I Did It… My Way?

 ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8 NIV

I enlisted in the Army in the early 1970’s. My basic training company was one of the last to be trained under what was referred to as the old “Brown Boot” Army. After us, the rules and regulations of the new “All Volunteer” force would kick in.

The new way of training appeared to be a somewhat “kinder, gentler” basic training.  At least this is what it seemed to me as I observed the unit training several weeks behind mine, which trained under the new way.  Less running through the sand at Fort Dix, maybe a little less in your face.

For some reason, I’m glad I went the old way, maybe even a little bit proud of that fact.  I think that I just would not have had  quite the same sense of accomplishment, and one experience, among many memorable ones, has always stood out in my mind.

After several days of being processed in,  I found myself standing in formation outside the brick barracks that would be my “home away from home” for the next eight weeks.  There, the Senior Drill Sargent, Sargent First Class Hatcher, informed me and my fellow recruits of what would be expected of us over the course of our training.

While I can remember little of what he actually said, one thing he did say that I’ll never forget is, “In the Army, there are four ways of doing things, my way, your way, the right way, and the Army way, but while you’re here in this unit, you’ll do things…”

Now here I have to say that, at that moment, I knew what he was going to say.  I was so sure that I started to smile a little, this was too easy, I thought, he was going to say “the Army way”, I just knew it.

“…my way”, he finished.  See, I told you, he said… what?

Why wouldn’t  we do things the Army way?  This didn’t make sense.

And so we spent the next eight weeks doing things Senior Drill Sargent Hatcher’s way; not the Army way, not even the right way, and certainly not our way.  Now the purpose of basic training is to turn sorry-*ss civilians into soldiers, and you can imagine, this is no easy task; but, Sargent Hatcher and his associates were certainly more than up to it.

The first thing that needed to be done was to teach the trainees that everything they knew up to that point in life was wrong.  Not just some things, not just most things, but everything.  This was absolutely necessary because the relative lack in civilian life – of discipline, of commitment, of fortitude, of, well just about everything necessary for success in military life – meant that you pretty much had to start over with a blank slate, tabula rasa, as they say.

Once the “purging” was complete, the next step was for the Army to remake us in its image, or I should say, Senior Drill Sargent Hatcher’s image.  To say that this entire process was painful would be a great understatement, at least initially; but, after a while a surprising thing happened – we started to “get it”, at least most of us.

The more we “got it”, the less we resisted our extreme makeover, and the less we resisted, the less painful the training became.   Now, “getting it” wasn’t just things like learning to follow lawful orders, or learning how to fire a weapon or throw a grenade.  And there was much more to it than just the physical, mental, and emotional conditioning that was required.  These things were all absolutely necessary, but really don’t come close to comprising the “it” I’m referring to.

It wasn’t just thinking like a soldier or acting like a soldier, but it required a change of heart and mind, a  reorientation of our focus and attitude.  What it ultimately came down to was really just being a soldier.  It was just being a soldier.

I have found that most big changes in our lives require this kind of “re-making” experience.  The one really big change that readily comes to my mind that most people experience is marriage.

It seems that no matter how well your parents teach you (the “Army” way), or how many books you read (the “right” way), or how much you think you know (“your” way), the way you really learn about marriage is through your spouse (the “Drill Sargent’s” way).

Now, I am really not comparing your husband or wife to a Drill Sargent, but I think your spouse does fulfill a similar training role in marriage in that while your parents, the “book”, and your own experience and knowledge are all good for preparing you for your married life, no one or nothing can prepare you like your spouse.

The point here is that in both cases, one really doesn’t get to do things his or her own way, or some theoretical “right” way, but the way of the person best in the position to know how things should be done.

In the military, that’s the Drill Sargent.  In marriage, it’s your spouse.

Who better than a knowledgeable and experienced Sargent to teach recruits what they need to know to succeed, and survive, in the military?  And, who better than the spouse to teach their partner what they need to know to succeed, and survive, in a marriage with them?

I think there is a general principle here, which is actually very simple, and it is that the best source to learn something from is the person most experienced in the subject matter at hand who has a vested interest in you learning it.  Books are great, advice is often valuable, and your own experience and knowledge certainly plays a large role, but nothing beats learning from a true expert in the field, who is motivated to see that you learn, and has some means to compel you.

If we look at these items one at a time we can see why this is so.  Books, for example, have the great advantage of being neutral and dispassionate.  They also have the great disadvantage of being neutral and dispassionate.  The book is not intimidating, and can be read at your leisure, but the book doesn’t care if you learn what it has to teach, or even whether you finish it.  The book has no real vested interest in whether you learn it or not, and no means to compel you.

Advice from family and friends  is limited by their experience and while they may have an interest in you learning, they have no way of compelling you to learn either, in most cases.

As for you, while you may be a very knowledgeable and experienced person, your objectivity, when it comes to you, is almost non-existent.  Left to ourselves for motivation, we often let ourselves down.

Fast forward from Basic Training about two years.  I was doing well in the Army, making rank, and more than just getting by.  To be sure, I had made my share of mistakes, some big ones, but I had also met my fair share of success as well, and I liked being a soldier.

I was a paratrooper stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  At that time, there were frequent outdoor concerts out in the country, usually in the woods.  Mostly Bluegrass and Southern Rock or Blues, and being the music lover that I am, I attended as many as I could.  Few things can compare to sitting out in the woods on a warm summer day, in the shade of the trees, listening to the Earl Scruggs Revue, or the James Gang, and maybe passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels, to take your mind off of things.

It was at one of these concerts, after parking in a grass field, that – little did I know at the time – an event occurred that would change my life forever.

My friend and I had just locked up the car and had turned toward the area of the concert stage when we were confronted by a hairy individual in cutoff jeans and t-shirt – a “Jesus freak”, as we called them then.  He stuck his hand out toward us, and in it was a small booklet.  My friend declined, but I was never one to pass up on a free book, so I accepted it gladly, thanked the hirsute fellow, stuck it in my back pocket, and moved on to the concert.

When I grabbed the publication, I glanced at the cover before slipping it into my pocket.  It read “The Gospel of John”.

I quickly forgot about the whole thing, and then months later, I was sitting in my apartment in Fayetteville and had probably just finished reading the local paper when I glanced down at the table next to my chair.  There was this little booklet from the concert.  I still don’t know for certain how it made its way to that table.

Now, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the gospels, having been raised a Catholic.  But as I have mentioned in previous posts, I had gone on a journey, a quest, to find the truth, and during this quest the Jewish and Christian scripture was the one place I hadn’t really looked.

So, I opened the booklet and it was in this context that I began to read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-1:5 NIV).

As I read these words, a very uncomfortable thought entered my mind and my heart, and it was that what I was reading was true.  But that just could not be.  Why?

Well, for one thing, I understood the Bible well enough to know that if this were true, then the entire Bible was true.  If John 1:1 was true, then so was Genesis 1:1.

But even more disturbing to me was that if this were true, then everything I knew and had learned up to that point in my search, and my life, was wrong!  And I just could not accept that.

There is an old and wise saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it”.  This was the dilemma I found myself in.  I began thinking of all the reasons why this was not the truth, but again, something or someone spoke to my heart and said “There are answers to all your questions, all your reasons, you just have to make the commitment to finding them”.  I distinctly remember standing in the  center of my living room, my heart and mind in turmoil, arguing with…  who? myself? Well, no, I don’t think so.

Searching people who consider themselves open minded – if they are sincere – will always experience a certain amount of distress when they finally find what they are looking for; in particular, when the object of their search is something life-changing and profound, like The Truth.  One reason this is so is because once they find the truth, they can no longer be open minded, at least not in the same way as before they find it.

Before, I could consider every thought and philosophy, as possible.  After though? The funny thing about the truth, it is very exclusive.  I knew this instinctively, and this is why I fought and struggled so hard against believing what I was reading.  But I also knew I was being challenged to be, ironically, open-minded enough to at least consider this to be true, as I would any other viewpoint or fact.

In the end, I had to cave to the spirit of open-mindedness that I had embraced for so long, and make the commitment that was being thrust upon me to at least consider the Jewish and Christian scriptures to be true.  But to whom was I making this commitment?  To myself?

Well, once again, I don’t think so.  Then to whom?  Well, to the G-d that I still wasn’t quite sure I believed in.  I asked Him, if He existed, to help me know the truth.

From that point on, my life began to change.  The change wasn’t instantaneous by any means, and in fact, it is still going on.  For one thing,  I began reading everything “Bible” I could get my hands on; bible history, bible prophecy, apologetics, science and the bible, bible hermeneutics, anti-bible, pro-bible, bible neutral, bible commentary.  Anything and everything bible.

Another change began to happen as well, even more life-altering than my insatiable thirst for knowledge.  Little by little and piece by piece, my world was being torn down and disassembled.  Everything I had learned and thought I knew up to that point in my life was fair game to be questioned, deconstructed, and discarded.  I often had the feeling that I was “walking on air” with nothing firm under me for support.  Like Nino the Mind Bender from the Firesign Theater, I began to believe that everything I knew was wrong, and that was the one thing I was absolutely right about.

And more than that, I began to get the distinct impression that there was nothing random about the re-learning process that I was experiencing, that there was a plan and an intelligence behind it.

I would ask a question and the answer would come, in one form or another.  Maybe it was a book I would come across, or an article.  Maybe it would come in the form of a person that I would meet, seemingly by chance, or a television or radio program, or an ad in the mail.  Sometimes the answer would come sooner, sometimes it would come later, and sometimes the answer was, in fact, no answer.

What’s more, there was a deja vu familiarity about my experience, like I had done this before.  This thought nagged at me for some time until it finally occurred to me: I was back in Basic Training!  This training was much more thorough, though, and reached much deeper than my military training.  It left no thought undisturbed, no idea unexamined, no opinion undissected.

As my spiritual “basic training” wore on, I began to realize some things.  First, while it may be true that in the Army there are four ways of doing things, in life there are really only two: G-d’s way, and the world’s way.  Second, my training, as with my military training and later, my marriage training, consisted first of being torn down and then rebuilt.

In this case, the tearing down was being disabused of the world’s way of thinking and doing things, and the building up was being reformed into G-d’s way of thinking and doing things.

What is G-d’s way of doing things?  I’ll give just one example, but its a big one.

The world wants you to focus on man and his efforts.  The world says trust in yourself and your own efforts, or of some other person or group.  Believe in man.

G-d, in His scriptures, says to focus on him.  G-d says to trust Him in everything you think, say, and do.  Believe in G-d.  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Isaiah 26:3 KJV

Recently, I was challenged to have a bucket of ice water poured on my head and make a monetary donation to a good cause.  I took up the challenge, and it was cold!  But I did it.

I am not going to list any more differences between G-d’s way and the world’s way, because I have a challenge for the reader.  The challenge is to make a commitment to know the truth.

Don’t make it to yourself – that will never work – but make it to G-d, as best you conceive Him to be.  If you’re not sure you even believe in G-d, then make the commitment to this G-d of which you’re uncertain, this “unknown” G-d, as the Greeks referred to Him.

If you take up the challenge, do it with an open heart and open mind, but with the understanding that as you learn the truth, most of what you think you already know will have to be discarded.  That is just the nature of things.

So what are you going to do?  Are you going to take up the challenge and make the commitment?  I can assure you, if you do, your life will never be the same.

 

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