My grandmother used to have a saying, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can certainly keep them from making nests in your hair.” The imagery was a warning of how sin creeps into our lives. May I illustrate this by telling a story of a friend?
My friend, I will call him James (not his real name), was riding high… everything he touched turned to gold. He had influence, wealth, community, toys, a large family, health…. basically everything. He also really loved God… I mean loved God. He often talked about God like they were best friends. I had never met anyone with that type of experience with God. He loved his work and he loved doing his work with his people. I must say, I was a little envious of him. I thought of James as a cross between Jonathan Goldsmith, Johnathan Edwards and Bono.
I have learned that no-one can ride the wave of success forever, and you can tell a lot about someone when the “gravy train runs out.” My friend was bound to experience this, and I was really curious as to how he and his family would handle it. Was his relationship with God based upon the blessings God gave him? I mean, seriously, wouldn’t we all love God if we had his life? I am reminded of Horatio Spafford writing the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul” as he traversed the Atlantic Ocean on a ship, after he had lost his four daughters a few months earlier in a tragic maritime accident, with only his wife surviving the accident. I am also reminded of Job in the Bible… he lost it all but then seemed to not lose faith in God.
One day, it happened.
I will say that it happened slowly over time as so many things do. James had been intentional about surrounding himself with a great team. These were men and women who were some of the best in their fields. James was not intimated by strong people around him and, in fact, it was one of the reasons he was so successful. James had built a strong organization and was probably its most valuable asset; however, those around him began to exclude him from some of the firm’s activities. The leadership team’s intentionality was not to show any disrespect; it was simply to not bother him with some of the day to day operations. I would say it’s probably one of the greatest fears of any leader, founder and influencer, the loss of relevancy. I think it’s part of the “getting old” process. How do I maintain my influence, though I know that I may not be as relevant as I used to be, and I am ok with that? This is tough.
One particular day, James was confronted by his COO regarding an upcoming company trip where they were going to present to a very influential and large client. The opportunity had some large rewards but also some very significant challenges. James’ COO was sent in by the rest of the team to explain to James that they did not want him coming along on this trip. They acknowledged his influence, wisdom and legacy but felt that at this time it was not wise for him to join the meeting. James was livid and he did not take the decision well. He made it clear that he had the authority to override them, and his COO acknowledged that, but insisted he listen to the team that he had empowered. They wanted his trust. He said he would have to think about it over the next few days. He considered what his trusted advisors had suggested and decided to acquiesce, though he didn’t like it. Sometimes in life we find ourselves having to do the right thing, but we still really struggle with the decision. The right decision is often not the easiest one to make. James was hurt. James was angry. James was sad but mostly James was scared. He felt vulnerable, and he felt like perhaps the horizon of his life was now in sight. Was this the beginning of the end of his dominance, of his blessed life, of his influence?
James became increasingly irritable with those around him. He never lost control, but he’s simply was not himself. He was not laughing very much. He was quiet, withdrawn, seemed more passive than he had been in the past, and it appeared perhaps was losing interest in the things that used to captivate his attention. He had aged and frankly was not good company. I can’t speak for a woman, but I can suggest that when a man seems to lose his virility it does something to him. I feel sorry for James, a little, but honestly, I sort of feel like, “welcome to our world.” He seemed to be taking this decision by his leadership team to exclude him from a meeting to a level that was not his nature. What was going on in James’s life? How was this affecting his life with God.
One afternoon she caught his eye. The curiosity opened up an inner conversation that was going on in his head. He felt something he had not felt for a while. He felt a validation. He felt relevant. A look did that? James initially noticed the smile followed by the eyes; they were intent on him, they filled his void, they stirred up a sense of life he had not felt in a long time. I will avoid the gory details, but James was seduced by the idea and used his charm, wealth and power to seduce another.
The extreme high of the thrill was followed, days later, by the extreme low of the reality. James’ temporary reprieve was replaced by an aggressive and hard to control anger and shame tethered to overt feeling of being victimized. James’ decision and subsequent behavior cost him more then he could have imagined at the moment of seduction. Time provided a sober reality of his grave mistake, his destructive behavior, the pain his actions cost others and quickly fell into a season of significant despair. He went from believing everything was going his way to now wanting to crawl into a hole and die. James has never fully recovered, and the people in his life have all paid a big price. I do believe James and God are good, but he does revisit a common conversation with Him, a conversation around worth, love, sorrow and the ever-present shoulda-woulda-coulda. James perhaps did not lose his soul, but he did wound it.
Ponder on the story of James. The story is familiar because we are all James. King David’s story is reflected above. God promises to protect us as we stay close to Him. The Bible commands us to flee, to humble ourselves and surrender to our Savior. When a bird fly’s over your head, take notice. When a bird lands on your head with a twig, take action.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.
Read more articles by Stephan Tchividjian at: goodnewsfl.org/author/stephan-tchividjian/