Growing Up

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colt .45
colt .45
Oli and Casey
Oli and Casey

I go on a hunting trip every year. It takes place on the first or second weekend of the new year at a beautiful retreat center on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I’m usually not a huge fan of Maryland, but the eastern shore is one of my favorite places on the east coast. The hunting trip was started twenty or so years ago by a men’s bible study group. They thought that getting together to shoot some guns and drink some good alcohol was a great excuse to have amazing fellowship and grow in their faith together. From its humble beginnings as a group of no more than eight or nine middle aged men, the hunting trip has grown to a weekend retreat for nearly forty men, their wives, and children. Before you judge us as radical maniacs throwing “assault rifles” into the hands of youths, let me ease some of your concerns. First off, nobody is under the age of around thirteen or fourteen. Second off, none of the assault rifles are fully automatic. We’re not completely crazy.

In all seriousness, this hunting trip gathers men from all parts of the country for one weekend to reconnect socially and spiritually. I personally have developed stronger relationships with sixty-year-old men that I spend one weekend with than I have with some people I have known my entire high school life. The depth and authenticity of these people’s faith is unavoidable and contagious.

One of the founders of “God and Guns,” as it is fondly referred to, is retired Lt. Col. Oliver North. You may have heard of him. Whatever you might have heard about him through the news or books or your parents, I can affirm to the fact that “Oli” is now one of the most respectful, dedicated, and loving men I have ever met. The love of Jesus has transformed every aspect of his life. He lives as an amazing example of the power of Christ.

When I was in ninth grade on my first hunt, Oli had the opportunity to talk to the lot of us on the topic of legacy. The  book of scripture we meditated over that weekend was Ecclesiastes. I realize that most people don’t hear “Ecclesiastes” and think, “Wow, I really want to read that book of the bible,” especially when the first sub heading of the book is “Everything is Meaningless,” but trust me. It’s good stuff. It really gets you thinking about why we exist. I had read it only a few months before, while attempting to kill time in school. I thought it was thought provoking, but found it hard to relate to. Oli, on the other hand, connected with the text on a level deeper than I could understand.

Oli’s message was humbling. Although details slip through the cracks of my fading memory, one point stuck with me. The man sitting before me, who had worked side by side and advised presidents for nearly fifteen years, was shaken to the core by the realization of his own mortality. I was startled. How could a man that had led a life of such great significance question whether or not his life carried worth? Would he matter to anyone after his passing? He was visibly upset while he shared these poignant revelations with the room. As we listened, Oli proceeded to explain how these questions had led him to serious reevaluations of his priorities. His focus shifted from being a public servant and Lt. Col. to being a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He desired to be a role model and patriarch. He now considers that to be his full time job; grandfather and example. His testimony was moving, and many grown men cried on account of it. That was the second time I had ever seen my father cry.

It was around this time that I seriously began reflecting on my life thus far. Few things put life into perspective like seeing your own father draw tears. At fifteen, it was hard for me to articulate the emotions and thoughts I had about coming of age, nearing adulthood. I still felt ignorant to the difficulties of life, or the richness that come with age and experience. Yet, I knew that in a few short years, I would be off to college, setting the true foundation for the rest of my life. Growing up terrified me. But I knew that I’d have to start eventually. I guess recognizing the inevitability of adulthood is the first step towards it. Since then, I have put forth serious time and thought to growing up. Some lessons I’ve learned are uniquely personal. Others are, I hope, far more universal, and deserve to be shared.

One of the greatest guises of adulthood to children is the perception of control. When you’re a kid, you look up to your parents, at least if you’re like me, and think, “they’ve got it all figured out. Their lives are pretty straightened out and they’re managing everything pretty well.” But the older you get, the more you realize things are a lot more complicated, and pretty soon you’re thinking “what the hell’s going on here?” Every young adult comes to this point, where they ask two very important questions. First, were my parents as perplexed as I am? Secondly, how am I going to make it on my own? The answer to the first question is simple: yes. The answer to the second is also simple, but in a different way: you either will make it, or you won’t. There is no clear cut answer on how to grow up, become an adult, and make it through life. It’s just something that has to be done. Coming of age into adulthood is no different than growing in height; it is endured, embraced, and assimilated into your life. At times, it is painful. Sometimes, you have to buy some new clothes. Somehow, you maintain yourself.

In my process of maturing, if I dare consider myself doing that, I have come to discover just how much I am an observer and bystander in my own life. How can I still be me? How can the me that I knew as a twelve year old be the same person that is preparing myself for an independent life? Through a lot of grace, protection, divine intervention, and time passing. I find it’s one of those things that nobody thinks about that much; getting older, that is. I mean, sure, everybody acknowledges that “hey, I’m not in kindergarten anymore.” But to linger on the thought that the life you lived in the past is, well, past, can be intimidating at least, stifling at worst. That’s why I have found myself, more and more, letting go of the things that burdened me as a child. I see the worries and regrets of my past like an interesting landmark one might see out of the window of their car in passing on a road trip. I look at them for the time that they are in front of me, meditate over them for a bit, and then move on, just as the car did. Now, here, as a young man, my focus can’t be on what is behind me, but what lies before me on this road. Behind that question is where the road takes me, and what roads should I take, and behind those question lies the ultimate question: who will drive the car?

Enough of the silly car metaphor. The real question is this: who or what am I going to allow to guide me through my life? As I indicated above, I am clearly not in control of my own life, so I am clearly not in a position to guide myself. When put in that way, it should become obvious to anyone who reads this that no one is qualified to tell themselves how to live their own life. Sure, one has the right to; it’s their life. But think about this: your question for yourself is basically “where am I going?” How stupid would it be to look at yourself, who you just established has no idea where to go, and take guidance from them? So clearly, following your own direction in life is out of the question. But if not yourself, then who? Let me cut to the chase here and be blunt for a minute. The answer is Jesus.

As a Christian, this makes perfect sense. Not because I have been conditioned through Sunday school to blurt out Jesus’ name at any question like this. Jesus as the guide of our lives makes perfect sense for several reasons. Many of these reasons can be seen through His creation of the entire universe, all of nature, which the human race is a part of. Jesus Christ is the Lord that created mankind, both man and woman. His creation of us gives us important insights. For one, He intimately knows us. He understands fully how are bodies function in a physical sense, how our minds work in a mental sense, how our ‘hearts’ work in an emotional sense, how our souls work in a spiritual sense, and how we as a whole interact in a social sense. We can also know through His creation of us that he not only knows us, but loves us. How? This answer should be more obvious than any other answer in all of Christianity. Here are a few answers. We still exist, so at least we know Jesus doesn’t hate us enough to destroy us. However, that isn’t really a proof of His love for us at all. Here’s a far better one: He’s told us so. Sing with me: Jesus loves, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Yes, the Bible; God’s holy Word. There are so many instances throughout the scriptures where Jesus says how much He loves His people. I would argue that we are all God’s people, every last human being; it is simply whether or not we accept that. Finally, and most importantly, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are proof in full that He loves us. His entire life was an act of love. It was a mission exclusively to and for us. And His mission was a success.

Jesus’ experience also gives another unique reason for why he alone deserves to be the guide in our lives. Jesus is the only person ever to fully live and fully die, and live to tell about it. While I did phrase that in a funny way, its message is completely serious. Jesus is the only person that we can interact with who knows what life and death is first-hand. This puts Him in the position of being able to inform us of what ought to be our priorities. One very simple and inevitable part of human existence is death. Death is fundamental in human existence; yet, there is no man that can testify as to what happens after death. Let me clarify that statement: there is no human that can testify to the living about what happens postmortem with any authority. The reason is quite obvious and has already been made known. Nobody survives death. Anyone who dies is dead, and cannot return to the living to tell them about it. Who are we to know if there is life after death or not; nobody that’s died can tell us one way or another. Surely, if we had some ambassador from the other end of death, we could gain valuable insight as to what happens, and how we should live and what decisions we should make in light of our existence after death. Fortunately, Jesus has died, so He has authority to guide us in our lives before death in light of death. The question may, and very well should arise, how Jesus, being a man, has the ability to surpass  and overcome death, unlike all other men. The answer lies in His divine nature as well as His mortal flesh: Jesus was fully God and fully man. Not only did He create us and knows us, He has also experienced what we already have experienced and what we will experience.

I feel I have made myself clear. Jesus is the best possible guide for our lives, and the only one that is actually qualified, anyway. With such a mighty and loving leader to direct me through the fogged path of my future, what do I have to fear? With Jesus at the wheel, I’ll know that whenever I begin to panic about the direction of my life, I am the only one that can screw it up. Let’s just hope that I don’t decide to try to grab the steering wheel while Jesus is driving and end up crashing the car. In the mean time, I will follow these few words. Just keep on living. Live until you die, and then just keep on living. And always keep Jesus in the driver’s seat.

That, of course, is the reality that has been made known to me. I am completely aware that not everyone in the world will come to the same conclusion that I have. Most people are going to do things their own way. Honestly, I think that everyone ultimately does whatever they want to do. They go where they want to go, and leave when they feel like it. Nobody does anything that they don’t decide they’ll do. I mean in all circumstances, not just specific ones. Even if people choose to do something they don’t “want” to do, they do it for reasons that fulfill or align with a deeper desire, which is still doing what they want to do. Here’s an extreme example, because I like using examples to explain myself. If a robber comes up to you, holds a gun to your head, and demands for your wallet, you probably don’t want to give him your wallet. You wouldn’t normally just give a stranger your wallet, but in light of the circumstances, the priority of your desires shifts. Sure, you don’t want to give him your wallet, but you also don’t want to die. So, going off of the greater “want,” you give him your wallet anyway. Unless, of course, you just really don’t want to give up your wallet because your priorities in life are extremely skewed, in which case you get shot. Either way, you get what you want.

Growing up, I feel, is a lot like having a robber hold a gun to your head and demand for your wallet. Okay, maybe not a lot. Okay, not even remotely like that, but just roll with me for a minute. As I back up against the constant push of time that brings me closer and closer to adulthood, I’m forced to make a lot of really difficult decisions. Sometimes, it seems like no matter what decision I make, I end up losing. Panic ensues upon my confrontation with such momentous moments. My mind fills with thoughts revolving around what I think would have the least fallout, what choice will result in a better outcome down the road, who my decision might impact, where God is in all of this, and a million other questions that gridlock my brain to the point where I mentally shut down. Stress related mental shut downs suck, by the way. I’ve gotten to points where all I can do is sit in a dark room in the fetal position for hours on end, not speaking a word or thinking about anything in particular. That’s always rough. That’s exactly what happens when I decide it would be a better idea to figure out the future on my own, rather than pursuing the Lord’s plan.

Like I said, I believe that people always end up doing what they ultimately want to do. So how does anyone follow God’s plan? Good question, Patrick. Thanks, Patrick. The answer is quite simple, as is the explanation. The practice, though, is not as easy. In short, we must align our wills’ with God’s. Like I said, pretty basic. If we desire for what God desires for us, then we will inevitably follow His lead. We can take no credit for the Lord’s plan, because while we chose to follow it, we’re not making it. That would be like bragging about being really good with directions after getting somewhere by following a map. That’s completely wrong. If one were to follow the map and arrive at the destination, all that one could brag about would be exceptional direction following abilities, which is kind of stupid to brag about. But I digress. We free ourselves to follow God whole heartedly when we align our wills’ with His. For us to be in a position to do that, we must first know what God’s will is. That is far easier said than done.

Discovering the Lord’s will is, quite frankly, a mystery to me. Perhaps not because it is so impossible to communicate with God, but because I am absolutely rubbish at listening. Sure, we all know to read our Bibles and pray and seek wise counsel and humble ourselves, but let’s be honest, that is SO much harder than it seems. For me, at least, I give myself far too much credit. I think that I am at least educated and intuitive and independent and faithful enough to make some decisions on my own, like what college would be a good fit or what career path might match my personality type. WRONG. I am in no place to be the decider, as George W. Bush would say. I all too often assert my own affirmation in decisions, rather than coming to the Lord in supplication. Man, I think way too highly of myself. Philippians 4:4-7 goes ham on this topic. That eliminates the worry and confirms the Lord’s sovereignty. Money. It is beyond relieving to know that Jesus Christ knows how I should live my life.

I realize this has gotten pretty far off the topic of growing up and adulthood. I’d just like to add one more brief comment. There is immense value in listening to the advice of older generations. Whether it be through lengthy stories of youth hood in the early twentieth century or profound one-liners from grandfathers, the words of elders overflow with wisdom. Most of the profound thoughts I have are directly inspired from the mouths of old men. Age has a way of giving life a more accurate perspective into what’s important and what’s meaningless. Time lets one see that some things are worth living for, and other pursuits are worthless toil under the sun. The older I get the more sense Ecclesiastes makes. Maybe one day I’ll be seasoned enough at life to share profound wisdom to a younger generation or two on a hunting trip, too. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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