Saturday, January 14, 2017

Heroic Intentions and Selfish Ambition

"Those who transgress boundaries in their all-consuming life search for knowledge, riches, power, and prowess will overreach themselves until their pact with the devil destroys them. " 
Os Guinness
"A man doesn’t have to die to go to hell. 
Nashville musician, Rivers Rutherford 

In my last post, I quoted a paraphrase I had done years ago from the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem, Ulysses.

The poem creates quite a tension and is one that I believe most men struggle with. 

We are enthralled by and called to heroic narratives. Any honest evaluation of our ambitions and intentions can never disregard a desire to be the champion.

At least I did.... I wanted the ball in the last seconds with a chance to fight and win the game. In some ways, yes,  it is a yearning for significance but in other ways, it is just a recognition of how a man is wired.

The tension is palpable though.... straining through heroic desires and domestic duties. Because as much as I have always wanted to conquer in far away fields of battle, I also never wanted to be a man who had won the battles on the road, but lost dramatically at home.

I remember as early as 1996 pleading with the Lord to allow us to be a football state champions. But my prayer was always... 'Lord, if You allow this please let me see that I still have my faith, my family, and my friends." And God was gracious and faithful, He did allow that experience in 1998, 1999, and 2003. And in each case, my faith, family, and fiends were still intact.

So it is a tension, a life long tension.... Where is the battle? Where is my heart? What is the right thing to do? and How do I decide what it is and, more importantly, HOW to do it?

Now this is where a healthy sense of self suspicion HAS to come in. Men, we HAVE to be skeptical of our intentions.

One of God's greatest saves in my life was His guidance and providence to get me home more. And early on, it was hard to do.

When I was a very young coach.... eaten up with football and the passion of pursuing championships, it was much easier to stay at the office for LONG hours, more film and more planning. And I was never alone-  we had a core group of young warriors like me who were going to climb the mountain with all we had.

Going home was harder. Going home to my house of 3 very young girls and a wife strained to the edge wasn't always a pretty picture.

At work, I was in control and the system I was working on was clean, organized, and there was a clear evaluation at the end of every contest and season. It was easy to chart growth and it was satisfying to get approval and support.

Home was harder. It wasn't organized nor clean.

But God worked a miracle in me. Early on I made myself go home... before long I wanted to go home. And I learned to embrace the tension on both sides.

Because BOTH need a ton of attention.... if you are going to do it well. 

The hardest part is that if you truly are doing it well, there will be tension and misunderstanding on both sides.

My wife still felt that football was my mistress and she and the girls needed me more. My job demanded more than I was giving it as well. The deep nuances of football along with a full time teaching position can never be explored fully.

Do NOT get me wrong... I messed it up ALL the time and there were too many times I was home physically, but withdrawn and engrossed in mental pictures of x's and o's.

The most difficult part was that I did suffer professionally at times from others who questioned my commitment to the job because I wasn't one of those who stayed at the school every night and every activity.

I think one of the worst things we can ever do  is go to someone and let them know that we noticed that they WERE NOT there. In m early years as a head football coach, I heard that too much from my supervisors. Why weren't you at the basketball game? Why did you not attend the play? Why did you leave campus so early? Please, I ask you men- don't do that. It is ok to have an honest sit down and talk through strategies....But defend your employees who are dads more and be willing to please the 'never satisfied fringe' less.

And, it can happen the other way as well. Every spouse has to evaluate when it is very legitimate to ask "Why are you working so late, so much?" - yes, that has to be asked. But there are times the questions needs to be withheld if you see that there is an honest effort to fight the tension.

The hardest thing? Now that I look BACK.... now that my youngest is graduating and my professional life now approaches 4 decades? My enemy all along has been that time never stops...

Time is the gift that doesn't keep giving.... and video images and pictures from years ago are beautiful and haunting all in one emotion.

So what to make of all this rambling?

The tension remains even as we age... as an empty nester, so to speak, what is the call? Does it change?

No- it still is the struggle to lay the passions before the Lord..... 

He is not ever calling me to bask in self-indulgence and luxury. Yes, He gives me SO many opportunities to have fun, travel, fish - more than I deserve... but He does it only in spurts and commands that everything is done in His timing and under His authority. And, thankfully, I have learned that He is the best One to trust in regarding these things.

But how to decide often ISN'T a clear road sign and I do believe He allows a lot of blessed options.....

So let's walk with our hero, Ulysses for just a little bit.

And let's wrestle with the tension.... IS HE:

A warrior hero who still desires to matter... who still feels his skills are good?


A self-centered, foolish seeker of adrenaline beyond any boundaries who sacrifices his family and domestic duties along the way?

Again, I apologize to Alfred, Lord Tennyson for the paraphrase....

What profit is there for a warrior king to sit in idleness?

My life is nothing but routine.

My wife and I are growing old and I rest in my home and try to sort out what it means to govern a people who never rise above their base natures.

My people? They are no different than any human... all they care about is to eat, drink, and gather with no regard for anyone but themselves.

My heart has always pulled me in a different way.

And my memory constantly recounts the bloody battles and glory that fade too soon.

I DID become someone- as I early on told the Cyclops with force and power- 'No I am not NOBODY... I am ULYSSES, Sacker of Cities'.

Indeed, my greek name now indicates what my reputation will always be... A person on an 'odyssey'.. a heroic and risky desire to travel, discover, fight, and prevail. As has been said, "always roaming with a hungry heart".

My life is changed now- I am part and parcel of all I have met- cities across the globe, men across all cultures and I have been honored and revered by them.

But even then, each new discovery was a bridge still to worlds unknown and battles un-fought.

I have fallen many times in the mere exhaustion of the pursuit. And though it feels so good to lay there for a time... it isn't long until I began to despise the rust and distrust the leisure.

The sound of a ticking clock begins to haunt me. There is too little time remaining.

And I am vexed beyond boundaries. I want to go and do it again, knowing full well that it is an unquenchable thirst... the knowledge I pursue is a sinking star that I will forever chase but never capture.

Yes, I am leaving my son. But he is more than capable of running the land and more suited for the task of his calling than I. Is it enough to rejoice that he has his life now and I have mine?

What is distressing me more than ever is that I see a visible opportunity in front of me... the ships are ready, the crew is set. Isn't it enough to know that if I can still go, I should still go?

I still have the skill to perform noble tasks. Isn't my work still undone?

Death and darkness are on the horizon, don't I need to launch now?

Will not my heart leap on the launch?

Do I not need to feel my face set like flint against the wind and against the odds?

It may be failure... but again, it may be the most glorious victory yet!
We may experience the golden times again of what we once knew.

True, I am not as I once was. There was a time in the past where I found the crossroad of success and achievement.

Today, I am what I am. We are what we are.

But what is the golden pursuit?

To once again find the unity of equal hearts, pushing the will when the flesh has failed, to get up after we have fallen, and press on until the very last breath.

The glory is the battle together, even more than the trophies of championships.

Tennyson said it much better... but it helps me to redraft it in my vulgar vernacular.

So what do we make of this?

Heroic or selfish? Hard to know and impossible to judge.

The biggest mistake in all of this is the absence of the Creator. Indeed, in the original poem, Tennyson acknowledges the household gods, but idols offer nothing in guidance or evaluation.

Here is another way to look at it.

This poem is HONEST... this is how we feel.

We are caught in this vicious cycle of what we are supposed to do and what we long to do. And relying only on our human passions, we have no help in the process.

The biggest problem is that we may be wrong on both ends.... what we think we are supposed to do may in fact be a human contrivance bolted down by conventional wisdom. At the same time, our heart passions are impossible to dissect between nobility and autonomy. 

Ulysses could benefit from God.

God helps in a weird way... He doesn't show us what to do... He allows and reveals over time and it is always still a step of faith. Maybe even a 'trust fall'.

Years ago, I drafted a decision making grid that encompasses what Scripture sets up as a process for these moments....

1) In making big decisions, we basically choose what we want to do. Even our prayers often are a covering of manipulation.

2) In making big decisions, what our peers think is usually more important than what God thinks.

3) When making big decisions, we often pick a position of power and pride over humility and service.

4) When making big decisions, our tentacles are up to catch the information that supports our presuppositions and we are not dissuaded by countering arguments.
See why it is important to tread carefully here?
I know I have mentioned this before, but I wish I had read the book, “The Call” by Os Guinness so much earlier in my youth. I don’t know if I was mature enough to ‘heed’ the advice there as a 25 year old- but I would have chosen differently in some big decisions if I had.
Don’t get me wrong..God’s sovereign rule and love has still stood tall over the choices- just as He does throughout Scripture- but the heart level submission to the King would have allowed me to do much more in the things that really matter.
So is there a point of application here is making a grid on how to make decisions and who to listen to?
Though I have had times where I did things my way- like a type of Jacob- scheming and pulling the strings- I did have a time where I can honestly say I did it right. And here is what I did:


It started with a ‘DECISION GRID’ that I sent to my wife. One that we could pray over AS A FAMILY.
We searched Biblical passages for HIS GENERAL WILL and the boundaries. A VERY helpful passage is I Thessalonians 4. It says:
1) God’s WORD is my authority.
It sets my motive– To Please God by:
a- spending time in prayer
b-reading the Bible
c-fellowship- especially with my wife
d-practicing discipline which honors God
e- the priority of loving others (especially my wife and children)
I Thessalonians also tells me what to aspire to:
I also had some great questions to ask:
Finally there are two big reminders:
God guides: But not like a horse or a mule (Psalm 32:8,9) He expects me to use common sense and my mind.

Be peaceful: I am His child and He will be with me…no matter what.
What if we all did this?
For me… it meant I took at times a less prestigious road, one where I put it all at the foot of the cross and trusted in the King. And I haven’t regretted those decisions.
My prayer is that you AND I will really listen to Him in our next big decision.
The biggest decision we can make is to give our life to HIM!
May we all choose wisely……….  and then not look back

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