When you are old(er), like I am, one realizes that our lives have been filled with adventures of the unexpected; mostly because of relationships and choices, those of others as well as our own. Not all are fun, but most were woven into the movement of personal growth and for this we will one day, perhaps grudgingly, be grateful.
I’m happy to introduce you to my young(er) friend, Brady Toops today. I thought it would be fun to have him share with us about some of his adventures and the growth that has come from their pressures and challenges.
The last year has been one of those that “got my attention.” Life seems to have a way of doing that from time to time. From touring internationally, to appearing on a reality TV show, to dealing with heartbreak and pain, it’s been full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. And the effects of both remain.
One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, sums up my season perfectly when he says…
“Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”
Many times I felt lost. Other times, I’ve been led into new seasons of understanding and transformation I never thought possible. That’s the thing about misery. Once we’re in it, we’ll do anything to find a way out.
Sometimes the way out is a healthy one where we grow and change and adapt. Other times it’s an unhealthy one, where we medicate and distract ourselves from the truths life is trying to teach us. In the last year, I’ve known both responses well.
I’d love to let you in on a few things I learned along the way.
1) The ego is a fragile thing.
The ego can be defined as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” To be honest, I’ve often found my self-worth in what I’ve accomplished. Being a classic overachiever, I’ve received value from how I’ve performed in any field, from academics, to sports, and now to music. In the last year, as a singer/songwriter, I’ve found a level of acceptance in front of some of the largest audiences I’ve ever played for. But this acceptance only lasted as long as the next gig, or the next compliment, or even the next mistake. And I’ve mistakenly believed I had to achieve to be loved.
My personal drive to “be the best” has often left me disconnected from myself and alone from others. When I haven’t met the high standards I’ve set for myself, the egoic crash has taken its toll on my heart. But I think life begins with this awareness. Building my self-esteem on the opinions of what others defined as success no longer worked, hence my second thought:
2) Defining yourself by what others think of you is not helpful.
This truth hit me harder than ever this past summer. After a lot of counsel from friends and family, including the one and only Paul Young, I decided to say yes to an invitation I received to appear on Season 11 of ABC’s popular TV show, “The Bachelorette”. I ended up being one of the 25 guys looking to win the heart of the bachelorette (or in my case, 2 bachelorettes). Yes, it was an odd experience, but in the end I felt like it was an adventure I couldn’t say no to. The story of how it all played out can be found on the web, but in the end, did I ultimately find love? Yes and no.
No, because the relationship I started as a result of the show didn’t work out. It was a beautiful experience and she (Britt Nilsson) was great, but we both decided it would be best to just be friends. The hardest part of the whole process was listening to the thousands of voices who had an opinion about our relationship, or what they thought they knew about it. At first it was mostly encouraging, the perfect love story, etc. But then it turned into all sorts of crazy. The criticism hit me hard. With every opinion expressed on Instagram or Twitter, my heart sunk lower.
The problem was the amount of power I gave to someone else’s opinion about me. But with the help of some key friends, I found I hadn’t given to myself the love and acceptance I was truly looking for. Misery had found me. My first step was to unplug from the noise. My second step, open myself up even more.
3) The risk is where life is.
In the midst of reality TV and the breakdown of a relationship I cared a lot of about, I realized the risk was worth it. That love is always worth it. It is through these risks that we leave the comfortable world of ego-protection and find what we’re truly scared about. And if we go even deeper, we’ll find what we truly desire.
Until I faced my fears head on, I didn’t know how to overcome them. I realized my own fear of rejection had caused me to live disconnected from my heart. I realized that most of the relationships I had were built around a gift or a function, not the heart. But love was beckoning me deeper.
The question I was faced with was, what do I actually believe about myself? Who am I at the core of my being? I think if you go deep enough, you will find that your truest essence is love. It’s beyond anything you could ever accomplish. It’s beyond what others believe about you. It’s even beyond what you believe about you.
Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, says it this way,
“On judgment day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”
Our whole life is a response to what we truly believed about that one question. Would you take that risk with me?