In my recent post, “Scenes from My Story #1,” I shared about working on a pastoral staff and filing for personal bankruptcy.
The first change in my lifestyle was going from being a teacher/public speaker to an entry-level laborer with a considerable pay cut. I had to learn how to get up at 5:00 AM and take instruction like I did when I was a teenager. As I teacher I like to talk about books and give advice. Now I rode around in a van all day with a supervisor who hated reading.
At the time, it felt like one is a series of humiliations. But I so needed this experience! My self-righteousness was exposed, and I learned to respect this man and to renounce my snobbery.
For perhaps the first time, I was reading and meditating to seek my own healing rather than teaching and seeking to impress others. I slowly began to realize I had been attracted to helping other people with their “problems” because it helped me avoid my own.
Few Answers, Many Questions
Because I was in a leadership position and tried to publicly commend and model a way of life, the collapse of personal finances was not only embarrassing but had me asking questions about my life and beliefs.
Before this upheaval, I took a lot of security in “having the answers.” I rarely questioned my way of life. Sure, I struggled to achieve, but rarely questioned the goals I was striving toward.
I came across this question somewhere: Are you living the questions? The author called living the questions a good thing, not an intellectual failure. That gave me a bit of hope.
My financial mismanagement raised moral and spiritual issues. One was, “how did this happen?”, which was tied to, “why did God let it happen?” It became obvious that I let it happen, not God. But the fact that I was asking it revealed that I had an expectation. I saw myself working hard to serve God and help his people, so he should take care of my problems and protect me. A deep sense of entitlement in my heart surfaced. I felt God was in my debt because of all I did for him. What was it all for him or was it to impress people?
As I realized how stupid and egocentric my expectation was, I fell into deep self-loathing. I became worried that I would suffer punishment or abandonment. My formal Christian beliefs were that God was merciful, forgiving, and kind. I taught these things to other people! No one in my church ever suggested I was rejected. No one shamed me about bankruptcy. But deep down I believed I had to beat myself up as payment.
Another big question I had was, “why did I conceal this problem?” Not only did I hide the extent of my dept from my supervisor and friends, but I also avoided confiding in my wife. She knew we had debt, but not how deep. That called into question the closeness of our marriage. I believed we were close, but I lived as if I did not want an honest partnership with my wife. I lived as I couldn’t learn for her. (She is a much more frugal and financially intelligent person than I)
Why didn’t I ask for help? My faith tradition teaches that honesty and humility are virtues and that it’s no weakness to ask for help. But I did not want that exposure. I was proud and built my sense of worth on “having it together.”
So, I wondered if my life had been a show, a phony performance. Had I lived all this time for the approval and applause of others? Did anything I’d done for the last thirty years have good motives? And what is the price of dishonesty, performance, and pride? Could I recover and change?
I was not conscious of my story yet but below the surface, I felt the undertow of a failure. When I considered the future, I was afraid, expecting more failure. I went in and out of numbness.
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