Navigating the Deeper Life
Chapter 6 - Fame and Fortune
At this point in time Suzie and I had been voyaging for about 8 years, and we had progressed from deckhands to watch commanders, which is to say we were considered more mature members. This meant that we were involved in discipling younger members and later even having them live in our home. This was a status symbol, because members of The Assembly were in either of two categories, those who needed to be trained, or those who trained others. It was much easier to be in the latter category. We had paid our dues and had carried many heavy burdens, now we could begin to place some of the weight on others.
We were also very successful with child training and presumed to counsel people in that area. We frequently found ourselves looking and listening around the room on Sunday morning and noting whose children were misbehaving. Since our children were usually perfect, we would judge these other families and conclude that they were not serious about child training, or that their husband-wife roles were out of balance. We knew that if the husband was truly head of his home, and everything in the training repertoire had been consistently practiced; the fruit of righteousness would be seen in the form of quiet children. We also knew we had the answer to their problems, because we overcame our struggles in similar areas with dedication and consistency, two of the main character traits of those who would know God in a deeper way. It was obvious to everyone, and especially to us, that we were growing in our walks with God. Many times I thought in my heart, "Thank you God that I am not like other parents." This diligent pursuit of child training became the worst sort of works-based righteousness, where our own precious children became tools to improve our standing among our peers.
This despicable, judgmental behavior on our part would actually prove to be part of our deliverance later on, when we were harshly judged, but at this time it only puffed us up, because we had our ducks in a row. We were doing well, and enjoyed the admiration that many of the group’s members showed us.
Another real source of enjoyment came from preaching and teaching in the meetings. I was a good speaker and teacher, compared to most of the other men. Furthermore, I really liked teaching on interesting passages and getting unique angles on things, so I always got quite a few compliments after a good message, which made me feel very good, and not a little proud. In my heart I always thanked God for whatever insight He gave me, but even though I knew that He should get all the credit, I couldn’t help feeling guilty that I enjoyed hearing people say, "That was so good! God really spoke to me." I correctly reasoned that if I were not so proud, I would not crave this so much. This became a quiet, personal struggle for me, for which deliverance was not to come until much later.
At this time, our home was neat and clean, our children were good-looking and well behaved, my business was prosperous, my wife was attractive and witty, and just about everything else in our lives would have been considered way above average.
There were several dark sides to this as well. First of all, not everyone liked us. Some people, especially the ones who had noisy kids, resented us because we were so judgmental. What a surprise. Others were jealous of our success, and secretly wished they were in our place. I was to find out years later that many other people had the same experience of pride, jealousy, resentment and strife that we did. That is to say that if they were "bad" at child training, they would experience subtle disapproval from leaders. Contrarily, if they were "good" they would often find themselves despising others. When this was occurring within us, we either chalked it up to the wretched flesh of lesser members, or to our own need to repent. If we perceived that our underlings were jealous or felt despised by us, it was their sinful nature that was the problem. On the other hand, if one of the leaders who we respected was unhappy, it was our sin nature that needed to be dealt with.
Also, our lives had become very narrow. Nothing mattered except what happened inside the group. If I had success at the office, there was no sense sharing it with anyone, because not only was it considered unimportant, it was seen as a potential snare and distraction from God’s purpose. We were taught that it was easy to trust God when things were going well, this sort of trust was nothing to boast about. Conversely, if things were going bad economically, or if someone was fired from their job, this was great! This person was really, "trusting The Lord," and was an example to everyone.
We wanted to always be an example to all, but never seemed to have any financial trouble or hardship to boast in. On the contrary, I was good at my profession and treated patients well and enjoyed a successful practice. I completely paid off $ 85,000.00 worth of loans in less than 5 years. So instead of having any real hardship for which to trust God, we manufactured some and lived in a rented house and drove used cars, even though we could have easily afforded to drive Mercedes and buy a nice home.
We also began secretly giving large amounts of money to the ministry, and would often bless needy members with anonymous financial aid. We knew that we would not get any reward or approval from men for doing this, because we kept it secret, but we reasoned that since God had blessed us so much we were obligated to bless others. We always gave away more than we saved.
Not long after this we were asked to go on a missionary team for the entire summer. We were so excited, because although many people simply begged to go on these teams, we were invited without having even asked! We felt special. I cut my hours down to two days per week and we moved up to San Francisco for the summer.
On this team, our family of 5 slept in a single small bedroom. We were kept incredibly busy from dawn till night with outreaches, Bible studies, workshops, productions, housework, yard work, cooking, cleaning and anything else you could imagine. It was hard work, but people really admired us for our good example. We were nearing the height of our fame, but did not yet have much fortune to show for our hard work, although we really hoped it was sure to follow.
It was at this point that my wife and I had our first real disagreement about our little church. We had both given ourselves entirely to the many activities of the team and my wife was literally at the point of exhaustion. She developed a severe strep infection and a horrible cough for which she needed medical care. To this day, she has not been the same and has a weakness in this area, re-acquiring this infection when she gets slightly tired.
I thought our summer had been great. She thought it was too much, and didn’t want to do it again. This presented a real problem, because if we were to progress to the highest levels of service and accolade in The Assembly, both of us would have to be on the same page and "rejoicing" over what God was doing.
The fact that my wife was not rejoicing was a source of consternation to me. How could this possibly be when we were both going The Way of The Cross, and were both working to further the Testimony to Jesus? Was my wife holding back from God? She claimed she was not, but I was not so sure and began to insist on obedience in areas of service. She complied because she knew it was her duty to do so, but her heart was not in it.
At this point, we had some fame, but the fortune was tenuous. Instead of incomparable joy and peace, we had fundamental disagreement in our home, and even some strife. We had not yet come to the point where we thought something was seriously wrong, but we also knew that we had definitely not arrived at the abundant life that our theology had promised.