For years I struggled internally to find balance. It didn't seem to matter what I did, or how I did it, I simply could NOT find balance. The sad part is deep down I knew exactly what I needed to do but that wasn't part of MY plan.
Success was sweet to me. At the relatively young age of 40, I had worked long and hard and I was enjoying the fruits of my honest labors.
As a hard-driving Christian entrepreneur, I had managed to parlay my God-given business acumen, natural tenacity, and technological savvy into a bevy of business interests that generated hefty profits and a positive cash flow. I owned 7 apartment complexes (399 units), a car lot and a consulting company. All of them had been profitable business enterprises over the years.
On the home front, my gorgeous wife Jordan was smart and sophisticated (I truly married way above my means!), and my young daughter Abigail was loving, caring and talented. I wanted to give them both the best of everything. We lived in a good upscale neighborhood outside of Winston-Salem, NC, and we had purchased a vacation home in the mountains. I drove a new Porsche and Jordan always had the latest and nicest SUV. We owned show horses and Abigail was considered a child prodigy in equestrian circles.
So, to all outward appearances, I was living the American Dream, and I relished that superficial image of glamorous prosperity.
Trouble Lurking Under the Surface
But underneath my external veneer of entrepreneurial confidence and success, I was really a nervous wreck, plagued by spontaneous, unpredictable panic attacks. The pressures in my life were building almost to an explosive level. Emotionally I was wracked by anxiety and stress. The more my companies grew the more I started to feel like I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole. I know something was off. I always said I just couldn't put my finger on it ... reality was I didn't want to put my finger on it.
I was always working frantically just to keep everything going from week to week and month to month. My mind constantly ran numbers and deals. How much did I owe? How much did I have? When was the next deal coming or closing? This kept me on a roller coaster of worry and fright.
I lived in constant fear that my financial house of cards was going to come crashing down any day. I woke up worrying about money, worried about it all day and went to bed worried about it.
The odd thing is I didn't really have a reason to be worried. I had money in the bank, businesses were doing well but I just couldn't find balance. (Hindsight: my problem was I had become consumed with money. Trying to make it and keep it)
So, my solution was to find things to occupy my mind. I was counted among the conspicuous consumers, compulsively buying things I didn't need. It was a distraction.
Why? I was rationalizing. I didn't want to deal with the reality of my situation. Sometimes I would make the excuse that I did it to satisfy my wife and daughter, because I didn't want to disappoint them.
Periodically I took my family on vacations to places, like London, Paris, Cancun, the Virgin Islands and Disney 25 times in 5 years. The problem was I was so stressed I couldn't relax long enough to enjoy them with my wife and daughter. I was always busy on my cell phone or computer, talking, texting or emailing somebody about some business deal or emerging crisis back home. I personally don't like conflict but I always seemed to be right in the middle of a conflict. Looking back this was a distraction. It kept me from focusing on the real issue.
It even got to the point that I would stay up to 2am or 3am watching TV shows on my iPad because I dreaded getting up in the morning. I knew there were things I had to do but I just couldn't get my arms around everything.
The moments of happiness I got from trips and materials things didn't fill the void that was growing bigger and bigger. I constantly felt the burden of managing my multiple businesses and dealing with the constant conflict I had produced. I was stressed, I was anxious and I was becoming lethargic. I had become obsessed with making money but my lack of consistent discipline as a business owner and manager was causing me problems and costing me money. It was really wearing me down.
Ripple Effects of Stress on My Health and Relationships
I was an accomplished athlete in high school, especially in baseball, basketball and soccer. As you know when you are young nothing hurts and you push through. By the age of 16 I was visiting a chiropractor weekly and had knee surgery. Over the next 10 years the slight pain was manageable but by my late 20's I was having some severe pain.
By the time I was 35 years old, I was diagnosed with a compressed nerve and degenerative disk disease. Over the years, I had steroid shots in my spine, trigger point injections, massages and pain meds. By the time I turned 40 I was on 240 milligrams of morphine a day.
Between the ages of 39 and 40 I gained 42 pounds! My diet consisted of 12 cokes a day, candy, chips, carbs, occasional protein and very few "green" things. My health had deteriorated to the point where I seriously wondered if I would find myself in a wheelchair before I was 50.
I knew I needed to get some regular physical exercise, but I was too mentally paralyzed by stress to do it. All I could manage to do was work and worry and then worry some more. I had convinced myself I didn't have the time to work out. This excuse was better than dealing with my stress.
On top of my bad health, my high intensity work-oriented lifestyle was taking its toll on all my other relationships. Because of the stress that permeated my personality, I was living in constant conflict with everyone with whom I had to deal. I had a short temper and was easily angered. I also had developed a well-deserved reputation as a tough negotiator who drove a hard bargain. Because I could argue longer and talk louder, I usually won. But I didn't make many friends in the process.
I definitely knew how to make the other guy cry "uncle" and did so without remorse. After all, this was business, and I saw that as a zero-sum game. For me to win, the other guy had to lose. I didn't hesitate to call in the lawyers – or threaten to do so – when I couldn't get my way otherwise. I essentially bullied my way to victory time and again.
Over 10 years I spent over $300,000 in legal fees just to resolve problems with different parties that probably could have been diffused for next to nothing with a diplomatic phone call or an attentive ear. But I couldn't make that call or take the time to listen. Even though I had read the scripture hundreds of times that said, "A soft answer turns away wrath," I wasn't able to put that simple Biblical principle into practice in my life. My stubborn pride stood in the way.
The hardest hit relationship was my marriage to a woman I dearly loved and adored. Our relationship wasn't where it needed to be and the reason was because of all the stress I was bringing into our home. I see this now because hindsight is 20/20 but at the time I didn't believe it was me. I wanted more from our marriage and she wanted more but the ways we were trying to achieve our goals weren't working.
Neither of us was ever unfaithful, and we had never discussed divorce, but subconsciously I knew my precious bride wasn't getting what she needed. We had started out aflame with love, as most newlyweds do. But now after ten years the old flame was flickering and there were growing tensions between us. I could feel Jordan starting to pull away from me, a little at a time. She didn't like what she was seeing in me. She wasn't happy and I wasn't given her much of a reason to be happy.
I had become a moody, withdrawn and unlovable person at times. Every aspect of my life was falling apart around me. The more I tried to find balance in my life the less I had. I felt alone, rejected and miserable. I knew something had to change radically, and soon. I just didn't know what to do about it, or how to do it.
Note: At the time all this was going on I assumed that gifts and trips were enough to satisfy her needs. In reality all she wanted was my time and attention.
My Slow Drift Away from God
I didn't set out to not let God control my life. I also didn't set out to let God control my life. I set out on life. Things happened, good things and bad things. Overtime my relationship with God became like a distant 3rd cousin in another state. We talked when there was a death or wedding in the family.
But in the still of the night I knew I was trying to run my own life instead of letting God direct me. For years and years I had buried the thought of turning everything over to God. I rationalized my behavior, made excuses and ultimately always thought "I'll do that later."
At this point I need to explain something about my religious upbringing. I was raised from childhood in a conservative, evangelical Christian home. I was taught the importance of going to church, reading my daily proverb and praying to God.
I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior when I was six, was baptized as a teenager and I considered myself a reasonably good Christian person. I was going through most of the actions required of a Christian.
But the older I got the further I got away from the Lord personally. My words in public were I had faith and loved God. Deep down in my heart I knew those were mostly just words and I needed to cultivate a more committed relationship with Jesus. But that took something I wasn't willing to do. It took admitting that MY way wasn't working. This meant I had to deal with my pride and I wasn't ready to do that.
I rationalized and procrastinated. I just wasn't quite ready to do something as radical as turning my life completely over to God to run however He saw fit. My thought was simple and essentially two-fold:
1. Giving God control meant I wouldn't get to do what I wanted. Looking back on this statement makes me kind of laugh. My actions, my control was causing me to be miserable. But at the time it made perfect sense!
2. Once I had gotten everything I wanted in life I would give God control. This made perfect sense to me! Get to where I wanted to be and then let God have control. My thought was if I made just a bit more money then I could spend more time with my family and develop my relationship with God. But the more I made and the bigger my companies grew the more time I spent away from my family and the more miserable I became.
Sure, I had been "praying" now and then asking God to get me through one business deal after another, or out of one messy jam after another. Looking back at my old journals from 2012 and 2013, I can see how I was struggling to find direction from the Bible.
I actually thought for a while that I was truly trusting God. That I was leaning on Him. But as time passed and things continued to spiral downhill in my stress-filled life, I slowly came to realize that I was really just paying lip service to God.
The more I tried to get closer to Jesus, the more I saw how far away I really was. The more I read in the Bible about "trusting in the Lord with all your heart," the more I realized that I was living my life trusting mainly in myself. I had pretty much turned to my own way, hypocritically using God as a sort of fallback safety net when things got too intense for me to handle alone. Usually I was just vaguely aware of these inconvenient truths.
I knew that I desperately needed help in every area of my life. So, as a last resort, I turned to God and repeatedly started praying "Help me, Lord." I was going to an ATM and trying to pull out money. When money wouldn't come out I was upset with the ATM. I was upset it wouldn't give me money! Why wasn't it giving me money?
Well, then it hit me! I hadn't put any money in the bank. I hadn't even been working a job to make any money to put into the bank. So, the reason there was no money in the ATM was 100% my fault.
This was my relationship with God. I hadn't been putting any time into the relationship but I kept wondering, "Where is God when I need Him most?" God was right there the whole time. He was just waiting on me.
It got to the point where I felt like I was the "mole" in the county fair game "whack a mole." I would come up with a plan and pop up and God would lovingly bump me and say that isn't where I want you. Boy was I stubborn. It kept me from giving in. I just had to keep doing it my way.
Obviously, I never said a word about any of these problems to Jordan. My stubborn pride wouldn't let me. I had to keep up a brave front with her and pretend that everything was all right. That I was a strong man who had a good relationship with God. That I was right in my arguments and decisions. The issues I was having was because OTHER people were not right with God, it wasn't me.
I just couldn't bring myself to admit to my wife that I was not the man of God I needed to be. In reality I was ashamed to admit the truth to her or to anyone else. It was all I could do to admit it to myself and that was a real struggle. My pride and arrogance was out of control at this point. I was a prideful, self-centered, egotistical man who was determined to have God on one side of the fence and my life on the other.
My Christian Moment
I knew beyond a doubt I needed God in my life. I needed to let God lead, guide and direct me. But I was struggling.
Then one day in the fall of 2014, I had an epiphany of sorts while I was reading Proverbs. Honestly, I was just skimming it because I felt guilty for not having a daily devotional. Yet God used this time to show me I was a hypocrite.
Suddenly I saw, with perfect clarity, I was serving myself and my own carnal desires, worshipping material things and success. I was practicing a contemporary form of materialistic idolatry. I was a saved, religious hypocrite who only wanted God involved when I needed Him.
Then it really hit me, I knew I was going to stand in front of God and give an account for my actions. I would give an account for the testimony I had with others. I would answer for the husband and father I had been. Then it really hit me ... My daughter would likely marry the type of man I had become. I was not the man of God that I wanted to be and I certainly wasn't the man of God I had been created to be. It was time to change.
Over the coming weeks the Holy Spirit really started to work me over and instead of burying the thought of giving God control I started focusing on the thought. All the things I knew, all the scriptures I had heard, all the words of wisdom I had heard over the years really started to come alive. They started to have more and more relevant meaning.
Then one day in the garage my heart and spirit broke and I began to cry. For the first time in my life I was really moving to give God control of my life. I was moving from the knowing God's word stage to actually trying to apply it to my life.
For the record, I never cry. I didn't cry as a child when my dog died. Or when my grandparents died. Not when I got married and not when Abigail was born.
But now I was weeping, involuntarily and uncontrollably. This wasn't just a little sniveling pity-party kind of crying, either, but rather great gut-wrenching, heaving sobs that twisted my stomach and racked my whole body and shook my soul and wouldn't quit for hours and left me limp and drained when they finally did stop.
"God, make me the man you want me to be!" "God, take control!" That was the cry of my heart that day.
I confessed and repented of every sin I could think of – including the idolatry of worshipping money and the futility of trying to go my own way without letting the Holy Spirit control my life. I tried to get everything off my chest with God that day. Afterwards I truly felt better.
But I knew that I wasn't done yet. I had made things right with God but I still had to make things right with my wife. This thought had kept me pinned for years. How could I go to my wife and tell her I wasn't the man of God I proclaimed to be? What would she think? How embarrassing would it be?
I walked into our bedroom crying.
"I have a confession to make," I said to Jordan. "There is something I have to tell you . . . right now."
I could see the question marks rising in her eyes as she tried to discern where this unexpected, spontaneous confessional from her husband might be going. The tears where rolling down my checks.
I was a broken man. I simply stated I was sorry for not being the man of God I had been called to be.
"I have not been the godly husband that I should have been," I said to her between sobs. "I should have been following God and leading my family in His ways. Instead I've been following the ways of the world. But I want to do better and I have asked God to forgive me and to help me change. I'm asking you to do that, too."
Honestly, the expression on her face was simple. She thought I had lost my mind.
Season of Change
Frankly, Jordan really didn't know exactly what to make of my tearful confession that day. It was so totally out of character for me that it took her by surprise. And for the next several months she was understandably skeptical. She was watching me closely and waiting to see what I would do next.
I did realize during this time that Jordan already knew I wasn't the man of God I said I was. See over the years I had made promises to do better. These promises lasted for a season – a day, a week, a month or maybe even longer – but then I would slip back into my old ways.
But over the months Jordan acknowledged and appreciated my sincere desire to give God control of my life. I really appreciated that vote of confidence from Jordan. I needed her support and encouragement. By the same token, she needed to see me stepping up and being a godly husband and making godly decisions for the family, based not on temporary whims or earthly expediency but on the Word of God.
Another thing that amazed me was the reaction I got from other people as I began to make these changes. Because I must confess, I couldn't keep quiet about what was going on in my life. It was all so radical, so transforming, so liberating to finally be following the will of God! I simply had to tell people what I was doing and why. I had no choice. And when I did . . . almost everyone was moved to start telling me about his own similar worries and problems, and to open up and confess and repent – some of them even shedding tears. Friends, business associates, even pastors – everybody was caught in the same trap! I had no idea how bad the "problem" was, even in the Church.
You see I thought I was alone. I thought I was the ONLY Christian man struggling to give God control.
When I released my worry and stress to God, I began to notice physical changes, too. Immediately I felt lighter and freer, and the chronic pain in my back started to decrease. I stopped drinking cokes, started eating better and working out at a gym three days a week.
Within 60 days I had lost 42 pounds and had stopped taking all the pain meds! (My doctor warned me about the consequences of coming off the meds so fast. She was right. It was bad but well worth it.)
Eventually the changes I was making in my own life, as I sincerely tried to put God first, began to effect a change in my spousal relationship with Jordan, too. As I released all the pent-up stress in my life and turned it all over to God, the tension between us just started to melt away. I shared my problems and my fears with Jordan, and oftentimes she was the one who came up with the timely solutions we needed.
We were communicating more honestly with each other, sharing our thoughts and feelings more openly, trusting each other more completely.
Sure, we don't have a perfect marriage. Who does? But I constantly working on having the best marriage we can have.
Sure, I don't have the perfect temperament. Who does? But I'm constantly working on trying to show the love of Christ to others.
What I do have is balance. I have control of my life because I'm allowing God to have control of me and I strive daily to keep it this way.
If you are struggling to find balance why not give God's way a try? What can it hurt?