I drank coffee tonight while my wife was at Korean Bible study and as a result I am up with an unusually clear mind at 2.40am. The things we think about in extreme detail at this hour could be our clearest thoughts on the most serious matters but I feel that we simply fall asleep and dismiss the whole thing by breakfast time.
My mind has been racing, thinking about old friends, high school, life in Rocky Point, North Carolina, going to Chile, coming home to graduate, working at Mako and Associates, moving to Seoul, and now to where I am now... It is so hard some times to forget the things that we have done and learn from them without suffer any consequences or regret. Some have immediate consequences to their actions and others seem to carry it all in a different way, a much less visible way. Let me set the background quickly--yesterday, before my mother sent off a book to an ex-co-worker, I snuck off and read about 50 pages of a book called The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller, (Amazon) a book which comes highly recommended by many people with brains apparently. This book, from what I read, talks about the Prodigal Son parable(Wikipedia) from the Bible and brings an entirely new light on it. There are many other things going on in my head now but this has struck a serious chord in me and I would like for others to get a glimpse at it since it might prove interesting or otherwise helpful...
The Prodigal Son generally focuses on the son that goes off and spends his portion of the inheritance and returns home after squandering it all away on foreign women and orgies or whatever...He decides that life sucks and that he would be treated far better if he were to to back home and beg his father to allow him the honor of being his servant, since that would be considerably better than his current situation. We know what happens--he comes home and dad comes running up to him and lets him right back into the family. He throws a huge party and his older, dutiful and terrifically obedient brother is angered that his father would allow him back into the family and says that the father essentially has no right to allow him back in this way. In the end of the story the younger son, the wild one, was inside the party and the father was outside trying to convince the older one to come in and enjoy the party with the rest of them.
Prodigal really means 'recklessly spendthrift' and so this term can also be applied to the father, oddly enough, since he allowed the son back into the family without even a wink. The book talks about how the younger son is generally the focus of this parable but it is quite wrong--the older son is really the focus. What we have is a case of rebellion--both brothers are doing whatever they think they need to do to get what they want...Now let me explain briefly. The younger son rebels and leaves, going crazy trying to satisfy all his desires and does it all out in the open...The older son follows all the rules and never disobeys the father but he expects that this will ultimately get him what he wants--his father's estate, position in society, etc. What happens, after the son is welcomed home, he realizes that he's not going to get what he wanted because little brother is back, so it no longer pays to follow the rules and the relationship with his father was far less important than what he was to get out of it...He was merely obedient so that he could get what he wanted.
Essentially there are two ways many of us rebel in life--we either do it all out in the open (do what makes us happy--we get what we want, how we want it) and cause a big scene and later, if we're lucky, regret it, and make peace with all applicable parties and humble ourselves...Or, we decide that following the rules perfectly will ultimately give us our just reward and so we go through life doing everything the way it 'ought' to be done and when we realize that it won't get us what we want we are ready to throw it all away, because it was really only about us in the end, not about doing what was 'right'. I hope I haven't butchered this awesome book by telling it in my own words!
Essentially there are two ways we rebel in life--by doing it all our way for everyone to see, or we just follow the rules and try to use the system to get what we really want. What this story warned against was that both ways are bad, but one might actually be far worse than the other, and in the end of the story the 'obedient' and 'good' son was outside while the other son was humbled and realized that he had a problem. This was all a response to the religious teachers of the time because Jesus preferred the company of 'sinners'. Interesting.
Reading those 50 pages really got me thinking about how I lived my life before and in many ways how I'm living now. I believe that I can call myself a perfectionist in many areas of my life and get frustrated often with things, especially things that don't go my way. I'm often controlling and want it all 'just so' and feel that I have good reasons for everything I do. It really makes me wonder why I strove for such perfection and didn't realize the value of the process or the hammering process that was, and still is in many ways, taking place. I've done a lot of things in my 26 years on this planet and some of them are good and there are a great many things that I wish I had never done, and others yet which I wish I had never learned to desire. I know where I am now, but I am wondering if I had hoped that if I had done it all perfectly if God would have somehow liked me better? Some of my old friends, and perhaps some girls I knew back before I had any interest in girls at all, might have felt that I was too good for them, or they weren't good enough, and I wonder if it was some of this coming out of me? Don't think I'm being too hard on myself because I know who I am and what I have done...
I do find it ironic that I am the firstborn son, and that is the one that is generally prone to following rules and yet I have left home and broken so many other rules that I feel I live a dual life and go back and forth between the two sons...Desiring it my way, trying to follow the rules as long as they get me what I want in life...
I want to write much more in depth about my life in Chile and in South Korea so that I can underline some of the high and low points and get out more of what is just lingering in me when I'm awake at this hour. Getting it out helps, and it's helpful too for others to see our faults and strengths!
In my life the first 21 years I felt that I had done a pretty good job living the way I was supposed to, but then my trip to Chile really put an end to that perfection I had so badly sought after... It's difficult to pick up the pieces when you define yourself by what you do not participate in and suddenly you are a member of the opposite group but hate it because of what it stands for...Trying harder to pursue whatever it was we didn't want to do but secretly always wanted to do just leaves you with a guilty conscience in the end. You know in the end that you're going to feel bad for even thinking the thought and if you go through with it you will remember it forever at 3am when you drink coffee and your neurons are firing at incomprehensible speeds...You pick up the pieces, or rather, we pretend to pick up the pieces, and move on hoping it will all go away or clear itself up at a later date but we can't quite get back what we've lost along the way. Later we get a good job and feel pretty good about what we make and we just can't be satisfied because it won't ever be enough--because it really isn't. It was always just a darn compromise in the end and we will always know it! Going to Korea... It's hard to explain how it all happened, but I tore myself away from my life that I had created but knew it was not where I needed to be... Besides, who can keep up with a pace of 4-5 nights downtown and drinks all around and some very very unwise decisions? I guess I really wanted it, or thought I wanted it for a while... Korea was basically the same thing but without good friends and occasional church services and much more loneliness than you can possibly imagine. With 20,000,000 people it's hard to imagine that one can be lonely, but I was brought across the world to be pulled through some of the most trying times of my life to date... I was really on and off with God in Korea. In America, after I came home from Chile I was largely off with occasional flickers of life, or perhaps months, who knows? Anyway, I cannot even understand why it happened when it did, but I just woke up one day and realized I had had enough. I really did make a decision that day--I decided not to call back a dead-end girl. I looked at my phone symbolically and said: "Goodbye so-and-so...you were not what I really needed to begin with!" and the change began.
I have tried to recall some of the feelings surrounding that decision and why it happened at that particular time, but I believe it was the summation of several years of feelings and pressures and I cannot imagine how I had the strength to make that decision. I seem to recall hearing that snowballs work in both negative and positive ways, and that is what I like to imagine of that time... That was the first in a series of decisions, decisions that brought me back to where I needed to be...to where I wanted to be...to where I feel most confident I belong and where my life has actual meaning. It was still a great deal of time before I could really go to church without criticizing every single syllable that came out of the pastor's mouth, but what was most important at that time was the process... It's all about the process... After all, neither son in the story arrived at the end, or the party, without going through some very trying times! I could tell you more about Korea and how I cursed it so many times for the pain it brought me and I have many friends who can attest to my anger, but where would I be without this memory of a short pain? I am now back home, married, and there are so many more adventures yet to be had!
Before I wrote this note I was really beating myself up, and lately I have recalled so many details about past lives I lived and you would not believe the weight it carries! I got out of bed, went to the bathroom and remembered that despite all those I have hurt along the way but there is still a plan and a purpose for my life and that it's not who I am now but who I am to become that will define me. You know, it's so much better now to see myself with all my faults--it really keeps everyone else looking so much more like me, or keeps me looking so much more like them, or keeps us all on equal footing, I suppose... It's hard to make yourself feel superior when you feel like this! That's when it's so important to remember that I am forgiven and loved (Jimmy Needham's "Forgiven and Loved"), and that thinking too highly of yourself is not a good place to be.