This is a picture of Kim and me at the Cornerstone music festival, very early on in our dating years. Together with friends, we camped out with thousands of other Christian music fans in the middle of a field during a sweltering stretch of Illinois summer.
Here we are showing off our “hardcore” faith represented by sun-kissed cross “tattoos” made with two Band-aids.
Nine years of Catholic school provided a decent foundation for my faith, but it didn’t really come alive until the year after I graduated high school, about the time this photo was taken. I was on fire for God, excited to learn all I could, and eager to change the world.
Like the tough face trying to overcompensate for the not-so-tough biceps, I projected a strong faith.
I look back on this photo and I see a pure faith. But not a strong one.
I have often wondered where that kid went; the strong, self-assured, faith-filled warrior. I feel like I used to be so much more on fire, more certain, and have fewer doubts.
I’m not sure was really any of those things, but I definitely was a lot more naive. I was like Luke Skywalker, who, after getting some brief instruction from Obi Wan Kenobi and a few days of training from Yoda, announced he was ready to go off and fight Darth Vader and tear down the Empire. “I’m not afraid,” he boldly claimed.
“You will be,” replied Yoda.
Just like Luke, Kim and I were serious and sincere about our faith, and yet we had no idea – how could we? – how much it would be tested.
In my late twenties, I felt like all that passion got burned up. I was left drifting, afraid, and confused. Building a business was harder than I expected. I’d wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere because I didn’t feel as certain as when I’d first begun. I was worn down by years of burdensome debt, flirts with bankruptcy, a series of steps forward followed by two steps back. Kim and I were inundated with doubt over whether we’d ever be able to have kids, afford a home, or make a living with our dreams and talents. Discouragement led us to wonder if we were merely deluding ourselves.
But each time we encountered a challenge, like the time our hand-me-down van needed major repairs that would deplete our checking account or the time we spent two days and several hundred dollars to make $7.92 in sales at a craft show, we were faced with a choice:
Abandon ship, or keep pressing on.
Again we were like Luke, when he began to rely less on himself and trust more in the Force. We pressed on, not because we knew the way forward, but because we believed in a God who did. We chose to believe in His promises rather than the negative voices in our heads. We chose to doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs.
And those small choices were little nudges that kept us on course, even though we weren’t sure where we were headed.
Choice by choice, we became stronger.
Now, with a little more mileage on me and more journey to look back on than when this photo was taken, I can relate to Yoda.
I know what it means when they say that faith is tested during hard times. I see now that those choices are the journey. They are the reps that make you stronger. Even now, when I feel weak, I know the truth that I am exceedingly stronger than I ever was back then.
Instead of rolling my eyes when I look at this photo (which is extremely tempting), I appreciate the brilliant flash of youthful hope and the belief that anything is possible. It’s important. Just as a space shuttle uses over ninety percent of its available fuel just to achieve orbit, our passion gives us the rocket fuel we need to get started.
Eventually, we did figure out how to make a living at all this. We did get out of debt. We did start a family. And we recently bought our dream house on a lake. None of it would have happened were it not for the naive passion of that skinny kid in the big glasses flexing his non-existent guns. Or the God who never once rolled His eyes at him.
Those sun-kissed tattoos faded long ago. But in another respect, they’ve become permanent, and more real.
I don’t know where you are in your journey right now. Maybe you are overflowing with confidence and eager to begin your new thing. Good! Use that passion to fuel you, for it will take you far. Things might not turn out as you’d expect, but that’s ok. You’ll figure it out. Just keep going and trust in the One who planted that dream in your heart.
Maybe you have run out of gas and feel like you’re drifting in orbit somewhere. Good! Use this time to appreciate the view and realize how far you’ve come. You’re farther along than you think and stronger than you feel.
Maybe you are the Jedi master, who can relate to this because you’ve been through all the stages. Good! Pass the experience you’ve gained on to others. But don’t squash the enthusiasm of those first starting out. They don’t need your bucket of ice water telling them how naive they are. Amplify their energy by using your hard-earned wisdom to nudge them gently in the right direction.
It’s been said we are all the ages we’ve ever been. We’re still the cocksure teenager, the uncertain young adult, and the sage with wisdom gained through experience.
All of them matter. All of them serve a purpose.
The way to honor them all is to keep going.