We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Thomas Merton
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One of the very sacred privileges I have is listening to extraordinary stories each day. For about 15 years, I’ve sat with men and women who, for the most part, can pay a counseling fee which has ranged from $85 to $135. And so, it’s safe to say many of those who I’ve helped had resources, the kind of resources which could feed a third-world village for a month for a one-week counseling session fee.
That puts things into perspective.
What also puts things into perspective is the folly of success — wealthy couples embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings, a successful Ivy League lawyer who kills himself, successful pastors who are plagued with sex addiction, entrepreneurs descending into the pit of emptiness.
I know. Having spent a summer at Oxford University studying and getting the ticket I longed for to study there for a Ph.D., I was lost. I was 27. I had climbed the ladder only to realize that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Thankfully, a very understanding wife and an insightful counselor put words around my psychological black hole, and cast a vision for a new way. At 27, I changed course completely. I left behind an almost guaranteed road to Ph.D. success in New Testament studies, and chose instead to put myself under the knife. My surgeons would be very capable therapists who would say the hardest and most truthful things I’ve ever heard.
This is why each year, I look forward to Lent. I can’t wait until it gets here. It is the season of surgery, all over again. My illusions are again exposed. And I’m invited into the very painful process of seeing my own brokenness.
I’ve said it before. A favorite contemporary sage says that one cannot learn anything after the age of 30 from success, but only from humiliation. And so I continue to pray, especially in this season of Lent, for regular humiliations. And God is so good that I’m regularly being served full helpings of humiliation.
It’s exhausting climbing the ladder. And it’s soul-crushing to learn that it has been propped up against the wrong wall.
So, let go. Fall. And see what happens. The Great Rescuer is waiting.