“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
- Jesus of Nazareth
About 15 years ago, I led my first retreat. Up to that point I had done a lot of presenting, but for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, what I intended for personal gain or affirmation, He had somehow intended for good.
There was one young man with a serious stutter who said he had never spoken in front of other people. At the end of the weekend, he wanted to address the others in attendance. He nervously took my place in front of the crowd and started to tell his story. He stammered and struggled with the articulation of each thought and word.
His parents had him very late in life. They were super protective of their one gift of a child. They knew that they couldn’t biologically reproduce another. He mostly watched the other kids play from the kitchen window and was even deprived a bike that his mom and dad thought would surely result in serious injury.
He came by his stutter and his reluctance, honestly.
But as he spoke about his experience that weekend, he started to flow. Words connected and the meter of his speech even quickened. He said that he viewed his life as a cardboard box that had confined him all of his life. He said that over the last couple of days he had clawed a small hole and not only was light streaming through, but he was catching a broader glimpse of the life possible outside.
He found his true identity. He understood that he was loved and that he had a kind and protective Father watching out for him.
He was deeply loved.
He was fought for.
He was cherished.
Great things were intended for him.
There was life, and life abundant, available.
As a young adult, the world was no longer a place that he should fear. He didn’t need to allow his past to define his future. He not only knew that much more was available, but that it was intended specifically for him.
He was also introduced to the rest of that verse above and now knew that he had an enemy specifically set against him ever leaving that box.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Something profound had broken in him. Something profound broke in me, as well. Offering that retreat was the physical manifestation of me knowing more about my place in this world.
It was the first time I was offering out of a new identity. I was not leading on my own behalf, but on that of the Father. This time, it wasn’t all about me.
It was so much of a shift that rather than craving the affirmation of everyone attending, it actually felt unimportant when they showered their appreciation on me at the end of the weekend.
I knew that my true Father had appointed me to this task.
I had followed his command.
He was pleased with me.
Their cheers and applause rang hollow.
To say that I no longer sought validation or did things for selfish reasons would be a lie. (I will wrestle with some version of that the rest of my life.) But I am a recovering addict and the cardboard box of my selfishness and need for validation holds me less captive every day.
The way I love and lead and the motivations for what I do, have been forever changed. I, like my younger friend with the stammer, am finding the more abundant life available.
- Why do you do what you do?
- Are you playing for the audience of One or the approval and acknowledgement of everyone?
- Have you ever felt the deep love and approval of your Father (that is the necessary ingredient of the abundant life)?
- How would operating out of that identity change the way you love and lead?