Last week, two music icons of the last century stepped off the stage. Each for different reasons, but both willingly. For Neil Diamond, it was his decision to battle a ferocious disease in private. Elton John simply said he wants to be around his kids more. Regardless of the reasons, they both decided it was time to move on to a new phase of life. Of course, if history is a teacher, then like many other celebs before him, Elton will probably come out of retirement just when we think he’s forever disappeared down the Yellow Brick Road. On the other hand, for Neil, nature has given him less of a choice.
Decisions like these should not just happen at the end of an illustrious career or when we hit a certain age. There are times throughout our lives when we all should be pondering the idea of stepping back from something. Walking away from a dream that has run its course and moving on to the next big adventure. The second calling… or the third… or even the fourth. Life is not static, but many of us live like it is. We live like the thing we are really good at is the only thing we can do… or the only thing we are made of and made for. And yet, if we are living life to the fullest, we should constantly be curious about new adventures and following new dreams.
But rather than living with open hands, willing to let go of our hard-earned niches of comfort for the next calling, we often succumb to fear, which is driven by that nasty, sneaky little thing called pride. Pride drives fear? Yep. Pride is the slickest, most alluring, most disguised stumbling block known to humankind. Why? Because the majority of the time, we are simply not aware of it. And if we do see it in our lives, it often masquerades as something else. Something positive, acceptable… even highly valued or respected like a strong work ethic or enduring commitment. On the flip side, pride is a master at casting blame elsewhere, so it can become a cozy robe of empathy and self-protection so that others will not see the real you. Instead, they might see someone lacking in self-confidence or pummeled by life’s hardships, thereby showering you with encouragement and attention. Pride, self-centeredness, selfishness, mistrust, a need for control, worry, stubbornness, they are all one in the same… and are roots of fear.
So just in case you're thinking that this is only a spiritual phenomenon, stop and think about your workplace. Think about that executive you’ve seen who feels he has earned his high position and has his fists so tightly wound with control that he doesn’t share the limelight or the appreciation. He’s afraid of the next young buck coming along who will make him look old, washed up and behind the times. What about your family life? Perhaps it’s a relation who always tries to control the family’s holiday gatherings. Maybe it’s a sibling or cousin who always has to be the one with a sob story so bad that it sucks all the air out of the room every time you get together. In all these situations, fear has them by the throat because they are ultimately worried about themselves. For the person in a position of leadership, what value will he have if he shares his cherished position and accolades? Who will notice and praise the family member if someone else does it better than her? What if she never does something meaningful again? And for the one who always seems to be the center of attention with a crisis, how will she ever make anyone like her and connect with her for who she really is? Hiding behind our fears may feel comfortable, but it is the most dangerous place to be.
Life was not meant to be lived with our fists clenched around the thing that we love the most or gives us self-worth. We are made for more than a career, more than a regarded role in our community, family or church, more than being a parent or even a great spouse. When we let go of the pride, suddenly our fears don’t seem quite so big, and we’re able to loosen our grip, lessen our control, and open lives and hearts up to live with more trust, more hope, and a vastly wider vision of what’s possible. We can begin to see our identity for who God really created us to be, not by what we do, say or generate ourselves. Galatians 4:7 encourages us that we were not created to be slaves to worldly pursuits, but rather heirs of God. And Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that God will always give us something meaningful to do for His glory. No matter what stage of life, we are created for purposeful, exciting kingdom work.
Now please don’t think for a minute that this is something I have down pat. But when I see people who have the courage to move forward in life with grace and integrity, it inspires me and reminds me to take a look at my own hands and my grip on life. White-knuckling whatever “stage" God has given you will eventually choke out the spotlight all together. Instead, the abundant life waits for those who willingly share, joyfully receive and sometimes let go completely, trusting that He always has another gift just waiting for them to unwrap when the time is right. That being said, He sometimes allows our hands to be empty for a while on purpose. It is in the empty times, that He better prepares us to become a vessel capable of learning what it’s like to find fulfillment in nothing but the greatest gift of all – His presence. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
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Random musings, heartfelt confessions, and occasionally inspirational thoughts from a hungry soul in pursuit of the One who set the stars in place yet calls me by name.
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