“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Churchill
Becoming a CEO
By the end of my 20’s, I had drifted away from any sort of consistent spiritual practice or reflection in my life. Living in the heart of Chicago as a 20-something young professional offers so much in the way of cultural experiences, career opportunities, and relationships with a diverse group of people, but one thing I struggled to find was a church and spiritual community in which I felt comfortable and through whom I could be inspired.
I recognize that church on Sunday is about Worship first and foremost, not a time to think, “what’s in it for me?” But throughout high school and college those services always felt to me like a fair exchange of my time and my spiritual and intellectual focus, for a renewed sense of purpose, inspiration, and a more open outlook on the world and ways in which I could try to improve it in some small way.
So unfortunately, by the end of my 20’s, I was a borderline CEO when it came to church – Christmas and Easter Only.
But on Sunday, November 29th, 2015, that all changed.
Shelled by Shawn and Shel
That fall had been the most stressful, anxiety-ridden and frustrating few months of my career. Natalie and I were in Kansas City for Thanksgiving, but my mind was filled with worst-case work scenarios and an overwhelming to-do list that I knew I had to dive back into the second we stepped on the plane back to Chicago. So while we agreed to church with my parents that Sunday, I wasn’t feeling particularly receptive to any sort of change or message…unless of course it could somehow help relieve me of some of the pressure I was feeling at work.
My parents had on several occasions mentioned how excited they were about the new head minister at their church. My mom described the momentum behind the new pastor by saying, “this is what I always thought church could be.” My interpretation of that meant less drama, theatrics, guilt and self-promotion, and more of a simple yet profound charge to change this world in some small way for the better. So while I was consumed by work, I was interested to see what all the fuss was about.
For me that service was like stepping in the ring against a prized fighter. I was emotionally fragile and beat up from the job, and in hindsight pretty unprepared for that morning.
The message that day was centered around Giving – the importance of it, the multitude of opportunities we have to give back, and how easy we lose sight of it in our hectic day-to-day lives. Right jab…
The children’s gathering featured a reading of the classic Shel Silverstein book, “The Giving Tree,” the story of a friendship between a tree and a boy over the course of his life, and the legacy of the tree on that boy-turned-old man. I thought to myself, “what is my legacy destined to become?” Upper cut…
Then Shawn opened his message with the book. After recalling the key themes, he reminisced about hearing the story as a kid, how he had shared it with his children, and how he hoped it could be as meaningful to someone else as it was to him, and continue to be shared with generations to come.
Then he walked to me and Natalie, and gave us the book.
Right cross. Knockout. I struggled hard to keep it together for the rest of the service.
He recalled how he had once wanted nothing more than to make a bunch of money (in advertising, no less), live in a hip loft apartment in Chicago, and just enjoy it all from there. He even playfully called me and Natalie out again, asking if we lived in a loft in Chicago.
“We used to, yes.”
Then he brought it back around to giving, and focusing on the things in this life that truly matter most.
“Fall seven times. Stand-up eight.” – Japanese Proverb
For me, the service that day was a challenge to re-evaluate where my priorities lie. As I later told Shawn, his message was both difficult for me to hear, and just the shot in the arm I needed.
I thought about how all-consuming work had become, how it had pulled me from being a fully devoted husband, a responsible caretaker to our pup, and a more influential mentor in my volunteer experience. I felt inspired to simply be more engaged at home, at work, and in the community, and to try finding more small ways of giving back to people. Just as important, I felt more receptive to people and moments for which I could give more gratitude on a daily basis.
It also challenged me to reevaluate my mindset on spiritual practice and the church. Rather than having pre-conceived expectations about what a worship service and church community should be providing for me and my family, that service was a push to seek out the spiritual inspiration and guidance I was missing in a way that makes the most sense for me, and ultimately leads to a positive impact in my day-to-day life.
Although we haven’t officially joined a local church, since that Sunday Nat and I have been getting to services more often, and I listen to podcasts of Shawn’s messages on a weekly basis, usually during my commute to work (check them out here; I can’t recommend them enough).
As for the book, it now sits prominently on our living room bookshelf. I look forward to reading it to our children one day, and in the meantime it provides a wonderful reminder to keep things in perspective, to focus my energy on those things in my life that are most important and, in turn, most rewarding.
Mom was right. This was what I always thought church could be as well. And with Shawn’s help, I had picked myself up off the mat and felt unstoppable again.