Heart strong and soul safe. That’s what I think of when I think of Chuck Bolton. I had the privilege of sharing over four hours in the studio with this mentor, friend, and hero. He’s been close to hell and back more times than you’d want to count. Our conversation spanned federal prison, private jets, big dollars, big deals, and devastating losses and glorious recovery.
If you want to become the kind of man who, in time, has a wife who can say confidently, “I not only love my husband, but I actually really enjoy him,” spend time considering the wisdom that flows from Chuck’s Kingdom ventures.
They promised. Today was my chance. My only chance. And yet, the magician vanished as quickly as he appeared. Mostly what I see in his wake are chaos and rumors. Yet here and there, I can’t help but notice what I can only call miracles. A woman claims that just days ago she was trapped in a body deformed by leprosy; now she is healed and whole. As she tells her story, I cannot deny it—her eyes are radiant with life. She says they were made so by this magician named Jesus.
And the madman from the foothills. The truth is perhaps even worse than the stories spewed by the children who entertain themselves by mimicking his garbled, violent curses. And here he now sits, swathed in his tattered clothes, yet still. Now a man of peace. Rumor has it that the magician spoke not only to him, but to an evil spirit within him. This Jesus cast the spirit out of his heavy-laden body, and now he is free. I have been watching this once-violent man now at ease. For the better part of two days, he has sat peacefully at this well. Not eating, only smiling, resting, and watching as fresh water is drawn up from the depths. His eyes tell the story of a man who has seen the face of God and lived.
So where is my magic?
They promised me a miracle of my own.
I was told this magician from Nazareth could fix the pathetic man I’ve become. Ever since that dreadful day in the field when all went black, I have been dragging this wretched body through the marketplace, half alive and half dead. For nearly a decade, this body has been my utter shame. I once stood tall and proud—now I am a cripple. Simon the Cripple. At least that what she calls me. It’s what everyone calls me. If not to my face, then in whispers in the dark.
But they said today was to be my day. They said this magician is not a mere showman, dazzling the crowd with tricks or fancy words and making a fortune off people’s naive faith. They said he is the Promised One, sent by God, a man of authority against which no disease or demon can prevail.
He was just here! I saw him. I saw him walking these paths, passing these stalls. I saw his eyes, so calm and clear, that looked like they could not tell a lie.
Then, just as quickly as he appeared, he vanished.
And I am left here. Unchanged. Unmet. Forgotten? I am Simon the Cripple. I will always be.
Put yourself in this man’s shoes.
The Scriptures tell us that when Jesus entered a village, he would not only proclaim the Kingdom of God but manifest it as well. He healed the crippled, the blind, the bleeding, and the oppressed. At times, over the course of a few days, the healed few would become the healed many (Matthew 15:29-31).
And then Jesus would leave. He would move on in order to proclaim and manifest the Kingdom somewhere else.
Think of the disappointment Jesus left in his wake. Put yourself in the shoes of the man who was not healed. Sit in the seat of the physically broken and the spiritually oppressed who were left unattended. What do you do with the unfinished work and the unmet expectations?
Reading the Scriptures, we observe that Jesus’ humanity required him to be in only one place at a time. His obedience to his Father required him to make choices. Choosing to say yes to being in one place meant saying no to being somewhere else.
How could Jesus withstand this? How could he withstand all he was not able to accomplish and all the human suffering he did not immediately alleviate? Is it possible that Jesus’ experience of being well was not attached to each presenting need in the moment-by-moment, but in his Father’s complete sufficiency as the Abundant Center of all things?
The human expectations Jesus left unmet were not a result of irresponsibility; he was not casual about human suffering. But he was clearly willing to leave a gap between what people expected of him and what he offered. From Nazareth to Jerusalem, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, Jesus’ moment-by-moment response accomplished the redemption of all Creation and ignited the Renewal of All Things. It’s easy to focus on the stories of Jesus’ intervention. It takes much more pause and honesty to sit in the seat of the ones whose expectations he failed to meet. The people he didn’t heal, those he didn’t deliver, those whose heart-cry he did not yet answer.
Jesus is clearly not palatable to everyone at every moment. At the end of the Festival of Tabernacles, several days of joyous feasting, drinking, and eating for the people of Israel, he cries out to the crowd, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Ask yourself, how many are truly thirsty after days of feasting? What a brilliant moment to look for the thirsty after most have been satiated by the pleasures this world offers to fill the holes in stomachs and souls. Jesus offers living water for those who are thirsty for such drink. For the thirsty, he echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.” (55:1-3a)
For those who are not thirsty for life that is truly life, he is willing to extend the ministry of disappointment. What we are all in need of is what God most deeply and freely offers: the restoration of all things, through receiving more and more of him into more and more of us. So often it is disappointment that leads us deeper, in time, to receiving this love. It is disappointment in a job that leads us to the assignment for which we were made. It is failure in a competition that leads us into the training to become the contender we dreamed of being. It is failure in a battle that trains us for the coming victory. It is disappointment by people that leads us deeper into the heart of God and his Kingdom. Dallas Willard said that if you follow Jesus long enough, you will surely be disappointed.
Perhaps one of the great graces in which we will ever partner in God’s Kingdom is our willingness to disappoint people for the sake of love. Avoiding disappointing others is often a convenient mask for codependency. Codependency is a pattern of relating that seeks to manage the experiences of others and outcomes in relationships in an attempt to feed our own sense that we’re worthy of love and belonging. So often what we conveniently label as love, sacrifice, or caring for others is simply our efforts to avoid disappointing them in order to avoid feeling shame and fear.
Sometimes it is in working through the discomfort of unmet expectations that we can unmask the false self at work within us and help illuminate the path for others to find what they are most looking for. God searches our thoughts, testing us to reveal the motives at work within us and our relationships. What if disappointing others for the sake of our shared wellbeing is one of the most heroic choices you ever make?
Is it possible that, for a time at least, Jesus was to some the most disappointing person who ever lived? Is it possible that when moment-by-moment response to the Father’s yes is the motive for our choices, we might find ourselves following more courageously in the ministry of disappointment? Is it possible that love might regularly ask us to leave some genuine needs of others unmet?
Often it is our courageous consent to disappoint some expectations in order to say yes to Love’s precise path that opens the door for a greater Love to flow. Have you come to terms with why you are uncomfortable with disappointment? Who and when you are divinely intended to disappoint, and why you are willing to do so? Strengthening our yes often comes through becoming more clear in offering our no for the sake of the enhanced wellbeing of the whole.
What stands in the way of your being willing to disappoint people for the sake of love? If the root of disappointment is unmet expectations, for some, Jesus was the most disappointing person who ever lived.
Perhaps it would do our maturing hearts well to consider our resistance to following him along this bend in the narrow road.
The questions came pouring in. From near and far. They have been rich and meaningful. What I thought would be one podcast celebrating the 50th episode of Become Good Soil is sure to turn into an extended volume of conversations over time.
For this first volume and to celebrate you—the tribe of like-hearted around the globe—we are diving into these questions:
Taking the lowest seat at the table: When is it time to take a higher seat and assume a role of greater leadership?
Initiating daughters: We’ve received treasures on initiating sons. I have daughters and girls in my world. Is it similar? Different?
Join me for this—and more—in the 50th episode.
For the Kingdom,
I’d love to keep receiving questions for future volumes in this series. You can submit them HERE.
(USE THIS FORM to submit your questions for the 50th podcast episode.)
Or better yet, share your question as a voice recording and I’ll do my best to feature it on a future podcast. Please share your name and where your recording from if you want to make it personal. Thanks!
Early in my masculine journey, I was a young man out of touch with the soul’s questions. My unmet need for validation fueled an unrelenting pull to prove myself by being “right.” I valued answers above curiosity and confidence above vulnerability. I remember turning to an older man for guidance. Invigorated by his walk with God, I asked him if I could become an apprentice. His response was, “What are your questions?” I had nothing to say. Outside of an academic classroom environment, no one ever asked me that before. The bewildered expression on my face confirmed that my process of initiation had yet to begin: my false self was still working for me. His response to me was this: “Come back when you’ve found your questions.”
And I did.
I found my questions when the pain of my inner life finally broke my self-deception: I could no longer convince myself that the “answers” I had were working. Interior anguish overcame my determination to have all the answers and invited me forward to take my first step to healing: I had to admit that I wasn’t okay.
So it began. I crossed another threshold of my initiation. I began trading exclamation points and periods for questions marks. And these questions have led to the signposts that have marked out God’s path of initiation for me over these decades.
The pain was inviting me to…
Risk being honest about what wasn’t working in myself and in my life.
Give the buried questions of my heart permission to rise to the surface.
Trust that these questions are the very keys to unlocking the deepest truths about who I am, who God is, and what being human is all about.
Over time, I am finding my favorite kind of people to share life with are those asking questions. Men and women willing to live in curiosity about life, love, God, and the world inspire my own curiosity and spur more questions and, therefore, more discovery.
Questions are powerful.
What are your questions?
It’s amazing to think God has graciously allowed the Become Good Soil podcast to extend to its 50th episode. In celebration of this milestone—and in gratitude for each of you in this community—I’d love to hear from you. As you have engaged in these podcasts, what questions have been raised in you? Whether specific to a post or podcast or in general to the mission or message, I’d be honored to know what is stirring in you. I’ll dedicate the 50th episode to responding to the treasure of your questions. If you find this page and the podcast has already gone live, free free to send questions as I would be honored to use them to shape future content.
USE THIS FORM to submit your questions for the 50th podcast episode.
It was 21 years ago, but I remember the interaction like it was yesterday.
I was in the home of a mentor, and he and I were talking in the kitchen while two of his boys played in the adjoining room.
A few minutes into our conversation, a conflict arose between the boys. And in the blink of an eye, as sometimes happens in the glorious fellowship of boys, the older son laid a couple of solid knocks on his younger brother. Immediately, I turned to their dad to see how he was going to respond. And the way he did blew my mind.
Having observed the whole thing out of the corner of his eye, their father caught my eye and signaled a pause in our conversation. Then, he went over to the son who had taken the swings at his younger brother.
Calmly kneeling before him, my friend looked directly in the eyes of his son and slowly said this:
“Son, God has made you strong for a reason. I love your strength. I see your strength. But do you think God made you strong to hurt or to help your brother?”
It was a sacred moment that continues to reverberate with instruction for me decades later.
Instead of only addressing his son’s behavior, my friend dropped below to the level of the heart. He validated his son’s strength and then appealed to his son’s own understanding of his strength, directing him to consider for himself God’s intentions for his strength. Rather than moving against his son and exacerbating the atmosphere of battle, my friend chose to calm himself first, then harness his own adult strength in order to move toward his son in love.
Much was at stake, in the boy’s heart and also in mine.
As we have explored in previous resources, understanding our styles of relating (first given visibility through Karen Horney) has been powerful to help me and many grow in awareness of our own impact as well as curiosity about how to move from reactivity toward integrated responsiveness in my relationships.
And as I engage this work, it is in the realm of parenting that I am feeling both the exposure of where I still operate with dysfunctional styles of relating and also the power of applying the material for truer connection with God, myself, and my children.
I was recently interviewed by Paul Edwards on the topic of the Styles of Relating applied in the realm of parenting. He has graciously made the audio of his podcast available for the Become Good Soil fellowship. I hope you enjoy.
The masculine initiation can often be characterized not as a series of high achievements,
but rather as a series of humiliations of the false self.
Within the span of a single month last year, the world lost too many really good men. A few were elders; their crossing over was filled with sorrow but also with joy. As Paul taught regarding the life of David, these elders had fulfilled God’s sacred purpose in their generation and now awaited the restoration of all things (Acts 13:36).
But at least one man was cut short of his time.
Years ago, I reached out to thank Jason for his contribution to my initiation; that connection planted seeds of a friendship. Last year, he took his own life. It broke my heart.
When I received the news of his death, I was shocked. I sat stone-still for several moments, watching specks of dust shimmer in the winter light cascading through our southern windows. Then, as my shock turned to pain, I knew I had to get outside. Though it was cold, I found a patch of earth tucked in from the wind, and with the sun on my face, I fell apart.
I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t hold it together. I’ve become long accustomed to soldiering up and doing hard things. I’ve been rewarded for it for decades. Yet on that day, something in me finally broke open.
There was much to process. The terrible loss of Jason’s life. The excruciating pain his wife and two young children will have to endure. The gaping hole left in the world from his death.
But there was something else.
And in the belief that sharing in vulnerability strengthens our community, I want to share the picture that came to me: it was a vision of my own funeral. Or better said, a vision of the funeral of a version of the man I have become and who I’m afraid will have the final word on my story.
In this scene, I saw the faces of those closest to me: my daughter, my son, and my wife. All the other faces were out of view. I sensed that someone was speaking words—offering a eulogy regarding the impact of my life. And then the picture shifted to a grave marker and the epitaph carved upon it:
The words were alarming, yet so very true of an aspect of the man I have become. I let them find their way into me, again and again…
He came through,
proudly and anxiously,
for many and much,
at the expense of
who and what mattered most.
I know this man inside of me. I’ve lived with him all my life. I’ve served him, strengthened him, matured him, and demanded that his effort provide me some version of peace, safety, and validation.
And he has let me down.
That afternoon, I wept over the death of Jason. But I also wept over the man I have, in part, become, a man who anxiously and proudly comes through for many and much at the expense of who and what matters most.
It was then that the Father kindly and confidently reminded me that this anxious, proud, self-sufficient man is not the only truth. There is another man alive in me as well: a less mature but more true man.
There is a true man within me who is being initiated by a Good Father and has set his heart on things above, not on the things of the world’s system. A man in me who loves who and what he sees in the mirror. A man who is growing in his capacity to receive God’s love and to love God and others as himself in the overflow of that love.
Both men are within me.
And the question I have is this: which man will have the final word on my life?
Almost two millennia ago, the apostle Paul articulated this crux of the human experience: we have two selves within us, both contending for primacy.
As I continued to reflect, I realized I had come to another fork in the narrow road of the masculine journey. It is my choice. There are two men within me with very different motives, different fuels, different destinations, and different relationships.
And there are two potential epitaphs.
Which one will ring true at the end of my life?
In the weeks that followed, I asked other trusted, like-hearted men this question:
How about you? Who is the impostor within? What would be the epitaph for your false self?
Each courageously took time to form his own version of an epitaph for his self-life. And with their blessing, I have shared some of them below:
He finally made it happen.
He reached the goal.
He pushed through every obstacle, including the ones he loved.
He left an indelible mark…on his couch.
He was smarter and better than everyone else.
He was untouchable, able to push everyone away to not get hurt again.
He died rich and alone and empty inside.
He pursued the self-life and got results,
but they were never enough.
Never good enough and quite frustrating,
Even infuriating, below the water line.
Maybe the results impressed some from a distance, but never those who mattered.
A costly game he played…
He always felt care for his heart was synonymous with selfishness.
He was paralyzed to step into the octagon in times of need.
Unfathered orphans and a broken widow are his legacy.
Well done, indeed.
Who described the frontier of God’s grace
Only from his view at the fenceline.
He was a Diamond travel member,
Promoted every decade,
Made double-digit moves across the country,
but ignored his elderly Dad,
Held unforgiveness tight on his heart
and brought revenge for those who crossed him.
He was distracted, never present, on his phone.
He loved with condition, ignored the present, and his famous last words were, “I don’t have time. Maybe someday.”
His wife thought she married a man, but learned later he was but a boy.
He rushed and hurried and stayed busy, because he prized relevance over Reverence.
He graduated with honors from the “Nice Guy Academy.”
Master Illusionist – He had it all in control
Here lies an orphan
Never trusted anyone
Strove to “make it happen” by himself
Angry, afraid, alone
A successful man who relentlessly fought the man he knew he could become
Bully, baby, git
Nobody liked him.
He tore the skin off his own hands
To win the approval and applause of those he didn’t know,
Whilst neglecting those he should have loved.
He earned his way.
He was right.
At the expense of relationships he said were dear to him.
He died all alone.
(If you’re viewing on a computer, here is the video of the grave marker collective.)
Here is the good news: the epitaph that describes our false self need not be the final word over our lives. There is another way. The way of apprenticeship to Jesus, the way of pervasive inner transformation.
Instead of denying the reality of the two selves who vie for our allegiance, the Kingdom of God places our hidden inner world on center stage. The Spirit of Jesus teaches us that God’s love comes to expose the false self in order resurrect the true.
As Paul wrote to the followers of Christ in Ephesus, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Eph. 5:13 NLT). Through bringing our false selves into the light of God’s love, God transforms them from sources of shame to sources of strength, markers of orientation along the ancient path of recovering the True Man within.
David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, shares candidly his own version of the false self at work with him:
“I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality. I’ve also become more aware that, like many people these days, I have lived a life of vague moral aspirations—vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary, a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even a clear knowledge of how character is developed and depth is achieved.”
He goes onto to explain,
“We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life. The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming. The consumer marketplace encourages us to live by a utilitarian calculus, to satisfy our desires and lose sight of the stakes involved in everyday decisions. The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths. We master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”
Brooks suggests that “resumé virtues” may contribute to short-term success, but eulogy virtues are the ones that matter in the long run. “They’re virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”
Here are a few questions that might help you take another step along the narrow road:
Who is the man in you that is no longer working?
What is on his epitaph?
What do you observe about his energy, his motive, his fears, his goals?
Take the time to write out his epitaph.
Then consider, What is the next step for you? How is the Father beckoning you to crucify this false self? How is Father calling forth the true man God meant when he meant you?
And finally, what would you love the epitaph to be for your True Self? In a few words or sentences, what description of your impact would mean the world to you?
Entering the Kingdom means receiving the invitation to the with-God life and entering a grace-fueled process of taking off the old self and becoming the New Man in the spirit and nature of Jesus, our brother. It’s a prevailing story of inner transformation and deepening access to and union with a life, a source, and a person beyond ourselves. Receiving this new way of being human frees us from being at the center of our own story and gives us a safe place to mature in love. It invites us to mature in the life-giving perspective that the life of the Creator of creation is alive and well, is authoring and perfecting a story, and has destined a unique place and sacred purpose in our participation.
In time, I saw two men and two epitaphs. These two men, the false man within me and the true man, have different motives, different fuels, different destinations, and very different relationships. And seeing them both so clearly, I realized I had come to another fork in the narrow road of the masculine journey. It is my choice. Will the epitaph that described my false self be the pronouncement at the end of my days, the summation of who I was and what I offered? Or will it be said that I was a man who resolved day by day and decade by decade to put the self-life to death in order that the true man, connected to God, could rise and live a life of loving and being loved?
Could I become the kind of man who says yes to a few things that matter most, to live a life that makes his wife proud to call him husband and his kids proud to call him dad?
Will I choose to crucify the energies of self-saving, self-sufficiency, and self-deception in order to receive the intimate resurrection life of Christ acting with me to respond to God’s initiation and learn his heart and his Kingdom as he truly is?
For the Kingdom,
“Every moment we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community.” – Eugene Petersen, The Message
(1) music bed in epitaph video provided graciously by the Pattersons.