I am king of the almost.
I have almost accomplished a lot of things in my life. I almost graduated high school. I almost got my degree in music. I was almost a successful songwriter. My band almost made it. I helped plant a church that almost survived but after 11 years, closed it doors….it almost worked out. The regret that I’m left with has been overwhelming at times as I sit and think about each one of these almosts. I can’t help but think had I been just a little more committed, worked just a little harder then maybe, just maybe at least one of these almosts would have worked out. I mean, it’d be nice to have a degree on my wall so that I could show everyone that comes into my office “See, I can accomplish something.” Or actually attend a high school reunion but they don’t have reunions for the dropouts (which is probably a good thing…not sure I would want all of us in the same room. The police might have to be called!)
In all these almosts it always seemed like there was something that pulled it just out of reach; weather it was my own bad decisions or just bad luck, something always just didn’t work out in the end. Even though I have no one to blame but me for most (if not all) of these disappointments, it always left me feeling frustrated at myself and at God. I mean, why would God allow a church to close its doors? He’s God. Isn’t he pro church? At the end of all these almosts, particularly my failed music career, I always seemed to blame Him thinking that he let me get so close to what I wanted but then he pulled it away at the last minute to teach me some kind of lesson about life. “Enough with the damn lessons! Just let me succeed…just once, God! Can you let me have that?”
Every single almost is like an arrow to the heart; A wound that I try and medicate mostly through trying to control my life as much as possible to insure that I get the results that I want so that I never have to feel the sting of failure ever again. I try and have faith that God is somehow steering this misguided ship that is my life but in the end, in my mind, God is the guy who let a lot of good things almost happen so he ultimately can’t be trusted all that much. It’s a worldview that I’ve created for myself and it’s a shitty way to see the world. For example, when I’m having a great day spending time with my kids there’s this terrible thought that pops into my head: “Don’t enjoy it too much…it won’t last. They are going to grow up and leave you or God forbid something might happen to them. Prepare yourself, Jesse. God won’t let this good thing last.” I know that it’s a terrible, Debbie downer way to see things so I try and keep these thoughts to myself as much as possible….even try and hide them from God, as silly as that sounds. Or my health – say one day I wake up with a new ache or pain. I immediately think: “Here we go…I’m going to die of some kind of weird, aggressive butt cancer that they haven’t quite identified yet.”
The good news is that over the past 7 years God has seen this part of me and has began to draw it out and heal those old wounds. He’s showed me why some of these almosts didn’t work out the way I’d hoped and honestly, it’s for the best. He didn’t wire me to be on the road every night playing gigs away from my wife and kids…I’d go crazy! And that church that almost survived? Well, almost all of those people went on to the other ministries and are changing the world in awesome ways. So in the end, it all worked out.
But I’m still wounded and I’m still left with this haunting fear that perhaps it’s all up to me to make my life work the way I want it to. I didn’t realize how wounded I still was until one day standing out in the middle of nowhere, deep in the woods, all of my suppressed anger and resentment I’d been harboring for so long came boiling out.
It was a freezing cold day and I was 15 feet up in a tree waiting on a deer to walk out in my field of vision. I’d been tracking a buck in this area for about a month. There were all the right signs that he was in there and I was going to get him! This was my 3rd time to hunt this spot and I was confident that today was the day that I would get my chance to kill my first buck. I’ve only been hunting for about 3 years and I have only killed one doe so this was a big deal to me and my manhood….I needed this. Well, that day I didn’t just see one buck, I saw 3 bucks, 2 of which were coming down to fight right in front of my tree stand! They were snorting at each other and moving with a purpose as they got closer to that old road bed I was hunting over. I thought “Jesse, here’s your chance! Don’t blow it!” One was closer to me than the other so he is the one I chose. I watched all of his 6 points tearing through the brush as he got closer and closer. I took aim and waited….and then, I fired!
(Pause for effect)
After the blast of my shot faded into the cosmos he trotted up the hill like nothing happened. I thought “Did I hit him? Why didn’t he fall? I did hit him, right?” I waited for 30 minutes which is what your supposed to do if a deer runs on you. You have to give him a chance to die otherwise due to adrenalin he might keep running and die way off somewhere and you might not find him. So I waited for the half hour that seemed like 6 hours all the while trying to determine if I hit him or not. He sure didn’t act like he got shot but who knows. Finally after an excruciating 1800 seconds I descended down my tree to track this guy and hopefully find him dead just over the hill. I went to the spot just 45-50 yards from my stand to look for blood but I found nothing…no blood, no hair, no disturb ground, not a damn thing. I began to walk in the direction that I saw him run but still nothing. I’m walking with my face as close to the ground as possible without falling and can’t find any blood. I walked and walked and walked for hours. It’s not just the thought that he got away, it’s also the terrible thought that I might have wounded him and he’s out there dying somewhere slowly….the animal lover in me was panicking! The more I walked the angrier I became until finally I exploded…”You couldn’t just let me have this one, could you? There you go again letting me get so close and then pulling it away! That’s just my luck! Thanks for nothing!” After the words came out I felt pretty ridiculous. “How dare you talked to God that way?!” said the little voice in my head. You know that little voice…it’s the one that helps you fit into society…the one that keeps you from cussing in front of your parents, the one that tells you to not park in the handicap space, the one that tells you to go to church more…that voice. I felt ashamed of myself and at that point I had given up hope of ever finding that buck. So, I began to make my way out of the woods.
I was silent as I got in my truck and began my hour long drive back home. But soon the tears of remorse came as I thought about what I said to God in those woods. It was like something was in my heart that needed to be exposed. At that point I was pretty hungry so I decided to stop at a fast food place to get some late breakfast and try and forget about all that had happened. I pulled into a drive through and placed my order. The girl at the window said it would be 5 minutes or so before my food was ready and asked that I pull over to the side. As soon as I parked I heard God speak:
“Do you still not believe that I am good?”
I began to sobb even more and answered “No Father, I don’t. I’m sorry but I just can’t believe it.” When my heart heard those words I immediately felt his presence and It wasn’t condemning or mean, it was refreshing and soothing like I was being held. I felt overwhelmed by his love and acceptance. And for the next several days I pondered what I really believed about God.
One of my go to things when I’m trying to dial in and hear the Lord speak, or in this case process what he has already said, I listen to some music or a podcast. God always seems to speak through those 2 things for me. My go to podcast is Ransomed Heart by John Eldredge. I have been reading his books and listening to him for years and God always seems to speak to me through him. I tuned in to hear part one of a segment on New Ways to Experience God. John opens the segment with reading a passage from The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite books. It’s a story about a boy named Shasta who was kidnapped from Narnia when he was a baby. In the story he meets up with a talking horse, also from Narnia, and they escape Shasta’s kidnapper and go on a journey back to Narnia. Along the way, Shasta gets lost in the woods and feels a presence walking next to him in the darkness. Here is the passage from the book:
The Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.
If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
After I heard these words I could hear the one who walks beside me asking me the same thing..”tell me your sorrows”. I immediately thought “Come on, God. I don’t know if any of my problems qualify as sorrows.” He pressed me “tell me your sorrows.” So I did…for a couple of days I wrote down all the times I felt he had let me down, no matter how silly they might have seemed, I still wrote them down and with each one I felt that old familiar sting, that old ache of abandonment. I love the first statement that the “thing” that walked beside Shasta said to him “I am one who has waited long for you to speak.” God has waited a long time for me to say what I was really thinking not the religious bullshit answers the I use to explain away all the disappointments in my life to make myself feel better. You know what I am talking about…”Well, I guess it just wasn’t God’s will….He works all things to the good of those who love him.” We’ve all said it in those moments of disappointment because that’s what we’re supposed to say not what we are really thinking. But what if He has waited long for us to say what we really believe about him? Perhaps it scares us to really say out loud what we truly believe about God but what if that is the one thing He is waiting on?
I told God all of my sorrows, all the ways that I felt abandoned by him or just let down and he made no effort to defend himself. One might think that part of this exercise would’ve been for him to go through each one and make a case for himself but that is not what happened….that didn’t need to happen. He simply revealed his goodness. He unveiled his heart…the heart of a father that has long since loved and cared for me in every heartbreak, every failure….every almost. In that moment he absorbed all of my anger, pain and hurt and I was left with the overwhelming assurance that he is good and always has been.
I’m starting to see these sorrows not as symbols of a fathers betrayal but part of a beautiful tapestry woven in fabric made up of moments and days and years at the hands of one who knows how it feels to be broken hearted, one who knows very well the sting of betrayal…my betrayal and what He desires most from me is intimacy and you can’t have intimacy with someone if you hide your brokenness in the name of reverence or respect. Intimacy is a beautiful thing but before the beauty comes the ugliness…the ugliness of honesty. And folks, we have to wade through it to get to a place of wholeness. Maybe you’ve been kicked around by life and just can’t get a break. Maybe the suck up in the cubicle next to you got the promotion instead or maybe your not getting the respect you feel you deserve at home from your spouse or your kids. Maybe for you it’s worse…Perhaps your hiding the wounds of abuse in your past, maybe the betrayal of a spouse or you lost someone close to you. No matter how big or seemingly insignificant we think our sorrows to be, they are still our sorrows and there is one who has waited long for you to poor out the anger and frustration that you’ve been harboring.
But for the pious and religious that refuse to wade through the ugliness they will experience a different kind of almost….they’ll almost know God as the good father that he is and almost know how deeply and recklessly they are loved. They’ll almost be free of self hatred and almost be free to trust that the Father’s heart towards them is good…..almost.