For me, summer is a time of rest. And evaluation. Needless to say, I very much look forward to the rest. Evaluation? It feels a little like going to the dentist. I know it’s good for me, but I'm a little afraid of what I might learn. Evaluation means exercising the discipline of facing the truth. Many years ago, I learned that facing the truth is ultimately a life-giving process. Ultimately. But, along the way, there is a fair amount of discomfort to endure.
I recently had my annual physical examination (which includes increasing numbers of tests and less-than-pleasant procedures as the years accumulate). I’ve also taken time with the pastoral staff to assess the health of the church. And I’m in the midst of my own annual performance review, in which my contribution to our faith community is considered. In each of these evaluations, the truth comes to light. Some of that information calls for great celebration. Some of it calls for the humility to admit failure and implement change.
But I’m finding that the most uncomfortable evaluation of this summer is not that of my physical health or my leadership performance, important as those are. It’s that of the deeper matter of the health of my soul. Last week, on a prayer day, I was reading Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg. The words of Dallas Willard, as quoted in the book, struck me deeply. He says the most important question is not what we are accomplishing, but who we are becoming.
Photo by Rae H.
I love Dallas Willard, but this particular teaching troubles me. I don’t disagree with him, but I have a hard time answering his question. Who am I becoming? Am I becoming all that Jesus intends? Do I reflect his character more than I did five years ago? Am I more hopeful? More loving? More courageous? Is it possible that I have disappointed him?
Who am I becoming?
The question itself is intimidating. But how one makes an accurate assessment about such things is also challenging. My physician tells me if my body is in good health. My dentist tells me if I need to floss more efficiently. The church’s board tells me where my leadership performance needs to improve. My daughter (often) tells me what in my wardrobe need to be replaced. But who will tell me the truth about who I am becoming? Who CAN tell me who I am becoming?
Over the years, I’ve found two sources of wisdom and insight. There are friends that can give insight about who I am becoming—in particular, friends who love me enough to ask invasive, penetrating questions. I just came back from Lake Tahoe, where I spent the week with four men who are committed to asking such questions about family, vocation, and soul health. When we gathered, I realized that this was our fourteenth annual gathering! I deeply cherish the gift of these men in my life. I know I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without them. In the midst of our fast-paced, transitory existence in Silicon Valley, it is a dream of mine that many of us at The River will take the initiative to form such spiritual friendships.
But as wonderful as it is to have this group of friends, it is not sufficient. There is another source of wisdom I desperately need. There is a wisdom that only comes as I attune my heart to the voice of Jesus in the context of unhurried, uninterrupted solitude. Because my life is so filled with activity, the best way for me to enter deeply into solitude is in the form of an extended silent retreat—a time away from responsibilities, entertainment, and even loved ones.
To be completely honest, this intimidates me immensely. I eagerly look forward to my retreat with the guys. But I procrastinate in securing a place for my own silent retreat. With the guys, I can keep things light. I can conceal the truth about myself. I try not to, but I can. In solitude, I am in the presence of the One who searches me and knows me completely. I long to be known in this way—and I shy away from it. Such are the machinations of my soul.
My men’s group “ordered” me to make plans for my retreat. So I have. They’re holding me accountable. And now, so can you.
What strategies and resources have you found helpful in assessing the health of your soul? How do you begin to answer the question of who you are becoming?
Brad Wong is the lead pastor of The River. He loves being husband to Vickie and dad to Ryan and Lauren. He studied pre-med microbiology at UC Berkeley, but his vocational path took a sharp turn in the mountains of the Philippines, where he shadowed missionaries who translated and taught the Bible.
Brad delights in exploring the world. During his time at The River, his ministry travels have taken him to Thailand, Uganda, the Philippines, China, Malawi, and Honduras.
He enjoys reading, running, Belgian ales, red wine, dark chocolate, good conversation, challenging ideas, thoughtful people, and food from every culture.