If there is one stark visual I have of my Dad, it is of him never giving up, never quitting, and working long hours to provide. It was not uncommon for him to work 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week. Although he suffered from debilitating migraine headaches, he would still go to work. Sometimes he’d have to stop his pickup beside the road, vomit, and continue on. My Dad knew how to work – and he was the original git’r done guy.
“if we couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done”
He grew up working hard. From his earliest memories, he tells me stories about picking berries, roots, and vegetables at the age of two. My memories of his parents are similar. They didn’t have much, but they worked hard for what they had. At the age of 80, my grandfather broke his hip while pruning a tree. Just a few years earlier he broke something while trying to break a pony. My grandmother never slowed down until cancer pulled her into a care facility.
Needless to say, I grew up with a solid immigrant-American work ethic embedded into my DNA. I’ve mentioned on these pages before, that our family believed that “if we couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done.” This served me well as a rescuer and firefighter; it serves me well as a husband and father, and for the most part it has served me well in various hardships of life. I’m not a quitter.
“I now question this work ethic, and I want my kids to be healthier.”
However, for the last several years, I’ve been learning important lessons about quitting. I’ve learned that a hard heart, stubborn attitude, and never-say-die attitude are not always the best path to pursue. In fact, trying to bang my head against brick walls will sometimes only lead to an unnecessary headaches. Other times, it leads to hurt in the ones we love. Often, more often than I’d care to admit, God will erect a wall that is impenetrable.
A few years ago I heard God telling me to “sit down and shut up.” It wasn’t easy for me. My to do list wasn’t getting shorter and there were some pressing issues on the list. As I reflect on the last 30 years, I realize there are times I did this well, but usually I failed to “let go and let God.” He’s giving me another opportunity to learn this lesson.
Over the past week, several people have repeated a common theme. The first time I heard it, I immediately understood the implications and intuitively saw the truth. The next time, it was driven home and I began to repeat it. On Monday, while driving, we listened to a speaker and he told stories that gave me faith and courage to act this out in my life. Then yesterday, while talking to my BIL, it was driven home in a way I’ve never dreamed.
So what is this profound piece of advice, wisdom, and insight? Understanding that I am not the provider for my family. I know! This is heresy, right? It goes against every fiber of my being. It is humbling, emasculating, and wimpy. It connotes laziness, weakness, and purposelessness. No solid American man would ever abdicate his role as THE PROVIDER – right? I mean, that’s my job – to bring home the bacon. This is crazy talk.
And yet, somehow, we have let the American work-ethic crowd out the teachings of Jesus. I could list a number of texts where God says he will provide for all our needs. I’m not going to take the time. If you don’t see it this way, I challenge you to look them up yourself.
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” ~ Matthew 6
However, this doesn’t mean I take a presumptuous, arrogant attitude and do nothing with my life, energy, and time. No. But I can let go of the worry, frustration, and fear. Interestingly, as I think through this, it is almost more frightening to fully depend on God and not myself. What’s up with that? I’m not sure I can let go that much. And yet, when I quit my job last week, essentially, I have.
The issue comes down to faith. I’m not sure I have enough faith to do this. I am afraid that when things get really ugly, and doom is impending, that I will bail on God, bail on the plan, and bail on the process of discovery, growth, and peace. When my back is against the wall, I tend to take matters into my own hands and “fix” things. I’m good at that – it’s what I do. But reliance on God the provider means not trusting in our own good works. Reliance on God means trusting in Him to provide. He will provide an escape, the means, or the methods to solve any issue that comes my way. This includes basic needs, like food, clothing, and shelter.
And yet, like any good father, God isn’t interested in just supplying my needs, but he wants me to live an abundant life – just like I want my children whom I love. It’s bigger than mere survival, it is about joy, contentment, and abundance – above all that we could ever ask or think.
When I left emergency services in 1995, my biggest fear was that when things got dark and scary, I would let go of God’s hand. And I almost did a couple of times. It isn’t His faithfulness that I mistrust, it is my lack of faith that I know too well.
Somehow I have this idea that God will abandon me to my own foolishness – especially if I turn my back on Him and try to go my own way. And yet, now as a father, I realize I would never do that to my kids. The other day my Smiling Son and I were walking across a busy urban intersection. I held his hand tight, but about halfway across, he saw something shiny and wanted to run to it. I didn’t let go. He began to holler, scream, cry, beg, struggle, and demand that I let go. I did not – and I never would.
At that point, freewill is no longer an issue. His safety was more important than his inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing that could have made me let go of his hand. Nothing. My God is no different. He knows how foolish, immature, and focused on shiny things I can be. Although He values freewill above almost everything else, He will not abandon me when I make foolish choices.
I don’t want to suffer the consequences of my own foolishness, but sometimes I have to in order to learn life’s lessons. As a parent, I don’t shield my kids from every danger or opportunity to get injured. The scabs on their knees and elbows will testify to that. I just can’t wrap them in bubble wrap, or follow them around constantly. Things happen, injuries occur, and not all of their decisions work out the way they intended. This is a part of the learning process.
Yet, somehow, I have it in my head, that if I make the wrong choice, like quitting my job (when I shouldn’t have), that I’m going to end up living on the streets and my children will be carted off to a foster home. Of course, this would just be God’s tough love teaching me how stupid I am and how I need to listen better to His direction. But what father would ever let their kids suffer that much – for a momentary lack in judgement?
“We did not pursue this course out of foolish presumption, blind ambition, or arrogant materialism.”
Sure, there may be pain, but he will not abandon me/us.
When I mentioned my lack of faith to my BIL, he laughed. His comments were priceless: “I realized I have a lot of faith,” he said. “For years I’ve believed in something that never came true, but I kept believing in it.”
He paused, looked me in the eye, and continued. “For years I believed I was going to fail unless I worked harder. I believed it was all going to come crashing down, but it never came true – despite some really difficult times.“
As I processed his story, I immediately saw the truth in it. My Dad was born in a log cabin with no running water, the two businesses he ran both went bankrupt, our house was repossessed, and we lost everything. In the last five years, I’ve had three dream jobs ripped from my grasp, we moved, suffered great abandonment and hatred, and we now have our backs against the wall. Unemployed, with no cash in the bank, and about to lose our house, we are happier than we’ve been for years.
We did not pursue this course out of foolish presumption, blind ambition, or arrogant materialism. From the beginning of our time together, My Wonderful Wife and I have sought to serve God, serve people, and do the right thing. Yet, for whatever reason, we have met tremendous resistance. We have tried hard to raise our kids to be solid disciples of Jesus, content with less, and healthy – emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially, and mentally.
Unfortunately, the job I was doing a few years ago was damaging to my family. I refused to make it more damaging. When they fired me, I quickly looked for a good way to provide for my family and not lose our house. In retrospect, I realize that decision was primarily based on fear. I would like to make all my decisions based on vision. It’s a learning process.
“Progress, not perfection.”
For the past year, we knew my job was killing me and killing my family. Working nights, a long commute, and a lot of other factors were contributing to a deterioration of our health – emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially, and mentally. For months I’d been looking for a way out – as fast as I could. But nothing was coming to fruition. Nothing.
“It was an insane situation with nothing but insane solutions.”
A few months ago, I reached a point of total exhaustion. I couldn’t go on, but I also couldn’t see any way out. I was desperate. I didn’t know what to do. How could I possibly provide for my family? How would we survive? I knew that if I kept working in the job I had, I wouldn’t survive.
So I surrendered. It was an insane situation with nothing but insane solutions. And yet, though I’ve been unemployed for two and a half months, I am more sane and healthy than I have been for years.
Yes, I had faith in impending destruction that never came. I had faith in my ability to provide for my family, regardless of the circumstances. I had faith that continuing to do the wrong thing would result in good, healthy lives. That was all a lie.
So now, with nothing on the horizon, and no where else to turn, I’m done being the provider. That is God’s job.