What I Wish I Knew?
The question: After reading our piece on “Finishing Well”, Brian Baugh suggested it would be helpful if we put together responses to the question, “What do I know now that I wish I knew when I was thirty?” I asked a few friends to respond to that question and the following is a partial statement of the wonderful responses.
“Initially, I jumped at the chance to “tell” the younger generation what I know now that would have been such a great help to me then. But then I thought, what would have happened to that knowledge at such a young, immature age? Would it have been pearls before swine? Would my heart have been soft enough to hear my Father’s healing words and produce heart change? Did I need to persevere through the suffering He had prepared for me first to begin to move deeper into the Kingdom? When I think of my love for our Lord now, I know it has been revealed through many trials and the refinement these bring.” Patrick Tibbles
“The trick of counseling our younger selves, it seems to me, is not engaging in second guessing about the lives we believe God has led us to live. That the wilderness experiences have been tailor made by God for the ministry he has in mind for us as our older selves.” Ken Morse
Then Gil Wesley raised the same point
“A part of me is thinking that what I offer now as “things I wish I knew at 30” is possible mainly because God taught me these things through time and experience. In other words, it seems there is a wisdom which is impossible to pass along apart from age/time. Being 50/60/70 is an essential component of the knowledge. It is one thing to be told relationships are primary vs experiencing friends holding you in their arms as the neuro-surgeon tells you your wife is dying of cancer. Could I really know “nothing can separate me from Jesus’ love” until I found myself in a personal “hell” and there, experienced powerfully the presence and love of Jesus. ”
And Tony Fritz adds a similar thought
“While I have several thoughts on the question, the ultimate answer is simply this: In my pre-thirty life, every issue of ignorance, every issue of blindness, every issue of passion-fueled foolishness was essential for the truly transformative epiphanies of my life.”
I agree that experiencing is where we learn from the Lord. However, I have noted over the years that we sometimes have a choice in these experiences. Peter seemed to learn everything the hard way – through impetuousness and confrontation. John learned in a more gentle way as he saw himself as the one Jesus loved. A little wisdom earlier on might have helped us choose to learn the gentle way rather than the more painful way.
Ned McNair brings in another dimension when he writes:
“At 30 I was a bit out of control. I had a great work ethic, made decent money, was married with child, etc. but I didn’t have a clue about the reason I existed or the reason anything or anyone existed and I didn’t care. Information may not have had much effect on me. What I needed were influential people in my life. I was attracted to people who were smart. I am not totally sure smart is the best word but it is a good one. If I had, had one who was a Jesus man, a real Jesus man, I would have had a different life. I would have made fewer mistakes, carried less scar tissue, and been a better husband and father. I really needed someone who was savvy about life, business, and Jesus. I needed a man who loved me and would give his life to me, one who would encourage me.”
From age 20 until he died over fifty years later I had such a person in Kelly Kenagy. And about the same time I also had Doug Coe and Bud Sharpnack to help me learn about following Jesus. Then along the way I had many other mentors who walked with me. The important things I have learned have come as I have walked with others who both taught and lived the truths I needed. We learn the way the early disciples learned from Jesus – life on life.
What then are some of these things that we have learned on our journeys that would be helpful to the perceptive thirty year old who is learning in life on life situations?
Wisdom about God
The point that many made is the importance of centering our life in Jesus rather than any of the things in the religious world that detract from him. Some of the comments bring out the various challenges of staying focused on Jesus.
- Jesus is the living Word as much as any Scripture I read in the Bible.
- I wish I had taken Jesus more seriously in everything He is, all that He said, and all that He did and is doing.
- I wish I would have known Jesus rather than just have some beliefs about him.
- I hope like hell your idea of Jesus is shattered very soon so you are free to find out who he really is, said and did, and what he says reality is.
- Develop the practice of contemplative prayer. “Silent” and “listen” use the same letters.
- Look at Jesus in Scripture for yourself rather than through the lens of others. Stay out of theology and into Jesus.
- Today what I wish I had known back then is that Jesus is not only the heart of it all, but that He truly knows me, unconditionally values me, is fully alive in me, that He enjoys partnering with me, and that He longs for me to choose to live every moment as though He is my deepest Reality.
- It’s not what I wish I knew when I was thirty but who I wish I were when I was thirty. I wish with all my heart that I had been at the place sooner where what I cared about most was seeking God’s presence. His presence is the promise land!! I crave him; he is truly the only thing that satisfies in the end. I say this after a long stretch of seeking and worshipping other idols.
- I wish I had known earlier that the walk with the Lord is more about receiving from Him than trying to do things for Him.
- I wish I had known that I was deeply loved by God; I think that knowledge would have enabled me to more freely express my love for my family and friends.
- God knows all of us. His voice can be heard by all. We need to hear his voice.
- Remain attached to Jesus. The promise of fruitfulness comes through my connectedness to Christ.
- Don’t confuse religious organizations or vision statements or discipleship systems with following Jesus.
The second important area of response was our family relationships
- See life in the priority order of God, spouse, family, friends and then career. Set goals with associated action steps for each of these for the next year.
- Our fellowships have often promoted men’s groups, they are really good by the way, but when they sacrifice the desire or movement to give away our lives as a couple I believe they are in the way of real life giving pursuits.
- I should talk less and hug my wife more.
- Do not let your career strangle the rest of your life. Looking back most of us indicate that our best accomplishment is the wonderful family we have raised.
- Dad did the best he could with what he had.
- I wish I had known the profundity of God’s gift of my wife to me. She and my two young sons were not priority and that comprises perhaps my deepest regret as I look back. By God’s grace they survived, lived out their forgiveness of me, and are the joys of my life.
- Before chastising my children for poor behavior, check my own behavior, where did they get such actions?
- Becoming a parent has been the biggest factor of my ego being crucified and my life having Christ formed in me. I wasn’t expecting that.
- Don’t project your issues on your kids.
- I wish I had listened more and talked less as a husband and parent.
- I wish I’d taken a stronger stance with my children on the importance of their relationship with Jesus.
- Listen to my wife on what she is sensing and feeling for our lives. She knows me better and loves me more than anyone else in the world.
- My wife has better radar than I do.
The third prominent theme was the importance of deep long lasting relationships with others who are on a similar journey. Some of the comments:
- Love deeply. Do it. Really do it. Walk deeply with a few.
- Learn more about the art of listening. Listening is the coin of love.
- I wish I had known the profound simplicity that the Great Commandment truly does summarize and fulfill every other command and teaching, thus clarifying the focus on living out His love in me for Himself and for every human being God puts in my path or on my mind.
- Relationships back then were a big deal to me but too much of my one-on-one activity was to bolster my shaky self-esteem. I wish I had known that relationships were not about me but are more about my dying so that others may live.
- Love flows downhill, from more mature to less mature. So does servanthood, commitment and faith. Jesus was, and is, the great example of this!
- Talk less about lifelong friendships and just live life with my friends.
- Learning to live in agreement makes a difference. It provides the power of a symphony to life.
- Taking the initiation in relationships is hard work.
- Be present to those you are with.
- Walk deeply with a few.
- Invest time with people who will become lifelong friends.
- To spend more time with those who have wisdom.
- I need to become a disciple myself, rather than getting others to become a disciple.
- To only give counsel when asked rather than giving it when others seem to need it.
- Love more and judge less. Apologize quickly.
- Being close to those who are different than you requires courage and persistence. After you have given that required persistence you most certainly will laugh at your fear to enter in and at the beauty of what you receive in return.
- If you see the world as “Us and Them”, your life will be full of competition and battle. If you look through a lens of “We”, your life will be filled with collaborative joys and friends for the journey.
- See difficult people who push my buttons, cause me grief, or wound me as a means of grace. I will never willingly humble myself. God, in his grace sends me these individuals to help me in the process of cultivating the attitudes of Jesus.
- Rather than spending time trying to change someone else, I need to change myself. Every change I make produces change around me.
- Confrontation is not a fearful word – it can actually help to resolve a situation.
Work and money issues received many insightful comments
- Look at all the options you have or think you can generate for a career. Pick the best one, charge full speed ahead for one year and then repeat this.
- Don’t set your goals in stone for God readily diverts our path. Remember that the mind is the sorter of information and options. The Spirit is the decider.
- Live within your means no matter what everyone else is doing. Only go outside that principle on rare extraordinary occasions when the fingerprints of the Lord are all over it.
- Frugality is foundational to generosity.
- I wish I knew that prosperity, ease, comfort and lack of suffering were mostly western conventions and not the experience of Jesus and many of His friends.
- It’s OK not to know my entire professional trajectory right at this moment.
- Owning a lot of “stuff” doesn’t make you happier. In fact, “stuff” owns you, because you have to take care of it.
- Collect experiences not things. Possessions usually suck the life out of you.
- Compounding interest truly is a miracle.
- Find a place to work where you believe you can achieve the good works that God has prepared in advance for you to do.
- The areas that I wish I would have had people speak into my/our lives would be more in the practical spaces, specifically two practical spaces: how to run a business and how to manage finances. I feel like I am just getting an understanding, or at a minimum the ability to ask the right questions about finances and business. So, I catch myself “wishing” that I could have been mentored, challenged, provoked, pushed back in my 20’s to know more about these two topics.
- Money is often the root of many issues.
Another theme that was prominent were new ways of thinking that would have been helpful
- Start identifying your deep seated beliefs (beliefs = our whole being lined up to act as if something is so). Beliefs compel a great deal of our behavior and take away our freedom to choose our actions. They are our idols we serve faithfully without fail. Dig down to find them and look to God for better ones.
- Banish fear – make it a priority so you can know freedom.
- I wish I could have experienced the Bible as a vibrant resource through which God could actually speak to me, instead of a book, weary with age, that needed to be dissected and defended with the hope that somehow knowing Biblical data would answer all the questions of faith and erase all the emotional stress that life presents.
- Life and its circumstances are too complex and messy to create formulas and boxes.
- “Are you so sure?” about a lot of things—since it turns out that much that I believed fervently in my 20’s turns out to look rather secondary or simply wrong in my 60’s.
- I wish I knew that learning how to be truly human was as least as important as learning how to be godly. For me, trying to be godly was tantamount to trying to be like God. That endeavor didn’t go well in Eden or in my life.
- There are fewer absolutes; but the few that remain hold a far deeper conviction for how to live.
- “Both/and” thinking aligns closer to how Jesus thought than “either/or” thinking.
- Not everything is as serious as I’m making it.
- I’m not going to change the world by tomorrow.
- To be more organized with my time and to prioritize what I give my time to.
- Beware of those speaking (or claiming) leverage or power in the name of “authority or position” in spiritual matters. Flee from them.
- I wish I had known that God had granted me unique gifts and calling, so that I didn’t need to live in gnawing guilt for feeling that I was less than a great visionary with the highly-impacting charisma that I saw in my heroes. Back then I was far more in touch with whom I wasn’t and what I wasn’t accomplishing than who the Lord was uniquely shaping me to be.
- Organizations have a life of their own.
- Footholds cause strongholds which if not addressed can lead to strangleholds.
- Jesus is indispensable and I am dispensable. Jesus is God. I am not.
- The work of God is to believe in Jesus – not serving God or winning souls.
- Conventional wisdom is almost always wrong.
- The cracks in my life are how the light gets in.
- Keep a ‘not to do’ list. A reverse “bucket list” – things I will not do before I kick the bucket.
- Don’t help when your help isn’t helpful
- Rushing and multitasking don’t accomplish more – they just make me stressed and tired.
- Less really is more: I wish I’d perceived the value of narrowing my focus on a few things that really resonated with the way God built me instead of jumping into so many areas that I felt compelled to do, some/many just to please someone else. I wish I’d more fully believed in the Audience of One.
- I wish I had understood Sabbath rest better – being less task driven and more in the spiritual moment.
- God is more interested in who we are becoming than he is in what we are doing.
- You never graduate from being on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship
- Look for opportunities to do good. When I worked on the Hill I decided to forgo hiring a college basketball superstar as a summer intern in favor of an inner city high school student with no job history other than a six week stint at McDonald’s from which he was fired. This young student did so well we hired him full time after high school and he has risen to be the Chief Clerk of the committee.
- The Gospel is a person – Jesus Christ. Constantly remember “The availability of God in Christ”.
And of course there are many factors that determine whether or not a person who is thirty can understand and absorb the lessons that we have learned. A friend gives one example of what slowed the learning process for him:
When I was thirty, my quest was perfection in everything I did. I know I inherited it from my father who, in his role as parent and teacher and disciplinarian, tended to be a weed-puller. On its face it sounds like a noble goal: root out all the imperfections and the child will be pure, undistilled perfection. I know his intentions were good because it would have been a lot easier for him to just read the paper, live his own life and ignore his children but as it was, he spent a huge amount of his time involving himself in every aspect of our lives – sports, homework, music – in all things. His goal was to raise healthy, stable well-rounded perfect children.
At 62 now, looking back to my thirty-year-old self – even then aware of how unstable and unself-confident I was as a result of what I knew was a heavy-handed method of child-rearing—I am aware of how much the patterns of a ‘perfection quest’ I had inherited from my father were still in there. I think this, in large part, was because of how diabolically noble it felt to have perfection as a goal in everything I did. Even worse is the fact that I could see it creeping in to how I was raising my three sons: when they painted outside the lines; how my stomach clenched when they wanted to flip the pancakes on Saturday morning; how they arranged the graphics on their science-fair displays. In all these things I was aware of my tainted history and USUALLY let the mess occur – even forcing encouraging words when the gloppy side of the pancake ended half on the griddle and half off.
Years later I discovered the passage about the wheat and the tares and it opened up my eyes to a far greater teaching, that the pride of perfection must give way to the humility of excellence. In that passage, God says, ‘Let the wheat and the tares grow up together lest you disturb the wheat by trying to pull out the weeds.’ I realize that there are dangerous weeds and we really do have to focus on them BUT our general duty is to water, fertilize, guard and protect the wheat as a first priority. This is true NOT ONLY for our children and friends and relatives, but for us as well. I needed to rebuild confidence in, and have compassion on, myself as an imperfect human being who no longer seeks perfection but seeks excellence as I do the best I can.
It is a great journey and walking it together we keep learning from God and from each other no matter what our age.