The Paradox of Choice and Why More is Less

Paint Swatches

I’ll never forget the day Cherie and I were standing in Home Depot. We had just bought our “dream house” and like many honeymooners, we too were convinced that buying a “fixer upper” and putting some sweat equity into it would transform it from a house to a home. It’s a stage every young couple needs to wade through.

We bought paint sample after paint sample, drove home and lathered it on the kitchen wall, only to have the color again express my wife’s dissatisfaction…

I looked at what, emotionally, was an infinite set of colors and shades of paint that day, and something deep in me could feel the promise of happiness slipping through my fingers.  As I looked through the browns (mushroom, terracotta, meadow frost, birch, cottontail, earth…) it hit me that this infinite color palate guaranteed only one thing. Whatever color we chose, we wouldn’t be completely happy. And that was just the damn kitchen wall! (If I only had the courage to tell you the joys the color choices brought to our young marriage in those weeks…)

The Father was speaking something that day. I wish I would have listened instead of wasting my pain. Although the changes have been slow to come, over the decade the Father has been transforming me in the arena of the proliferation of choice. Much of it, interestingly, was born out of a fight to recover joy in my life.

Fast-forward eight years. One day in prayer I made one of the most life giving choices I have made in our ten years of marriage. I came downstairs and said, “Cherie here’s what I would love. I’d love to take the “choice” of moving into a new home off the table for today. Abigail is two. I would love to commit in this season to being in this same house when she graduates from high school.”

To abandon this modern thought of the “ever perpetual upgrade of everything,” which for us was often centered around our residency, felt foolish and liberating. We were drowning in seas of choice.

“The neighbors are driving me crazy, the road is too dangerous for the kids to play, there is no privacy, we have no flat screen or stucco, no granite countertops, I have no man space.” All legitimate reasons to bitch on some days. But I assumed something dangerous – that more happiness could be found in a “better” house. And what the assumption robbed from us were the gifts and blessings we do have in our home. Some of the neighbors have become remarkable friends. I can ride my bike to work, Cher walks the kids down the street to a great neighborhood park, monster mule deer forage in our front yard, the mortgage is very small and shrinking, we have Colorado mountains out of our east and west windows. We are choosing to live with less.

A friend (thanks Eric) sent me this incredible talk by Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice.

This is a must watch for every man in his thirties.

I strongly encourage you to grab 15 undisturbed minutes to watch this video. Then take some time, at least five minutes of genuine solitude, to ask the Father, “Where do I need to repent from the proliferation of choice? What choices do I need to surrender through an act of my will?”

We abandoned the hamster wheel of the modern young couple and the perpetual upgrade of the home. Now, does that mean we are not open to moving if God prompted us? Of course not. This decision flows out of a deeper conviction (at least hope) that we are yielded to God. Thus, while we maintain a posture of listening to God the Father and following His leading, the daily wondering, wrestling, evaluating and considering of “should we move or not” has been buried. Our contentment and happiness has grown.  The cup is more than half full. We’ve bought back another small piece of freedom and life.

Father, what “choices” do I need to repent from as I sit on the eve of New Year?

 

Beauty and Affliction

Snyders

(My bride Cherie has included below our annual Christmas letter on behalf of our little family out here in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies…)

There are only two things that pierce the human heart.
One is beauty. The other is affliction.
~Simone Weil

This quote hangs on a lilac-colored wall in Morgan’s childhood home in Pittsburgh. And these are the words that come to mind as I turn my heart to write to you all a bit about 2010 for our little family. I hear Joshua’s voice down the hallway as he plays Uno with his Grammy; I think of Morgan helping his brother Lance just a few miles away; and I bring to mind little Abigail in her purple footie-pajamas, asleep on a pallet in an upstairs bedroom; on behalf of our Colorado-Snyder family, I say good evening and hello and thank you for loving us!

Beauty

Morgan and I celebrated our new “anniversary” on July 4: two years of mental and emotional health and stability! Remembering our “Paradise Lost” in 2008, when we wondered if our little family could ever heal from the ravages of clinical depression, this second anniversary was truly cause to celebrate.

Joshua (6), our inquisitive, cuddly, confident, kung-fu-kicking, carnivorous, funny, perceptive, conversational, compassionate-little-buddy started kindergarten this fall and continues to be so “strong and courageous.” A highlight for him was an unforeseen dream-come-true of becoming a “Mutton Bustin’ Champion” at our Pikes Peak Rodeo and holding hands with Miss Rodeo Virginia.

Abigail (3), our perceptive, independent, bold, maternal, creative, melodic, adventurous, poised, precise, silly-little-princess came into her own this year. She enjoys taking care of her babies, hiking, making up songs, dancing, projects with Daddy and cuddling with Momma. She loves her grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins.

Morgan enjoyed a year of adventure and personal growth. Highlights for him include an epic bike tour with his brother, Parker, and several close friends climbing the Swiss and French Alps. He was also remarkably blessed to draw an archery tag for a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.  While the big ram eluded his best efforts, the shared camaraderie with two of his closest friends, and the many hours of agony and delight in the high country deepened his love for wilderness and all things untamed.   Morgan had the immense privilege of leading a retreat in June for world-changing men in their 30’s and has started to capture some of his reflections on paper. Also his gratitude is beyond words for the opportunity to continue to serve as part of the Wild at Heart leadership team: helping to see men recover their integrity and strength and be restored all around the globe.

In June we celebrated my brother’s wedding to beautiful Kristen in charming Charlevoix, Michigan. Cousins, aunts and uncles from all over shared a rambling 100-year-old Victorian home; children ran barefoot and free along the soft-sanded beaches; we all ate, drank and made-merry until late, bathed in the lingering summer light of the solstice. It was one of the most joyous weeks of my adult life, particularly poignant after some emotionally challenging years for both my brother and me. Watching my dad and his sister laugh with the sun setting behind them, I could almost hear my grandmother laughing along with them. Seeing their grandchildren now playing in the sand and giggling on a lake-side swing set, my heart throbbed with the beauty and richness of this mobile of life.

And finally, the beauty of this present moment: enjoying an unanticipated Thanksgiving celebration with beloved family in Pittsburgh. A total of 20 of us gathered around an elegant dining-room table, children dashing happily through the room in a game of chase as grown-ups linger. Suddenly, a phone rings; its Parker calling from Warsaw, Poland, announcing that he and Kasia are heading to the hospital for the birth of their first baby! A moment to pause, unite in love and gratitude, pray for beloveds across continents, cherish, remember and hope. More beauty and gratitude than one heart can contain.

Family. Friends. Spiritual, emotional, physical and relational daily bread. Meaningful work. Healing. Milestones. Children. Nature. It has been a beautiful year.

Affliction

It has also been a year of affliction; not so much this time under our little roof on Chokecherry, but for others whom we cherish and respect.

In January, the daddy of one of Abigail’s dearest preschool friends was killed in the earthquake in Haiti. Renee lost her best-friend, lover and husband; the boys lost their beloved Daddy; and the world lost a luminous, loving and brilliant man affectionately known as Captain Cranium (www.CraniumsArk.com). My mind freezes when I contemplate the devastating loss of David’s life alone; it is incomprehensible to multiply that loss by hundreds of thousands. For all those who have experienced the death of someone you hold dear this year, I close my eyes in this moment and send you our deepest sympathy, grief and compassion.

And this October, just one year after his joyous wedding, Morgan’s beloved youngest brother was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. Lance came through a harrowing surgery and is now undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. He is buoyant, hopeful and effusing love! The other evening as I sat with his wife, Francine, my heart exclaimed: here is one of the most beautiful women in the world!  Beautiful in her courage, hope, fidelity, grace and humor in the midst of a challenge none of us could have imagined that her 27 year old heart would face. To you, Francine and Lance, we dedicate this letter. And to our friends and family, if we come to mind in this coming year, would you take a moment to join us to pray for Lance’s restoration and that the inextinguishable Life of the world to come would reach down into this one more and more? Thank you. (more on this at IWouldRatherBeFlyfishing.com)

What shall we say of this life that is at moments so beautiful and at others, so excruciating?

A dear friend recently gave  Morgan a fresh definition of the word hope: “the anticipation of goodness to come.” Tonight, I am thinking of it as the assurance that through the mystery of the Incarnation, the Source of Love has secured for all time the authority and power to bring beauty and goodness out of whatever devastation this troubled life hurls at us. That Love has the final word, that ultimate Goodness is the promise, is not a justification for suffering; but it is the stunning reality that compels me on this night to lift my face toward Heaven and give thanks.

And so, from our grateful, breaking-and-being-healed hearts, we send you our gratitude for your presence in our lives: and we wish you and yours fresh anticipation of true Goodness to come.

Remaining yours,

Cherie, Morgan, Joshua and Abigail Snyder

A Virgin Hebrew Teenager

NG Women Green eyes

(This is part II of my last blog, Harnessed Strength.  Please read that first)

In my last blog I offered some thoughts on humility as harnessed strength.  What I am suggesting is that at the core of having a powerful life is a deep yielding to a Larger Strength than our own.  We must intentionally abandon our fierce commitment to figure out life on our own terms.  And in it’s place we must adopt a new way of living where we are literally integrated into the Life of God, whereby He is the vine and we truly are the branches.

The story of the Centurion Soldier is nearly unbeatable as a parable of harnessed strength. Yet today, in my reading in the first few chapters of Luke, I stumbled upon an ancient story in a new light.  With the exception of the cross, never before have I experienced a story that captures true strength, yielded, than that of Mary and the invasion of the Kingdom of God, through her birth of her son Jesus.

To really embrace the Scriptures, it is so essential to let the religious layers be peeled back.  Remember, the Bible is not a book of exceptions, as Eldredge so eloquently explains.  It is a book of examples of the life that is available to us through the power and presence of Jesus in our lives.

This morning I paused in the midst of my overcommitted world. I elected to walk to work instead of drive, deliberately slowing down and breathing in the crisp cold mountain air.  Allowing the darkness of the early morning to fuel a much needed intimacy with God.  I arrive at my office, light a candle, worship (to a phenomenal song, Be My Everything by Tim Hughes – see video below) and settle in. I crack open the Gospel of Luke and read again the account of Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel.  I ask the Father to pull back the religious veils and the assumptions that make Mary more divine than human in my provincial and feeble interpretations.  Now I see her as a single 13 year old Hebrew girl who is barely old enough to conceive a child.  An eager, yet young, heart for the Living God.

An angel visits her and tells her that not only is she pregnant, but she is pregnant with the Messiah.  Think of the emotions that would instantly flood any young, single, girl’s heart, as she pees on the stick and tests positive for pregnancy.  In an instant her whole world changes.  Fear, shame, confusion, unbelief.  Now imagine Mary.  She is not peeing on a stick, but is instead face to face with one of the most mighty warrior angels of the Kingdom of God.  And this isn’t just any pregnancy… it’s Jesus, the son of God, in her womb…

Her reaction is what stopped me in my tracks this morning.  “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Keep in mind Mary is betrothed to Joseph.  Under Jewish law, Richard Exley explains, violation of fidelity to a betrothed person was considered an act of adultery and was punishable to death by stoning.  In spite of the unbelief, in spite of the utter fear of the implications that lay before her, she reaches ever deeper into some wellspring of life. She is able to respond with a full heart saying, “more than anything, my heart and my life are yielded to God.”  Simply stunning.

As the text goes on, (Luke 1:39) she goes to the house of Elizabeth and there she breaks out in spontaneous worship to God.  Verse 46-56 has to be one of the most holy unedited displays of worship in all of scripture.  Mary begins saying first, “My soul glorifies the Lord” (v. 47) and then secondly she acknowledges what it was that God saw in her – her humility.  It was this factor that moved the heart of God – her harnessed strength and her yielding to him.  Something in God’s heart knew that the story He was writing was daring and risky. He needed someone with a quality that was rare and remarkable so that he could carry out this Grand Invasion of His Kingdom, against seemingly insurmountable odds.  And as the worship continues, Mary goes from praising God, to acknowledging God seeing her humility.  She then launches in, verse after verse, to claim the power of God and His Kingdom.

Mary may be young but she is wise beyond her years.  She understands what it means to live a powerful life.  She knows something of the heart of God.

As I read this story, a holy jealousy rises up and with it a deep desire burns in me to have that same heart.

I find myself asking the Father, what parts of me are yet to be yielded on this day?

What is it that you have yet to yield to God?

As we move into this season of the celebration of Immanuel, God with us, this is my deep encouragement to you.  Pause.  Somewhere, somehow and get alone with God. Be still. Acknowledge your desire to be a man yielded to His will, His purposes and His dreams for your life.  Ask Him what is in the way.  And enter into 2011 a more yielded man.  A stronger man.  A truer man.

(Side note: One of my all time favorite Christmas books is The Indescribable Gift.  Richard Exley has done a stunning job to capture through narrative, history, tradition and Scripture the mysterious and miraculous stories of the season.  Through the art and the text, year after year this book helps Christmas come alive.  A full chapter is dedicated to the account of Mary.  I strongly recommend reading this to help bring Immanuel deeper into your heart this year.)

Watch Be My Everything by Tim Hughes

Harnessed Strength

Bridle

A good friend was speaking on humility and it forever changed my worldview.  She described humility, as defined in the original Hebrew text, as “harnessed strength.”  True humility is far from passive or acquiescence.

True humility is strength, yielded.

Originally, humility was used to describe a wild stallion that had to be broken, brought under rein.  Its fierceness, strength and passion are still there, but now it’s used for good.  It has been yielded.

Boy, I feel that tension deep within me.  There is a core question that rises up in me again and again and again as I navigate the many minefields of the decade of the thirties.

Will I yield?

Earlier this year a mentor of mine pointed out something truly amazing.  The word “astounded” is only used by Jesus once in the Bible.  The lone reference is his astonishment at the Centurion soldier.  When I heard that it stopped me in my tracks.  I thought to myself, “What is it about the heart of man that could have astonished Jesus?”

The story of the centurion soldier is found in the gospel of Matthew in chapter 8:5-13.  As the story goes, Jesus was astounded in the faith of the centurion soldier as it relates to his understanding of authority.  The centurion was a powerful man, in command over many other soldiers.  Yet he was also a man under authority, yielding to a higher king.  He understood authority.  He understood strength and power, yielded, in the service of a greater good.

Then it hit me.  All of the greatest stories of heroes are men that were not operating autonomously.  Rather they were men operating for a greater good, and under the authority of a leader, a kingdom.   I think of Maximus in The Gladiator – the scene in the movie when he declares his true identity: “…my name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius…” As you watch the trailer of this film, it takes on an entirely deeper significance to understand Maximus as a yielded man, a man of harnessed strength.

Oswald Chambers said

“When the will of God meets the will of man, one must die.”

The decade of the thirties is a decade of relentless humility or humiliation. The choice is often left to us.

Harnessed strength.  Yielding our soul, our passion, our dreams, to a higher authority, to a good and kind King.

If you are truly thirsty for growth and fathering in this area, I invite to you set aside some time to watch the film, The Horse Whisperer.  Robert Redford plays a Holy Spirit type figure that comes to heal and restore strength to a horse.  This remarkable and strong horse was in a tragic accident and has suffered under great trauma.  In order for the horses strength to be restored, he must first be broken, humbled.  What looks like cruelty is actually love in its most fierce form.  As you watch this film imagine yourself as the horse, and imagine the horse whisperer as the loving fierce and relentless heart of God…

 

The Everlasting Stream

Everlasting Stream

The second most formative book I’ve ever read – an incredible invitation in to masculinity and the deep and true paradoxes of the Christian faith, lived out in the field and in the fellowship of men. This is one of the most formative books on brotherhood, parent and community I’ve ever read.  It’s a must.

The following is the description from Amazon:

When Walt Harrington was first invited to Kentucky to hunt with his African American father-in-law and his country friends–Bobby, Lewis, and Carl–he was a jet-setting reporter for The Washington Post with a distaste for killing animals and for the men’s brand of old-fashioned masculinity. But over the next 12 years, this white city slicker entered a world of life, death, nature, and manhood that came to seem not brutal or outdated but beautiful in a way his experience in Washington was not. The Everlasting Stream is the absorbing, touching, and often hilarious story of how hunting with these “good ol’ boys” forced an “enlightened” man to reexamine his modern notions of guilt and responsibility, friendship and masculinity, ambition and satisfaction.

In crisp prose that bring autumn mornings crackling to life, Harrington shares the lessons that led him to leave Washington. When his son turned 14, Harrington began taking him hunting too, believing that these rough-edged, whiskey-drinking men could teach his suburban boy something worthwhile about lives different from his own, the joy of small moments, and the old-fashioned belief that a man’s actions mean more than his words.

The Everlasting Stream is a funny, intimate, inspiring meditation on the meaning of a life well lived.

Suffering

Chautauqua - Brothers at table

(Three brothers and Dad)

I met John three months after his best friend Brent Curtis (and co-author of his first book, The Sacred Romance) had died.  It was a tragic and unexpected death, as Brent fell 80 feet in a climbing accident during their inaugural Wild at Heart event.  (You can read more on that in John’s stunning book, Desire, which was written in the thin place after Brent’s death.)

John described to me what life was like in those months after Brent’s death.  He told me that ultimately in the suffering after Brent’s death, he was lead to a simple choice.

He needed to choose God or understanding, but he couldn’t have both. 

John chose God.  From that choice came Ransomed Heart and a revolution of men and women all around the globe being transformed, alive and set free.

As a close friend, I empathized with John and yet, honestly, there was something about the story I couldn’t really “know” personally. I had never suffered.

That was thirteen years ago.  Life is different now.

I suffered through my wife’s severe illness. Fourth of July marked three years from the anniversary of the beginning of her restoration.  I’ll never forget checking her into a hospital…five miles away from the church where we had our first kiss on our wedding day… three miles from the hotel where we made love for the first time.  And suddenly, our life was seemingly unraveling.  We were on the brink of tragedy; all that we held dear to our heart overnight had become sand running between our fingers.

I am suffering now through my youngest brother’s battle with brain cancer.  It was a diagnosis out of nowhere.  No warning.  He’s in the prime of his life at 29.  He just celebrated his first wedding anniversary with a remarkable woman.  One day he felt numbness, had a seizure and before we knew it he was rushed into emergency surgery to remove a major brain tumor.  I spent the days after the surgery by his side, in the Neuro ICU, pleading with God to save his life.  He made it through the surgery in tact, but with a diagnoses of advanced and aggressive brain cancer.  Radiation, chemotherapy and clinical treatments begin next week.  God willing, we’re going to beat this thing (You can read more about Lance’s story at IWouldRatherBeFlyfishing.com).

Suffering is brutal.  Suffering is lonely.  Suffering is the most sacred space of the human experience.  If you have suffered, you know what I’m talking about.  As I risk putting words to suffering; something in me feels more appropriate by just taking my shoes off and falling on my face.  This is holy ground.

The thirties is the decade where suffering is introduced into most men’s stories in some form or another.  Or more accurately, the thirties is the decade of the masculine journey by which we are ready to walk through suffering redemptively, allowing it to transform us rather than destroy us. St. Augustine once said, “The difference is not in what people suffer; but in the way they suffer.  In the same fire, gold glows and straw smokes.”

A friend reminded me this morning of a quote from the great explorer and survivor Ernest Shackleton, as he spoke of the great suffering they encountered in their near fatal South Pole expedition:

“We had pierced the veneer of outside things.  We had suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.  We had seen God in His splendor, heard the text that nature renders.  We had reached the naked soul of man.”

Suffering is inevitable.  It is part of the human experience that finds each of us as we live east of Eden.

The choice is simple.

God or understanding?

It is a very healthy assumption that you cannot always have both.  Let this decade be a decade where you become clear and committed about which you are choosing.

(Brother Lance and bride, Francine. Pre diagnosis and post surgery)

For more on this story, you can find some nourishment in these blogs:

And We Will See You Again

Asking God

Good Friday

(Lance and his bride Francine; Lance after his surgery)

Footnote:  My ship was taking on water.  Thank God I’ve fought for friendship over the years and now have a few close brothers that can intuit in me when I’m going down.  My buddy Aaron rescued me this morning.  Forced me to get outside to enjoy a sunrise together.  Some stolen time among the rocky mountains before we had to go about our day.  He brewed up some of our infamous “Shackleton Tea” over a camp stove in the back of his truck; a ritual we use to conclude our outdoor adventures.  He let me vent and cry and question.  He prayed for me when I couldn’t pray for myself and reminded me I’m not alone.  Suffering doesn’t makes sense, but it’s holy ground when we don’t do it alone. Aaron, there is indeed a strange wealth found when suffering strips us naked.  Our friendship has made me a wealthy man.  Cheers to you, a man, a friend, who is living this decade of the thirties in a way that causes me to both take my shoes off and also jump and shout and cheer you on with every last breath in me…