It was the best of calls. It was the worst of calls.
A recent 24 hour shift day is reminiscent of that similar opening of Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Tale Of Two Cities
An early morning residential fire came in at shift change. My crew and I were first on scene and were fortunate to have been notified early enough to arrive in time to effect a rescue (a liberal use of the term ‘rescue’ for those who are reading this who have fire service experience). We assisted a person from the residence, partially under her own power. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to look back on that particular incident and not have a little pride in my colleagues’ performance that morning…knowing that everyone on scene that morning came together in such a way that we changed the immediate course of life for one individual. The best possible outcome.
Fast forward about seventeen hours. The initial call out was for breathing problems. Within the hour, she died right in front of us, despite our best efforts to revive her. The result of an apparent and alleged overdose…with young kids in the next room. The worst possible outcome.
I’ve often said, “if you only knew ten percent of the sins I commit just in my head, you’d be ashamed to call me friend.” In the aftermath of a recent poor choice I made to be willfully disobedient to God’s law and will for my life, I’ve been wrestling with the ensuing guilt. In my confession and prayer time since then, He has revealed three things to me:
1. I have been internally judgmental of the people whose lives touch mine daily through my job. Not so much outwardly judgmental, though some statements I tend to make now and then are indeed judgmental…but the conversations I have in my head that are just between me and God…those alone separate me from a true fellowship with Him.
When I open the doors of some stranger’s house who’s called me and my colleagues for assistance, it’s not for me to judge their ability and choice to live ankle deep in a house covered wall to wall in empty liquor bottles and bags filled with remnants of fast food leftovers, all covered in urine and feces. Nor is it for me to question how someone reached the point in their life where doing crack cocaine in front of kids as young as 4 years old becomes acceptable to them. It’s certainly not okay for me to openly make these observations around my colleagues or support their similar observations, but equally important, it’s not okay for these thoughts to remain in my own thoughts. It’s for me to do my job…and to do it through the lens of a disciple of Christ. To approach every situation looking through His eyes and finding ways to shed His light into the darkness.
2. The recently ‘single’ poor choice that finally brought me to this point of confession and repentance was not a singular choice at all…rather it was a choice made in a long succession of a similarly small choices I’ve made daily over time to not make Him the center of my life.
I have not been walking with God for a couple weeks now…not been in the Word daily like I’ve grown accustomed to in recents months. And it has affected how I act and the lens through which I see those around me. You see, when I’m in His Word daily, praying in faith regularly and fellowshipping with other believers, I fully recognize the truth found in John 15:5…that without the power of Christ living in the center of my life, I can do nothing. When I’m walking as a disciple of Christ, hiding the Word in my heart and mind, I am fully aware that I can do NOTHING of my own power…that I am completely reliant on God to get me through days like this. That I alone cannot win the fight against the devil’s temptations to pull me away from a real relationship with my LORD, Jesus. And I see the world and those around me differently, through the lens of Christ’s eyes, not my own.
3. I am no different from many of the individuals that I meet in any given day at work. I’m not going to go into details about what that means, to be respectful of any privacy issues that shouldn’t be brought to light here…but I’ll say this.
I didn’t wake up on this side of my addiction to pornography one day and look back over 30 years to find one singular incident that brought me here. It was a lifetime of daily choices to make my addiction a priority.
It’s easy to stand on the outside of someone’s life and look in with some level of objectivity and ask the question, “how can someone live like this?” It’s easier when the person into whose life we’re looking is a stranger to us. It’s much different to look into our own life with that same set of eyes and sense of objectivity.
You see, we don’t get to the bottom of the hole we find ourselves in by simply jumping in the hole with both feet and the knowledge that the hole is so deep we won’t be able to crawl out on our own. No, we get there one scoop at a time. We shovel some dirt out from under our feet and stay put. We look at our situation and say to ourselves “It’s just one time.” Then we take another scoop out from underneath ourselves and say, “I got this.” Scoop. “It’s just this one last time.” Scoop. “I’m in control still.” Scoop. “That was the last one, I promise.” Scoop. “This doesn’t control me.” Scoop. “I’m okay.” Scoop. “It’s not that bad.” Scoop.
Gradually. Slowly. Over time. Often most of our lives. This process repeats itself until one day we wake up to find ourselves looking up from the bottom of a hole we can no longer climb out of alone. It’s too deep now. And we wonder, “how’d I get here? How’d it get this bad?” For some, that realization never comes, and they’ll live the rest of their lives in their own personal hole of self destruction. The end of their days on earth will come at the bottom of that hole.
For others, the realization will hit them, but they’ll either be too proud to ask for help or have exhausted their relationships over the years to the point that they have no one to turn to for help. For others, they’ll realize the situation they’re in before it’s too late and ask for help. Not a handout, but a hand up.
The small choices we make daily are what put us where we are. For a believer such as me, it may be a swear word here. A laugh at an inappropriate joke there. Stealing a glance at that pretty woman. Not removing ourselves from a conversation that becomes gossip. Not standing up for someone who’s not there to defend himself. A few words snipped in anger. A white lie to a colleague on the job. A prideful thought or comment at the breakfast table. Not waking up to start the day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. Missing worship service when we’re tired. Skipping a Bible study when there’s a conflict in our schedule.
The seemingly small and minuscule decisions we make daily not only reflect the level of our integrity, but can gradually and slowly accumulate over time to the point that we find ourselves in too deep…wondering how we got here at all. The priorities we choose, while in the moment may seem like decisions that won’t have long-lasting affects, do indeed begin to change who we are and how we live.
I’m fortunate enough to be blessed with a group of Godly men as friends. Men I can turn to and share my failures with. Men who will not say to me “it’s okay…you’re doing the best you can.” Men who will instead say, “I know where you’re at. I’ve been there.” And then ask the tough questions, “What are you going to do to fix it? How can I help hold you accountable?”
I’m fortunate to be loved by a woman who seeks God with all her heart and who extends to me a level of grace and love that is beyond what I deserve. A woman who holds me accountable and keeps me in check in more ways than I can count.
I’m fortunate to serve a God who knows my failures and accepts me for who I am. He is just and does not allow me to continue living in my sin. He extends forgiveness and grace to me when I humbly and fervently fall at His feet in repentance, turning from my sin toward Him. He strengthens me when I am weak. He guides me when I follow Him. He lifts me when I’ve fallen. He carries me when I need Him. He fills me when I am empty. He humbles me when I am prideful. He awakens me when I am asleep at the wheel. He renews me when I am weary. He feeds me when I am hungry. He is an endless fountain of living water when I am thirsty. He heals me when I am broken. He empowers me when I connect with Him. He reveals himself to me when I seek Him. He befriends me when I talk to Him. He defends me when I am attacked. He saves me when I am lost. He lights a path for me in the dark. He provides a stable foundation when I am shaken. He blesses me when I humbly serve Him. He is constant and unchanging when I waver. He is always present, even when I am absent. He seeks me when I turn from Him. He waits for me when I run from Him. He is there when I return. He is faithful to me when I am unfaithful. He loves me when I am unlovable.
It’s my prayer today, that if you’ve found yourself reading this note and are in your own personal hole of self destruction, that you are filled with a godly discernment to see it and a godly strength and endurance to overcome it. If you’ve crawled your way out of your hole, I encourage you to look around you. Someone within your circle of influence is in their own hole. You may just be the one single person who can pull them up.
P.S. Your mom would add this gem of wisdom…and thus the title of this note was born. Remember the first rule of holes? When you’re in one, stop digging.