(from the introduction to my new book, Being — out in April)
I learned the value of hard work from my family-of-origin early in life. Doing something was a way to be affirmed and rewarded. Even before my first paying job, my brother and I discovered we could scavenge for aluminum cans and sell them to a recycler. My mother encouraged us and even drove us to the recycling center, even though it likely cost more for the gas than we made.
Later we hauled buckets of manure to our huge, organic garden. I remember being very happy riding my bicycle several miles to pick okra for a farmer to both get out of laboring for my dad and to be paid in proportion to how hard I could work. I came to assume that working hard (doing) was the way to be rewarded.
But, even though I could work as hard or harder than my peers, I still felt disadvantaged. As a child, I had to wear thick glasses. I was short and skinny, but I worked hard and became the fullback on our high school football team. A few times, I fought with stockier guys to prove myself. In my younger years, our family struggled financially. That experience was also a motivation for me to work hard to find the financial and emotional rewards I felt I needed to have worth, value and security. It was much later that I realized this belief led me down an unhealthy path.
Too much of my drive was about accomplishment and doing at the cost of becoming. I did very well with the “you can do anything” mantra because I believed it. But it was never enough – I never hit the target, I never arrived at home and I never really found the peace my heart was seeking.
With marriage and then children, the whole doing thing got a lot more complicated for me. I discovered that I couldn’t just work more or harder to make life work. My wife, our children, friends and then people in the churches I served expected different things from me. I found it simply wasn’t enough just to perform.
Occasionally, I heard strange whispers, as if someone wandered by and softly said, “You are a human being, not a human doing.” I would look around and wonder where the voice came from and then go back to my daily obligations. But the message kept creeping into my consciousness like a gentle breeze blowing through the trees.
As a pastor, I heard these whispers about this idea of being in Scripture. I read and wondered about Jesus’ real meaning when he said to the disciples: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This caused me to pause, but the doing of life jumped back into the driver’s seat and I continued down the path that I was on.
Have you noticed that pastors like to talk about James’ caution to be a “doers of the word and not just hearers?” Paul stressed that we are servants (doers) of Christ. I liked preaching about these things, because I learned that some Christians enjoy an occasional guilt trip, and I could mention the sign-up sheet for the nursery right after preaching about doing something instead of just hearing it. It was effective for people like me who got our self-worth from what we did. Something in me knew that this was just not good news for me or for anyone else but I would go back to more doing because it is what I knew best.
Something in me interpreted being as a copout. My usual strategy was running, searching and striving. I loved adventure, so my doing was always looking for a new strategy, the next “big thing” that would make up for my deficiencies and get me past the next hurdle.
After years of searching for worth, value and security through doing enough, I am now discovering a new way of being and becoming. I call it a journey toward presence and authenticity. Or if you like, being where you are and being who you are. It is not a static destination; it is an ongoing process – a meaningful and mysterious adventure.
I want you to know this being and becoming I have discovered. That is why I am writing this book. You may experience this book as one of those “whispers” in the midst of your life of doing. You may also consider my story as a guide for your journey toward authenticity and presence.
As we engage in sharing that journey together, some prep work is in order. If you are anything like me, you want to get started immediately building the structure. It is important to remember that restoring the foundation is important and sometimes walls must be torn down before we can remodel the house.
As you will see in my story, there can be devastating consequences when we rush forward with re-engineering our lives or our practices when we do not look below the surface.
Most of us have some past trauma and experiences that have created “emotional stoppages” that prevent us from being who we could be. That is why I begin this book with some of my history.
When we are willing to do the hard work of going deeper, we give ourselves the very real possibility to live vibrant and authentic lives.
I wish I could transport you to your new destination automatically. I wish I could magically make all your issues go away. I can’t do that because it doesn’t work that way. What I can do is walk with you on the journey as I invite you to gain courage and understanding from my story.
As I said in my previous book, Apparent Faith, “Let us walk together, you and I…and in doing so find peace!
Be where you are, be who you are, be at peace,