Failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.
– Brené Brown
What’s the point of life? What makes for a great life? WHO are YOU when all is said and done, at the center of your being? Today it seems to me a key to this great mystery is death, loss, tragedy, and failure. To get at what I mean by that, I’d like to share a “bit” of my story.
In 2006 I was a success. I was an Air Force officer who got paid to fly as an Electronic Warfare Officer, got to work with literally the best of the best, and was on the fast track to promotions. Pretty dope right? What is more, I was married to a great lady who was/is smart, kind, pretty, and a good friend. We had a 1-year-old daughter with another baby on the way. Life was grand.
Then, without warning we lost our unborn son/daughter. Just a few months after this great sadness, my wife Amy unexpectedly told me WE were NOT in a good place. The thing is from my perspective/context marital problems were not okay and divorce definitely was NOT an option. So, you can imagine how disorienting it was to decide we should live apart (in different states) to figure things out, with divorce FIRMLY on the table.
I did a lot of soul searching, crying, confiding, and personal growth in that season. Even though it took a good while to realize it, the trauma and pain of having my wife and daughter in a different state for months was a gift in that it allowed me to realize I was good in and of myself, I wasn’t identified by my spouse, and marital success or failure didn’t define me. We ended up reintegrating for half a year, which I think was the best of our marriage, before Amy realized we weren’t for each other. I’d honestly say the deep hurt of our separation also held a mirror up to my selfishness, which allowed me to grow into a far more loving and caring friend, partner, and father.
All the while, my Air Force career kept humming along in the most successful of ways, and a year later (2008) I fell in love again and got engaged to Carla. On November 10, 2008 Carla, her son, my daughter Lara, and I went on a family friendly hike I’ll never forget … though I don’t actually remember it. We were enjoying our time at Red Rock Canyon, just outside Las Vegas, and had circled up onto a plateau, when we spotted a cave we wished to check out. I went to the edge of the formation to figure out the best path to the hollow, when something crazy happened. As I set my feet down and went to stand, they slid out from underneath me, and as if I were pushed I pitched forward and fell thirty feet off the cliff, head first onto a boulder.
While I should have died, the love of God, family, friends, hospital workers, and many others saved and healed me (BTW, I’m writing a book about this 🙂 After 2 months in the ICU and 4 months doing inpatient rehab, the next chapter of my life started. You see, I lost my job because the Air Force medically retired me because of my severe traumatic brain injury and loss of all peripheral vision and depth perception, among other things. While, miraculously, I’m totally self sufficient and pretty much live normally, I can’t drive because of the vision.
(This was me two days after the accident)
This loss of my “life” helped further teach me we were never meant to find our life, identity, and self in our doings, nondoings, or achievements, but in connection, being, and love. The only problem was the emPHAsis (see what I did there? 🙂 of my connection, being, and love was far too much on Carla … which is why the heartache and grief I went through during our separation and eventual divorce virtually crushed me. Carla leaving me turned out to be an incredible gift because it undid “me”.
I think Jesus is the BOMB and love the Christ with every ounce of my being. I bring this up because Jesus frequently talks about how we must lose our lives in order to find them, we must carry our “crosses” (i.e. our losses, failures, suffering, etc.), and we must die to be reborn. It seems to me that’s precisely what my divorces and accident did to me. Jesus famously tells a curious soul: “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” In Christianity we say being “born again” is to enter a relationship with God and embrace the Way of Christ.
While I affirm that view, reflecting on my story, the point of life, what makes a great life, and who we truly are, makes me think there’s at least another aspect to it. Being born again is to be born from God as opposed to society. What I mean is society told me the answers to the questions I started this blog with are success, prestige, money, possessions, status, awards, and applause from others. That’s how society forms us. Conversely, while society “births” us from lack, our Heavenly Parent shapes us from fullness; telling us we are loved, included, precious, celebrated, and wild successes just as we are … PERIOD. NO doing required. To be born again is to hear and rest in God’s name for us: “Beloved child”, and like Jesus said it seems to me living into that Truth is seeing and experiencing a heavenly existence.
I say Carla divorcing me undid me, and celebrate it because that failure allowed me to realize and relax into a Truth author and researcher Brené Brown expresses: “The difference between I am a screwup and I screwed up may look small, but in fact it’s huge. Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” My failures, losses, rejections, and deaths do NOT define me; God does, which makes ALL the difference in the world.
I believe losing my life more than once helped me see what matters in life. In many ways it boils down to this question: Peacefully lying on your deathbed what’s going to matter to you and what will you want? Money, status, and possessions aren’t going to matter, but people and love will. It seems we were never meant to find our life, identity, and self in our doings, nondoings, or achievements, but in connection (with others, creation, and God), being, and love.
I’d originally thought I should end by giving you some ideas for how to lose your life if you haven’t already, because, you know, it’s super helpful to have practical application. Yet, then it dawned on me that would minimize the journey. It looks different for us all. Some choose it via things like joining the Peace Corp, serving frequently at a soup kitchen, going on an extended spiritual retreat, and so on. For others, like myself, it happens to us in loss of job, status, spouse, child(ren), house, retirement, etc. What is more, I think it’s more of an ongoing cycle than a once and done type of deal. The key, it seems to me, is to really let go of and not cling to the old life. It’s as if the old life was in our fists, so even when it’s gone, the only way for us to receive our new, AMAZING life is by letting go and opening our hands up to receive it. So, may we live with open hands and grateful hearts.
Grace and peace,