Read an Excerpt
WRECKEDWHEN A BROKEN WORLD SLAMS into YOUR COMFORTABLE LIFE
By JEFF GOINS
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2012 Jeff Goins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou Must Get WRECKED
"Something's missing, and I don't know what it is." —JOHN MAYER
Everyone in this world is searching. Each of us is searching for something to give meaning to life. To bring purpose to our work. We all know this; we're familiar with this emptiness, this longing for more.
We're looking for a story to make sense of, a role to play. Despite our best efforts, activities and adventures barely touch the tip of the iceberg. We sense we were made for a great purpose, some cause to make the world a better place. Maybe it's as simple as the realization that our lives aren't a total waste, or maybe it's something more. Whatever the case, most of us despair of ever finding it. It feels so distant, so unattainable.
We begin life with a simple understanding—that our lives are tales worth telling and we have an important part to play. Children understand this: what it means to live and love without condition, to be delighted in. Their lives are full of reckless abandon, and no one has to tell them so. They don't need to be reminded of their crucial roles; they know intuitively. Without prompting, kids know how to dream up adventures and slay dragons. To embark on epic voyages and live out idyllic scenes. "lb spend hours in the backyard with nothing but their imaginations.
Fixed in my memory is a scene from a day I spent at my grandparents' twenty years ago. I am seven years old, maybe, in the front yard of that old, yellow home, playing on a mild summer day. I am running up and down the stairs, hopping on and off the old, rusty porch swing painted white. In my right hand is a stick, substituting as an imaginary sword, and surrounding me are orcs and goblins and other villainous things. Suddenly, in the heat of battle, I hear a voice: "What are you doing?" It's the neighbor's child—a boy, about the same age as me. I tell him, and he wrinkles his brow, obviously confused. He was an only child, and his parents were practical people. As a result, he missed one of the greatest gifts childhood has to offer. For the rest of the afternoon, I teach the boy how to play, and at the end of the afternoon, he says something that doesn't quite register: "You have a great imagination." I have never considered this, which is the whole point.
As children, most of us needed no prompting to play, to engage in the grand experience of life.
But as adults, many of us do. Somewhere along the journey we lose our way. We get caught up in the pursuit of trivial things. For some, it's money; for others, sex or Fame. Some get stuck in the cruel cycle of moralism, endlessly striving to be "good enough." Whatever our fixation, we obsess over it. We give our lives to this pursuit of a promise that eludes us. And we wind up years down the road wondering what happened and why we feel so empty. This happens at age twenty, forty, or even sixty. Emptiness knows no boundaries.
We would do well to remember that this is strictly an adult problem. Children do not wait all year for two weeks of vacation. They don't spend their lives doing things they hate so they can earn the right to do what they really want. They live life to the full, children do, and somehow we have to regain that innocence.
Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It's the secret we're afraid to admit: this will cost us our lives.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE WRECKED
Several years ago, 1 started helping missionaries tell their stories. It began when 1 was hired as a staff writer for an organization called Adventures in Missions to teach missionaries how to blog. I assumed this job would be much like my experience as a writing tutor. In college, I met with students every day to go over their papers—to help them learn basic grammar and how to write a thesis. I thought this experience would be similar. What I never expected was how it would change me, how it would affect everything I did, from going to the grocery store to walking down the street.
As I heard these missionaries recount their tales, I realized something: all these people were telling the same story. No matter where they were or what they were doing, the outcome was the same. Whether immersed in aboriginal cultures along the Amazon or surrounded by drug dealers in downtown Philadelphia, whether in the company of dying mothers in central Asia or MDS-infected babies in Africa, they all sang a similar song: wherever there is pain without explanation, hope amidst despair, redemption in spite of tragedy, that's where they wanted to be. Walking away from each experience, people would tell me how they felt, and they all used the same interesting word: wrecked.
Ruined. Devastated. Undone. Their lives were forever changed, and there was no returning to how life used to be. Their paradigms had shifted. Their worldview was infected with a contagion that was spreading to every facet of their life. More than one person told me, "I can't go back to who I was."
Take my friend Stephen Proctor, for example. Gifted at using media and video to communicate, Stephen moved to Nashville to pursue a career in the music business. A few years ago, he had the chance to go on an overseas mission trip. He and his business partner, Nate, had just launched their new media company, so this trip made absolutely no sense. He should have been building the business and acquiring new clients. But he felt called to leave. After praying and talking to several friends, he knew he needed to go.
Stephen spent five weeks living in Papua New Guinea. No technology, no access to the outside world—just him and the natives. The experience humbled him. "Life was so simple," he recalled. "Everything was stripped away. God's whisper grew louder to my ears."
When Stephen returned, the trip didn't leave him. It affected every facet of his life, from how he treated strangers on the street to how he conducted business. He wasn't one of those people who goes overseas and turns into a lifelong missionary, but he knew there was a purpose to this experience. He just needed to find it. "I wanted to embrace my passions even more," he said, "and direct them toward a greater purpose." Stephen and his partner, Nate, decided to call their company Grateful Inconvenience, and they live up to that moniker.
Today Stephen travels all over the world producing media and video presentations for some of the world's most popular music acts. Every year he takes off several months to go to China or Africa or the Middle East. It's become part of his life to intentionally disorient himself so that his heart stays sensitive to the needs of the world. He has found his life by "losing" it, all because of an initial uncomfortable experience. Although he's a self-reliant businessman, he still disciplines himself to take time off and serve. He doesn't allow his heart to grow cold. What once wrecked him continues to disorient him because he chooses to let it.
There is something important about a life lived like this— full of moments that tear us apart and break our hearts and help us understand our purpose. Moments that inconvenience us. Moments for which we should be eternally grateful.
When I first encountered this idea of being wrecked, I was surprised to find that missionaries were not the only ones experiencing this attitude of feeling ruined and undone. It came from a variety sources, I heard it from graduate students serving in the public school system. I heard it from friends who worked at summer camps. I even heard it from suburbanites who had experienced a brush with the poor. So I started asking more people, "What wrecks you?" And I was surprised by what I found. Entrepreneurs and homemakers and physical therapists all told me the same thing. They were devastated by the possibility of a better world. They had seen things they couldn't unsee. They were introduced to a way of life that didn't revolve around them, one that intentionally made room for others. And they loved it. They were addicted. After listening to enough stories, so was I.
It was an awakening of sorts for these friends, strangers, and me. We were all coming to grips with the fact that the promises of the American Dream were a disappointment. Like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, we were beginning to deconstruct the world-view we had inherited. We were beginning to see the lies we had believed. Was it really enough to strive and pine away for the sake of a paycheck when we had to mortgage our passion? We weren't so sure anymore.
This is what I mean by being "wrecked." To be wrecked is to be disabused of the status quo.
It means to have a transformation that goes beyond mere words—to be introduced to another way of life, to follow in the footsteps of a teacher who is calling you through the eye of a needle. Often it involves being catalyzed by an encounter with pain. The process is horrible and ugly and completely gut-wrenching— and at the same time, beautiful. It is real and hard and true. Most of all, it is necessary.
Years ago, I was on the streets of Mexico with the same group of missionaries whose stories I was helping tell. But this time I was living the story.
There were four of us in a group: Ryan, Talia, Jenny, and me. We were in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico, and it had been raining for five days straight. After sitting inside for a week, we grew restless and set out to do some good. This was a mission trip, after all, and what did we have to show for it? Nothing. So we went in search of a story, with our own mixed motives, as people often do.
We rounded a corner and there she was, begging in front of a bank: the woman we had passed the other day. We had all seen her and ignored her. We had kept walking. We hadn't time for a crazy beggar lady. But this time was different. Despite the discomfort, we marched right up to her and started talking.
We introduced ourselves and asked her name. She thought for a moment and said she couldn't remember. As she spoke, the Nameless Woman covered her mouth with a blanket; she said it was because of "shame." One moment she would say something lucid, and the next she would get lost in incoherent ramblings.
She was blind in her right eye, which lazily dragged behind when she turned her head to look from one person to the next. As we talked to her, Ryan ran to get some bread and water for her. She would not eat in front of us. The woman complained of pains on her face, but she also talked about having a mustache. It was hard to understand what was real and what was imagined.
After giving her the food, we prayed for the Nameless Woman. She thanked us and said she felt peace. But we walked away feeling terrible. We had prayed, tried to feed this woman without a name, and we felt no satisfaction. This was nothing like what we expected. For all that we could tell, nothing had changed. The Nameless Woman was still hungry, still hurting, and still lonely. And still, we left her.
Talia walked away with an especially heavy burden. Moments later, she burst into tears. "I just feel so helpless," she said. We all felt that way: paralyzed by our inability to help, to heal. It was unnerving. Yet somehow, we knew it was good; maybe not right, but good nonetheless. We didn't understand that our hearts were being changed. This is how it often feels when you're doing the right thing.
We want to explain and understand messy moments like this one. At church or the mall or over dinner, we'll say to our friends that a seed was planted. They'll nod in mock recognition, offering some cliché about how you never know what good was probably done. For me, this has always been unsettling. It feels like patting myself on the back for my own apathy. It's a way to anesthetize the pain, to dull the discomfort of not doing enough. So often we want to move quickly past these moments. We want resolution; we want to justify ourselves. But these are the experiences we need. Our brokenheartedness at the injustices we witness is what gives us compassion. So when we rush past these messy and uncomfortable moments, we take away the experiences that teach us mercy.
Although I didn't realize it that day, the lack of resolution we experienced was a gift. The fact that we walked away from the Nameless Woman unable to help was an epiphany. The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it. This is beautiful, in a way, because it breaks us of our self-dependency, In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories, it teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.
THE KEY TO LIFE'S PURPOSE
Finding your identity and place in the world is not a seven-step program. It is not a tapestry, neatly woven, it is not easy or simple or tidy. In fact, it feels more like a sweater unwinding thread by thread. You are wrecked. It is not something you do. It happens to you. You cannot control it.
To be wrecked begins with an experience that pulls you out of your comfort zone and self-centeredness, whether you want it to or not. Your old narcissistic dreams begin to fade in light of something bigger, something better. The process leaves you battered and broken after the "real world" has slammed up against your ideals a couple dozen times. What's left standing is a new paradigm. It's hard, but it's good. It's incredible and indelible. It's tough, but only in the way that all things worth fighting for are tough. Being wrecked means everything you believe—everything you know about yourself, your world, and your destiny—is now in question. Because you've seen something bigger. And you can't go back. At first the process is disorienting. It calls out the greatest parts of you, the parts you might be afraid of] It tests your courage, the very fibers of your being. This may very well be why we avoid conflict. It calls into question that which we are most afraid of—ourselves. And in the end, you're not who you were before. You're different. You're changed. Your old life begins to make less and less sense in light of your new priorities. Everything that used to matter now feels arbitrary. And it seems futile to try rebuilding the old way of doing life. As confusing or as difficult as that may be, it's good.
This is how my friend Jimmy felt. A Canadian from Ontario who grew up in a good Dutch Reformed family, he's never lacked a theological explanation for anything. The church has quickly resolved any philosophical dilemma he's ever had.
But for Jimmy, that wasn't enough. He didn't want pat answers; he wanted to experience truth.
Last year, Jimmy left on a six-month stint to Latin America. He wasn't exactly sure at the time what he believed about church or God. Ali he knew was this: life had grown dull. Despite growing up in a polite, middle-class family, his life was missing something. He knew it wasn't actually in the southern hemisphere, but maybe, he hoped, he would find something in the going, in the falling apart. Maybe his heart would break enough that he'd be able to see clearly, to actually feel something.
I spoke with Jimmy the other week. 1 wanted to know why, at a time when plenty of his friends are buying houses and having babies, he refuses to settle down. His answer was simple: he travels to remember that he's not done yet. The uncertainty of moving around reminds him of the fickleness of life and what's really important.
"When I travel," he told me on a Skype call from Peru, "my problems slide into the context of the rest of the world. Things that were building up at home with work or relationships or whatever become contextual, and it helps me to understand the meaning of those struggles and maybe how to better respond to them. Traveling helps me realize what my preferences are, who my true friends and family are, and where my home is. It gives me a clearer understanding of the need to have an anchor in this uncertain, unsteady life." For Jimmy, the leaving reminds him of the importance of staying.
DYING TO LIVE
I've known a few "cutters"—people who cut themselves with a razor blade or pair of scissors. Unfortunately, this form of self-mutilating is a dangerously growing trend among young adults. However, there is an important lesson to be learned here. I always thought people cut themselves because they were suicidal, that they wanted to die. But in fact the exact opposite is true. Most cutters I know cut themselves not because they want to die, but because they want to live. ]he world of comfort has slowly crept around them, intoxicating them with a dullness of life that makes everything £eel cloudy and confusing. Cutting, in their minds, is the only way to feel alive again.
Although terribly misguided, there is truth in this understanding of pain and life. Coming back to grips with life as it was meant to be lived will hurt. It will bring discomfort. You will have to bear the burdens of others and carry those whose legs can no longer take them where they need to go. You will have to suffer, to endure, to persevere—not just for yourself, but for others. And it will be painful.
Excerpted from WRECKED by JEFF GOINS Copyright © 2012 by Jeff Goins. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.