend and best friend walk away high on cheap dope, and I wasn’t having any.

  3. February 28, 2010 4:51 pm

    i think that God speaks to me when i write things out. thoughts come and words come from between the thinking and the writing.

    i loved your description of the barrage of chatter.

  4. March 1, 2010 2:00 pm

    “I kept waiting for some huge Master Plan from God to overlay my life, like it would click into place and I would be set. But does anyone ever really get that?”

    No. 😉 …

    I love this post, Brad. It’s courageously honest & inspiring — to live authentically and speak authentically with God.

    It got me excited again to take an extra night this week — and just journal some frustrations.

    I can’t wait… ‘cuz I don’t hunt.

  5. March 2, 2010 12:44 am

    Hello just came across your blog and have been browsing around some of your entries and just wondering why you selected a WordPress blog dont you find it impossible to do anything with? Been thinking about starting one.

    • March 4, 2010 8:09 pm

      Because I am so lame at doing anything technical that requires more than an immediate turn-key template, and I don’t like the templates for the other Blogspot or Google sites.

      The main thing I am frustrated with is not having the social media links widget that would allow people to Tweet or Facebook the posts that they like.
      Gosh, who knows how much viral traffic I am missing out on??

      So for now, I will passively accept my fate with WordPress. (unless you are volunteering to help me move on?)

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