I knew a man who was ‘hell-bent’ on climbing the ‘ladder’ of success.   He was pretty smart, charming, a nice guy – liked by most.  He had a Bachelor’s degree, national certifications, a great paying job, great benefits and a good reputation amongst his counterparts. Throughout his life, he owed businesses, homes, land and toys.  He was looked up to as a man who knew what he wanted, worked hard and could achieve just about anything he put his mind to.  He was surely a ‘picture’ of success in my book… his life modeled it!  Many would have loved to have what he had.

One day however, sitting and talking with my friend, I discovered that he wasn’t so happy.  How in the world could you not be happy I thought?  Dude, you’ve accomplished more in 12 seemingly short years than most people accomplish their entire lives!!  What’s wrong with you?!!  To my amazement, as I began to listen to him talk about his internal battles, I realized that most of what I saw and knew of him was just the ‘paint’ on the outside – all his accomplishments, achievements, accolades, money and possessions were really masking deep feelings of insecurity, hopelessness, failure and worthlessness!  I was boggled – it didn’t make any sense to me.  I was certain that my friend surely suffered from a serious mental illness and was in serious need of a ‘shrink’ and some good drugs!

I didn’t see my friend again for some years.  He had moved away and we lost contact.  Recently however, I found out that he had moved back into town… and as rumor had it, he wasn’t the same guy I new many years before. Remembering the ‘good ‘ol days’, I’d thought he had lost his mind back then… hearing about him now though, I was wondering if he had had a complete brain transplant!  A short time later, I did get an opportunity to sit with him in a local coffee shop and listen to his incredible story.

He shared with me that he had reached a point in his life when he began questioning his drive to succeed – why was he trying so hard to be successful.  Was it the money, the ‘fame’, the sense of achievement? And really, what did those things matter in the long run anyway? He told me that to his dismay, all the successes he had only produced short-term happiness.  What seemed like a ‘picture perfect’ life on the outside was really just masking inner battles of insecurity, value, self-worth and ‘am I doing enough?’. There seemed to always be something around the ‘corner’ waiting to drag him down and knock him off his ‘high horse’. Then, the day came  he recalled – in fact it was actually a period of about 6 months, when it all came crashing down – he lost “everything” – his family, his job, his home, his land, his money… everything that he had identified with and what had defined who he was – all gone.  He was no longer known as the family man, the ‘genius’ at work, the land owner, the college graduate, etc.  In fact, he said that shortly thereafter, he was known as the man who found himself on Food Stamps!

With a sparkle in his eye however, he looked at me and with a chuckle said, “Pete, as difficult as that period of my life was, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.” Dude, what? Who says that?  He continued to share that what he soon realized was he had had his identity in the wrong things and it took a series of very challenging life circumstances for him to realize the ‘dead end’ road he was headed down.  In fact, he told me that all those things he had accomplished, gained and fought for were really like ‘dog crap’ to him now!  “Man, what are you saying? Have you lost your mind… again?  What do you mean it’s all ‘dog crap’?”, I replied back.  He said, “This may sound a bit odd, but hear me out.”  He shared with me some verses out of the bible – Philippians chapter 3 I think – where saint Paul was talking about his own past and present condition.  Like my friend, Paul had it all, status, money, fame, position – but somewhere on life’s road, Paul found something that ‘trumped’ all that he had accomplished and gained in his life.  In fact, he said that what Paul found was so superior to all he had, he was willing to let it all go in order to pursue this one thing.  At that point in his story my friend must have noticed the confused look on my face.  He continued, “Pete, I have found that same ‘thing’ that Paul found and it’s worth more than anything I could every gain or accomplish in my life.  As Paul said about his accomplishments, so I consider all my gains as ‘dog crap’ compared to this awesome ‘treasure’ I’ve found.”  I kept thinking to myself, “Was it a get rich quick thing, or a super new ‘drug’, or what?”  But, I couldn’t help but notice that he was obviously incredibly passionate about whatever it was he had found… I had to know what it was.  “Dude, give me some of that good stuff!”

“Pete,” he said. “I’ve found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  “What?  Jesus – you mean the baby from Christmas and the guy that got nailed to a cross on Easter?”  I just stared at him confused.  How could two holidays a year be worth more than his life? My friend explained that he realized that putting his trust, security, hope and mainly his identity in things, positions, titles, bank accounts, retirement, etc. – things that could be here today and gone tomorrow was insane and pointless.  He said that It took him losing everything to realize this.  When he looked at himself and realized that everything he had worked so hard for was gone, he began searching for something much more long term, significant and valuable.  There had to be something out there – life couldn’t be just all about the ‘here and now’.

He had gone to church growing up as a kid, but ‘left’ the church-thing when he moved out of his parent’s home at 17.  He just began to do what most do – pursue a career, financial success, marriage… the usual.  But when the ‘brick wall’ came and he lost it all, he had lots of time to think and began to recall things from years past in Sunday School and things that they taught in church – like God loves me and created me for His purpose – we have great value in His eyes – Jesus died on the cross to take away my sin and He is the only way to Heaven.

With nothing to lose, he decided to give church another try.  The next Sunday, he visited a church around the corner from where he lived – he usually passed it often on his way home – a Baptist church he thought it was.  He said, “Pete, to make a long story short, I look back now and see that God met me there in that church that Sunday.  God showed me that I was really ‘empty’ on the inside and had spent my life trying to fill that void with my job, money and my possessions.  My identity was in my stuff and my positions, so when all that failed me, it left me with no identity at all. And I can tell you, there’s not much in life that is more lonely than not having an identity… being a ‘nobody’.”  As God would have it, that Sunday, the pastor preached on ‘Identity”.  He said that our identity defines who we are as a person. The question is – where does our identity come from?  If it lies in anything tangible in this life, we will be disappointed, because nothing on this earth lasts – not money, not jobs, not positions, not relationships – nothing.  The only thing that lasts forever is Jesus.   So, the choice is ours – are we going to place our identity in something short-term or something that will last forever.

My friend said, “Pete, after all I’d just been through (and was still battling), this made sense to me.”  At the end of the service, the pastor ask if there was anyone who wanted to leave their old identity behind and take on a new one in Jesus?  I raised my hand.  The pastor led everyone in a prayer that went something like, “Jesus, I know my identity needs to be in you alone and I believe that you died on the cross so that I can be forgiven of my sins and be able to place my identity in You. I commit my life to you – please help me to live for you from this day forward. Amen!” “Pete,” my friend said,  “when I finished that prayer, it was like I felt this huge weight lift off me and I knew everything was going to be okay!  It’s hard to explain, but I know what I felt.”  He continued to explain that that’s where the “dog crap’ thing came from.  He said, “I consider all of my past accomplishments, gains and successes like garbage, like dog crap, compared to what I’ve gained with my new identity and relationship in Jesus.”

My friend stopped and was silent – starring at me, he asked, “Pete, what about you?  Where is your identity?”  I admittedly felt a little uncomfortable, but what he shared with me stirred something within me.  “Bro, I appreciate you sharing your story.  It’s pretty heavy!!  You definitely gave me something think about.”  I wanted to hear more of his story, but his cell phone rang.  It was his fiance’ and he needed to go.  As he collected his things, he left me with this, “Petey, don’t wait too long to think about it and make a decision.  Choosing to place your identity in Jesus or not will determine how your life will be from here on out… including after you die. Who you say Jesus is will be the most important question you will ever answer.”  As my friend left me that early Saturday morning in April, I felt confused yet that somehow he was telling the truth.  For awhile, I sat there staring out the window.  I looked at my reflection in the glass, I asked myself, “So, if what he said is true, where does that leave me? Where is my identity?”  Pretty heavy stuff!

A few months later, my friend was diagnosed with a rapid form of cancer that was quickly spreading through out his body.  I was told that the doctor’s were giving him only a matter of a month or so.  Shocked and confused, I went to visit him in the hospital.  As I walked in to his room, he was asleep.  Coming close to his bedside, I felt sadness as I looked at him with all those tubes and needles piercing his body.  He seemed so weak and frail. There was no one else there at the time, so I took the opportunity to look around the room.  It was filled with flowers, cards and well-wishing notes from family and friends.  I noticed once particular envelope however, laying on the table that had my name on it. That was odd, I thought.  I hadn’t sent him a card.  I picked it up and opened the envelope.  There was a simple card on the inside.  My friend had written my name at the top of the card and below it said, “You will be missed!”  When I opened the card, there was a note that read:

Petey, I know seeing me here is probably a huge shock to you.  This isn’t exactly what I would have planned for me either, but I know that I am in God’s hands and I am okay with whatever his plans are for my life.  Since that time we met at Starbucks a few months back, I’ve been praying for you – that Jesus would open your heart to see your need for Him. Pete, if there is nothing else good that comes from my illness, my prayer has been that you would find the love of Christ as I have.  That would make it all worth it! Remember that who you say Jesus is, is the most important question you will ever answer. I hope and pray you find the truth for yourself.  Love you bro! Seth

I never did get an opportunity to speak with him again.  He passed away several days later in his sleep.  I can’t help but think how strange life can be at times… how you can be going along day after day thinking everything is fine and then something or someone comes along and turns over your ‘apple cart”! That’s the best way I can describe how I was feeling at the time.

I look back now and can see that somehow this was all planned… or at least known in advance – my friend talking with me that Saturday morning in Starbucks and his subsequent illness and death.  I don’t know if I would have ever seen or understood my need for Jesus if all this wouldn’t have happened.  I guess my friend was right.  God does love me and will use anything – even a ‘crazy’ friend’s illness and death – to help a ‘blind’ man ‘see’ the truth.  I know that my friend Seth is in Heaven with Jesus and all his pain is gone.  Although I do miss him, for that I can smile and be happy.

Seth, if you can hear me – here’s to you my friend!  You changed my life!  I thought you were crazy back then, but now I understand what you meant when you talked about how so many things in your life were like ‘dog crap’ compared to knowing Jesus personally.  Who would have thought? Today, I can say that my identity is firmly in Jesus and my whole life has changed for the better.  It’s funny how that works, huh!  I miss you my friend… thank you – looking forward to seeing you again someday! Your friend, Pete.

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