One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with in my life is the idea that I have goals and I want to meet them. When I was young, I had a certain idea of how I wanted my life to be, and in my youthful arrogance I though I would be able to accomplish all of it by the time I was thirty. As I grew older and nothing seemed to be going the way I wanted, I strangely did not become bitter but instead began adjusting my expectations to new goals that seemed more reasonable. As I approach the start of my fifth decade of life next year, my dreams are incredibly humble from a worldly perspective, but because of the decisions and circumstances of my life, they are still very much out of reach.
Many people would look at my life and wonder why I am so dissatisfied. My early childhood was marked with awesome events like spending several days on a nuclear submarine with my father, awesome trips to theme parks like Carowinds, and even our family going out on the lake in my father’s sailboat, which sparked the lifelong passion for sailing that I have today. Later in life, I was blessed by learning to play the clarinet and participating in both marching and concert band, which eventually led to the United States Marine Corps music program and more than a decade of performing in public and leading bands in performances. I’ve had many great experiences in my life, and most people would say I have little reason to complain.
My issue is and always has been that I want what I want, and it is my laser focus on yearning for the goals of my own heart that causes me to miss the blessings I’ve received so far. The last decade of my life has been wasted, mired in useless job after useless job because the things that I want for myself are out of reach for me and I haven’t been open to any other pathways. Nearly ten years have passed me by while I focus on what I wish I could have rather than trying to find a way to use what I do have to move forward with my life. At some point you have to start asking yourself: why do you keep on living this way?
When I first learned that my ex-wife was planning on divorcing me, I went through a major adjustment in an effort to change that decision. For the first time in my life, I sought out God in the desperate hope that he would fix things and save my family. I opened myself up to Him and went hard down the road of reading and studying the Bible, going to church, participating in small study groups, working with my new mentor to try to fix the things in my life that were separating me from God and the other important people in my life. The entire focus of my life shifted from the things I always wanted to just saving my family.
The problem was that my focus was still not on God, but on my family. I was still focused on what I wanted, not being obedient to what God was trying to do in me. Though I had convinced myself I was pursuing God with all I had, the reality was I was hoping that my actions would convince my ex not to leave and I would be able to keep the family that was so important to me. In the end, everything I was doing was for completely selfish reasons, and my ex ultimately proceeded with the divorce and I lost my family anyway. They are currently living across the country and the only chance I get to see my children is when they are able to fly out to California. Neither of us can afford to make that a regular occurance.
For a long time, I blamed my ex for everything that had happened. Objectively, she truly does bear a great deal of the fault for what ended up happening to our marriage, but I won’t get into the personal issues that she had here in a public space. Suffice it to say that she was at least as wrong as I was in our relationship, and it was her selfishness as much as my own that ultimately caused her to leave. It was a long time before I started to realize that not only did my own selfishness contribute to what ended up happening, but my attempted fix to the problem came out of purely selfish motives as well, and would have never worked. The relationship was doomed from the start. It just took ten years to get there.
After my marriage finally failed, and especially once my children eventually moved away, I completely fell away from God. My bitterness at losing my children drove a stake through what little relationship I had built up with the Father, and I basically returned to the person I used to be before all this began. I dove back into my laser focus on the things I wanted for my life: a job that I liked, a sailboat that I could start getting ready to sail around the world, working for myself, and myriad other things that I’ve always wanted but could never figure out how to make happen. I sank further and further back into the old life, engaging in all the activities that caused so many problems all along.
Perhaps the person most hurt by the things that have happened to me over the last few years is my fiancée. She has shown so much love and patience with me, but I haven’t had the kind of love inside me that I need to give back to her that she deserves. The selfishness of my heart has continued to make it impossible to treat her the way I know she should be treated, and it boggles my mind that she has put up with who I’ve been for so long. I can only say that without her, I would be completely alone, and words cannot express my gratitude that she has chosen to be with me even through all of this.
The ultimate point of this article, though, is not to have a pity party, but to point out something that I have finally come to understand after several months of trying to honestly turn back to God. After I lost my job back in February, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at me to start pursuing God again. I started reading my Bible and restarting the old studies I did back when I was going through the intensive programs I completed back when all this first started. I started to build up some hope that God might finally be ready to act powerfully in my life to change my direction and get me started down a new chapter.
Of course, that isn’t what has happened. I’ve experienced more anger and frustration over the last several weeks than I have in most of my life. God hasn’t made a single change in my circumstances. I am still unemployed, I still have no pathway toward any of my dreams, my relationships are still completely broken, and my children are still very far away from me with no real prospect of seeing them any time soon. There is nothing I have to look forward to, and I should be despairing at my circumstances.
For the last few months, that has absolutely been the case. Despair has been a regular part of my daily routine as I continue to try to power through doing my daily Bible studies and praying to God that He will save me from my miserable life. I live in nearly total isolation from everyone, only occasionally spending time with the woman I love, and spending absolutely no time with anyone else. Depression has been a very powerful force in my life lately, and I haven’t really felt much motivation to change it.
Finally, though, I reached the point where I began to understand that it is my own selfish desires that are causing me to go through what I’ve been going through for my entire life. It is my own fixation on my personal goals rather than truly giving up my life to Jesus that is causing me to be so incredibly unhappy. Much like the dog who runs around like crazy trying to experience everything he can, so much energy is wasted on meaninglessness that could be put into developing a trusting and loving relationship with a person.
Of course, this realization doesn’t mean that I’m going to suddenly become this awesome Christian man who has become transformed into someone completely new. God almost never works that way. Just like it’s taken me years to get from the point where I tentatively accepted Christ into my heart to where I truly understand what it means to follow Him, it’s going to take even longer for me to truly submit myself and learn to put that knowledge into practice. It’s one thing to know something in your head; it’s quite another to develop the discipline to actually implement that knowledge in your life.
Getting back to the title of this message, though, sometimes you have to finally be able to completely give up what you want to have any chance of moving forward in your life. It don’t say this from personal experience, because my life is still pretty much where it has always been. I haven’t received God’s blessing yet because I haven’t fully surrendered myself to him. I’ve made significant strides in that direction, but there are still large parts of me that are still focused on sailing around the world, or figuring out a way to fly for a living, or even just finding a way to become self-employed. I still have personal preferences that are distractions from truly hearing what God wants to say to me.
But I’m finally at the point where I realize and truly accept that it’s time to give up on everything I ever wanted, and slowly start taking my hands off the wheel.