28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

*The following post was adapted from a fall 2019 private journal entry – which I’m sharing publicly here now for the first time.

28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

Something about birthdays always gives me pause – almost as if it’s a biological reminder to reflect on my life – to give an annual accounting of how I’ve spent my time.

This year is no different – and in the spirit of the sensationalist, click-bait times we live in, I’ve aimed to present this year’s reflections in as thoughtful manner as possible.

So here goes nothing.


Journal Entry – 6:20 p.m. November 18, 2019

1. Alchemy

Transforming the errors of my youth into golden nuggets of wisdom and life lessons (so I don’t repeat the same mistakes).

2. Mining

Extracting more value out of life – both from my time & labor, as well as the little things.

3. Treasure

Both wealth-building (present & future) but also why – I believe I have more good to offer the world if I’m financially independent.

4. Mental Hygiene

Practicing to live better mentally – less stress, more good vibes.

5. Physical Health

We won’t live forever. Both physical and mental self-care are critical.

6. Gratitude

This is a daily battle. But I believe it’s important to remain aware of the gift life is – and for what I have.

7. Joyfulness

Happiness has been an afterthought to ambition most of my life. I want to enjoy my life in the present though. To live joyfully now – not just with hope toward the future.

8. Curiosity

I’m never as fully alive as when I’m in hot pursuit of something I must know or prove.

9. Integrity

I want to be known – I crave to – as someone who deals honestly & fairly with others.

10. Compassion

I’m at constant odds with my desire to reason & my capacity for being human – without the latter in tact, I’ve lost something of grave importance for living a full life, and for achieving my potential. Remember to be human.

11. Identity

I’ve spent most of my life figuring out who I am not – and who I do not want to be. I feel more aware and comfortable with who I am each time I make one more step of progress toward that.

12. Hopefulness

I wouldn’t know what to do with my life if I didn’t carry an unshakeable belief that there is better out there – even if I can’t fully comprehend it.

13. Confidence

There’s no sense in standing for anything except what I believe to be right – the world will try to screw us one way or the other 😉. So might as well be comfortable living with myself.

14. Balance

I have a default “all or nothing” setting. It’s tough to be at odds with that – but it’s also necessary to find and practice balance. Which includes being at harmony with myself and my emotions.

15. Friendship & 16. Family

What’s the point of any of this if we can’t share it with anyone?

17. Fellowship

We live in a time where being present is constantly at war with everything else happening in the world. I want to get better at prioritizing and cherishing the limited, precious times and opportunities I do have with those who are important to me – not just idle time together – but time well spent.

18. Courage

The world can be scary. The odds are not in favor of the good guy. And that makes it all the more critical to fight to protect our individualism.

19. Encouraging

We’ve all got shit going on in our lives – that does not excuse me from building others up. I wouldn’t be where I am had others not encouraged me. Remember to pay it forward.

20. Patient

Damn. It’s exhausting to feel like I’m always being a reactionary… I want to protect my sanity and joy by getting better at letting things outside my control play out before flying off the handle. Remember to breath.

21. Thoughtfulness

It’s easy to take others for granted. I want to get better at acknowledging, recognizing, and communicating my appreciation.

22. Originality & Creativity

I have something unique and valuable to offer the world. Sometimes it’s hard, scary, vulnerable-feeling to put it out there. But it’s worth protecting that by persevering through.

23. Perseverance

Some days are tough. But nobody’s going to carry the water for me – and even if they offered, I won’t let them.

24. Personal Agency

I alone am responsible for my life, my actions, my choices, my words…and the consequences of those. No one else can carry my blame.

25. Industriousness

It’s not enough to work hard when the time we have is scarce. I must also invent my own way to prosperity.

26. Masculinity

Everything about being a man is part of the fabric of who I am – the good, the bad, the ugly. Masculinity is something to be embraced not renounced. Bridges and skyscrapers weren’t built by manicured hands.

27. Faith

My beliefs have been challenged more in the past decade than I ever imagined. I’m still working through the gaps – maybe I always will be . But I believe my life has a purpose higher than me. I can’t perfectly describe or articulate it. But I crave understanding of that purpose – and to be lost, wholly, in pursuit of it.

28. Love

My capacity and patience for the mysteries of my heart have forever been tethered to my faith. In periods of spiritual stagnation, love has felt like something within my control – cold, distinct, in-form, and calculated. In periods of deep spiritual longing – it has felt totally overwhelming, fierce, and both entirely incomprehensible and far beyond my control and mental faculties. Yet, in spite of the ebbs and flows – love has revealed its steadfast qualities to me. Through its unwavering – and at times undeserved – loyalties from others. And thought it’s consistent, sometimes soft but never-absent calling.

Wrestling with God: My Lifelong Battle with Doubt

I haven’t been confident about what I believe for a long time.

Is God real? Does he love me? Has he spoken to me? Do I have a divine purpose?

It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with for years. The world pressures us to hold strong opinions about everything under the sun. And admitting I don’t know sucks.

But truth be told, when it comes to faith I just flat out do not know.

Longing for God

I want to believe. Honest. There are days when I long for God. To know there’s something bigger out there in the universe. Something divine. Something eternal.

But I’ve never been able to reconcile that longing.

Is it just residue from my church upbringing? Is it my own ambition – reaching for the unreachable? My pride – leading me to believe that I’m worthy of speaking with God? Is it legitimately the Holy Spirit at work in my life?

I see a peace of mind faith could bring. But blind faith just because it makes me feel better? That’s always felt like a cop out.

If I’m going to believe anything – I want to feel the conviction of its truth in my bones. And that’s where I’ve always struggled.

Evidence vs. Experience

Forget the science. I’ve read books. I’ve looked under all the rocks. There are convincing arguments on both sides.

But every argument misses something huge – the kind of validation that can only come through personal experience.

I can’t say with confidence I’ve ever experienced God.

No matter how bad I want to believe it. A skeptic inside challenges every possible encounter.

I know I’m not the first person to ever doubt my faith. Or fully renounce it for a spell. Even the lead singer of one of my teenage favorite bands recently came out with a startling announcement about his faith.

Maybe doubt is something anyone with faith struggles with from time to time. And maybe that’s part of the point, too. Hell, if it were easy, would it be worth it?

Still. Doubts aside, I’m after the truth. And I have to live on this earth either way.

Pascal’s Wager

A long time ago, my boy Blaise Pascal wrestled with the same dilemma. And he came up with a clever coping mechanism.

Pascal made a wager with the universe. I’ll paraphrase for you.

He argued that it makes sense to live like God exists – whether it’s true or not.

If we die to find out we were wrong, well, we sacrificed some material pleasures. Maybe a few good times. And overall, maybe saved ourselves from a lot of immorality.

But if we die to find out we were correct, well, then there’s an infinite gain to be had.

I like this wager. Really. It makes sense to me. Except I take one big issues with it. This wager leaves me wanting more. Here’s why:

I don’t want to live a life based on avoiding consequences. I want a life of abundance – a life in pursuit of purpose and truth. And I don’t want to give up parts of my life I enjoy just to avoid burning in hell some day.

Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement

From a young age most of us are taught good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.

Real “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” type stuff.

Faith and religion aside – we’re supposed to do good and avoid bad. To follow rules. Keep in line. And do what we’re told. Or else.

But it’s precisely the “or else” that pisses me off. Especially when it comes to faith (as it’s often packaged).

I don’t like fear-based arguments for faith. To me its no different from the life insurance agent who throws your mortality in your face then whispers, “You’d want your family to be taken care of if you died, right?”

It’s predatory. It feels directionally incorrect. And truth be told, if that’s real faith, I’m not interested.

Because here’s why – I know I’m flawed. I will mess up. A lot. And if the expectation for messing up is damnation, then what’s the point? I’m already screwed.

Exploiting fear makes me resent the idea of faith even more. If faith is worth practicing at all then it’s got to be more than fire insurance, yanno? It’s got to be something that offers hope for more – something that offers a promise of rewards far greater than I could ever imagine.

A Game of Endurance

A few notable influences come to mind as I think more about my pursuit of faith.

The first is C.S. Lewis. The way he describes his discovery of faith has stuck with me through the years. His book Surprised By Joy offers what I believe to be an incredible insight. The discovery of a joy so strong, so good, so worthy – that he longed for it.

The second is Kahlil Gibran. In The Prophet he drops a hot take on joy and sorrow. Here it is:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…The deeper your sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you contain.”

I remember reading that for the first time and thinking to myself, “Yes! He gets it!” It describes the understanding I’ve developed from my own experience – that joy is a game of endurance. Not suffering for suffering’s sake. But enduring for the sake of unlocking even greater things than we know.

As Paul wrote, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

I’m also reminded of Job – which has forever been one of the most meaningful yet challenging passages of scripture for me.

I’ve always wrestled with the why behind Job’s story. Why would God deliberately allow one of his faithful servants to be set up to fail?

Maybe it was a sign of trust. Maybe it was God’s own display of faith. Or maybe God knew that only through enduring could Job fathom even greater joy than he previously knew. Whatever the case, I’ve always thought if faith is real then I want a faith like Job’s: “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?”

(For another excellent read on the same notion of endurance, check out Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)

The Chief End of Man

Other influences that come to mind – Christian Hedonism, as popularized by John Piper’s book Desiring God. (I’m thankful someone put this book in my hands at age 17 when I walked out of the church and never looked back.)

The idea of Christian Hedonism captures another fascinating point of view when I think about faith – Piper offers one single word change to a common accepted view about faith. And it’s a radical difference.

Traditional View: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Christian Hedonism: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

What a stark contrast, right? The traditional view conjures up an image of something entirely undesirable (at least to me)– a bunch of people sitting in church pews listening to sermons and singing hymns for all eternity. In other words, I always interpreted it as a call for self-limitation. That our highest and best exercise of faith is by restraining our impulses – by following rules and sacrificing everything as the cost of admission.

And I’ve always wrestled with that. Because if God is real…and we were made in His image…all entirely unique… then that’s not by accident, right? Maybe our highest and best exercise of faith is by discovering our uniqueness and leaning into it.

My good friend Isaac Morehouse paints it nicely in this post (which was also featured in a chapter of our book, Don’t Do Stuff You Hate):

“Christian’s purpose in life is to take delight in existence, and take delight in God delighting in them for being delighted. God created humans so that he could take pleasure in them, and seeing man take pleasure in life is what most pleased God.

I always associated the idea with a line from the movie Chariots of Fire, where the deeply religious Eric Liddell is chastised by his sister for missing church because he was running. He said, “When I run I feel His pleasure.” Not merely that Liddell was having a pleasurable experience himself, but that he felt the pleasure of God as he ran.”

Hedonism As Life Purpose, Isaac Morehouse

Unfathomable Abundance

There are so many other thoughts I have not catalogued here. But I had to get these words down. I’ve been wrestling with this issue for over a decade – and it’s intensified with age.

I want to know to truth. To understand my purpose. Or at least reach a conclusion I can carry with confidence.

Which brings me full circle. I’ve been reflecting more and more on how to build a life worth living. It’s a topic that constantly pesters me. And the issue of faith has been a constant undertone in my own narrative.

Yes. I’ve been wrestling with all this. It’s an extremely personal issue. But recently I was struck by something new – a thought that has never before occurred to me.

I was standing in my kitchen. Normal day. When a thought came to mind:

“God is not trying to cheat you out of anything.”

It’s so simple it made me laugh. Honestly.

I think my notion of faith has always been at odds with religion. To me, faith has always been about breaking free. An act of liberation. Where religion is about constraint. Following rules. Dutiful sacrifice.

And maybe my views of religion have marred my views on faith. Who knows?

This is a continuous journey. And tough one. But that makes it worth it – regardless what I discover.

To be continued…

Don’t Wear Your Beer Shirt to Church

I’ve long since abandoned the atheist phase of my early 20s. But I haven’t gone to church regularly in nearly a decade.

After spending an ungodly portion of my youth engaged in church activities, I walked out.

They were wrong.

I had a serious disagreement with church leadership as a teen. Their argument felt more contrived than actual verbal confirmation from God: we prayed over this and it’s what God wants.

I felt like I was being looked down upon because I was young. So when my pleas fell on deaf ears, I decided to boycott.

I was wrong.

I struggled reconciling this incident for years, searching long and hard for answers. Then I realized my spiritual journey has nothing to do with the way other people behave. It’s entirely personal, and my misgivings with people need not interfere with my own pursuit for truth.

Something’s missing.

Yet I can’t help but carry some burden of the weight I’ve felt in almost every church setting I’ve tried to reengage. It hasn’t felt like something personal. Nor has it felt up to the snuff on the message it markets.

Maybe it’s the unruly pagan in me speaking, but church and organized religion have always felt more like institutions of people-judgment than of people-development.

I don’t mean people who go to church are bad. On the contrary, many of the best people I know – including my dad – practice what they preach as adamantly as anyone. But my own experience has left me wanting more than what I’ve found any church to offer.

I try to recreate the experiences I enjoy.

I find many of the concepts embedded in church culture appealing. The fellowship, pursuit of truth, worship, prayer, devotion, discipleship, not to mention a good potluck..

But my experiences with these activities as part of a church have always felt tainted. Almost as if they were guided more by ulterior motives than to drive personal growth. Like a need to validate certain interpretations of scripture or someone’s ego.

I’ve found my own pursuit of all these things to be much richer when done in a decentralized setting, not under the watchful governance of liturgy.

Come just as you are.

A lot of ideas I have don’t make for polite Sunday-lunch conversation. Still, many of them are both informed and inspired by scripture, theology, and Christian philosophy. One such idea I’ve taken from a classic hymn – that we should come just as we are.

Every major intellectual or spiritual leap I’ve taken has been predicated on this notion. The freedom to approach ideas just as I am has led me through more personal discovery than all learning involving an intermediary combined.

This approach to learning, truth, and spiritual growth makes me feel like I have some say over it. That if I’m not satisfied with the growth I’ve achieved, I can dedicate more energy to it. Or if I’ve fallen out of step, then it’s my responsibility to recover – not some institution’s responsibility to shepherd me.

I own my spiritual growth.

I don’t think it’s some religious figure’s or organization’s place to cast stones on the route I take in my spiritual journey. If church or religion should have any part in my spiritual endeavor, then it should be as secondary influences, not as some spiritual auditor I’m trying to impress to earn a credential for heaven.

Taking ownership of my spiritual development has freed me to seek truth on my own terms, at my own pace – even if that’s meant making a lot of mistakes.

No, I don’t hate church. But my congregation wears the same clothes 7 days a week.