As men, sometimes we don't always do such a great job in communicating our thoughts. Sometimes we bottle them up and keep them inside of us rather than express how we feel because "that's not manly" or "it's just not cool" to do something like that. I used to think that too....until this weekend. I also thought I was a great husband and father (and son and brother) until this weekend too.
You see, this weekend, my pastor (Pastor John Conley) of Cornerstone Community Church in Redding, CA was gracious enough to have invited me to what I consider to be, the THIRD MOST monumental day of my life (getting married and the birth of my two little ones are the first two). This weekend's Men's Retreat at Diamond Arrow (Church of God Campground in Nevada City) was the biggest jolt to my soul. It completely negated everything I thought I knew about being a real Christian man and turned it upside down on its head. To tell you the truth, for the most part, I learned that I've not been ideal in pretty much any capacity of my life and I'm glad I went on this retreat because I was with 128 of my Brothers and I learned so much. It felt good to be in the company of other men who understand what it feels like to have the pressures of marriage and raising a family and taking care of loved ones. It felt good to hug a complete stranger, look him in the eye and tell him with 100% sincerity, "I love you Brother". This is the type of love that Jesus wanted us to have for our fellow Christian Brothers: pure, loving, kind and true. I learned a tremendous amount but I'll just give you some of the highlights....
Pastor Steve Chiles from Oklahoma was the keynote speaker and we also broke out into breakout groups (small groups of 10 men). Anyway, I learned (and realized) that my mother, my wife, and pretty much everybody else in my life walk on eggshells around me. I learned that people are constantly checking to see if "I'm alright" or "does he look mad?". The people that I love in this world have to walk on eggshells around me because of my temper and my hotheadedness. Do you realize how awful that made me feel when the visiting pastor who spoke asked the question..."Do you know...I mean do you REALLY realize how much you doing that to your family breaks Jesus' heart?" You know, speaking about things like this, is something he called "engaging the 10%". We, as human beings, feel comfortable dealing with the 90% of things out there that are easy to talk about: work, school, chores, shopping, etc. We would all be mortified if we had an opportunity to sit down with a friend to tell him, "Hey, I love you man and I think you have a problem with your drinking" or "Hey, Brother....I know how hard it must be but I know that you're addicted to porn" or anything like that. That's uncomfortable!!! Nobody wants to do that. But in order for us to beat the Enemy, we have to address it. And I'm addressing mine. My need to get off of the "me" attitude and pretending that I haven't been focused on myself more than anyone else in this world.
I also learned that my life is my responsibility. It isn't my wife's or my mother's or my brother's or even the crappy relationship I have with my father. No one is to be given blame or credit for what I have done or the decisions I have made except me. God will judge me based on that...not on whether or not I'm good at playing the blame game.
Lastly, I learned that "Gentleness is not a weakness. Gentleness is strength well contained." Men are sometimes afraid to be gentle because it might make people see them differently or of the perception that they're not manly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Lord Jesus didn't have to yell at people to follow Him. He didn't have to yell at the Apostles and scream and raise his voice and have a temper (although He did once when he saw the moneychangers in the temple). Jesus (our Savior...Our Holy God in the Flesh) was gentle. In fact, one of the first things He did as a teacher and preacher was what? He healed. He walked into villages and made the blind man see, the lame man walk, cured leprosy and all manner of diseases. Why? Because He's Jesus, Son of God and who is God the Most High who came to earth for us. He loves us so why would he need to yell and curse and lose his temper when it's not necessary? So instead of thinking it's not manly enough when you're gentle, I now model myself after our Risen Messiah so that I may be more like Him. It will be a long road but I'm trying to learn the art of being bold without being rude. Hurting someone you love doesn't make you more of a man. It's just that much more of you that the Enemy has gotten a hold of.
The program ended with great worship songs, grown men swaying in their seats and in their aisles to songs that didn't tug at our hearts, they lifted them up. And finally the Pastor said "You will take two steps out of this room and the Enemy will start to attack you. Don't give him an inch to work with. Now come on up and get your armor...I've brought my oil and I'm going to anoint each man here and we're going to be victorious in the Lord" and we all went up and he drew the cross symbol on our foreheads with that oil and said a quick prayer for us. I went up too but I couldn't help but go up and with tears in my eyes I hugged Pastor Steve and we embraced. And tears came out that I had been storing up for years. And I tried to take my seat again but before I could find it, another man came out of his seat and hugged me and said I love you Brother and as I finally sat down, Pastor John tousled my hair and said I'm proud of you Sung.. I love you Brother" and then I just lost it. I wept for awhile like that until I looked around and saw that the guy next to me who I didn't know was crying like that too and I put my arm around him and we cried together. I looked up again and saw that every man, all 130 men in that room were crying and realizing how they've been in their lives. And how they couldn't do this without Jesus. And in that instant, the room became filled with The Holy Spirit and the Lord's army became 130 men stronger.
That's how my weekend went. I came back on Sunday to give my testimonial to my church and everyone sat there wide-eyed as I told him how everything I thought was true about myself turned upside down. How MY definition of being a good husband, good father, good son, good brother and good friend were completely inaccurate. And how I needed to make things right in order for me to truly be someone that Christ would be proud of. And I've started on that road. It won't be easy. But I'm committed to living the way that Our Savior wants us to live. No more excuses. No more anything. Just living with everyone around me knowing that they don't have to walk on eggshells anymore.
I literally saw and felt the Holy Spirit move in myself and in others this weekend. God's love is so real. It's so real and so limitless and so pure and good. And I want to share this special experience with you. More importantly, let this be a portent of what things will be like moving forward. Now, let me be honest. I might mess up sometimes because I'm not perfect. That's why we still need a Savior. But I will be trying with everything that I am, to be someone that not only my family is proud of but that our Risen King, Jesus Christ can look upon and say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant".