A few years back I had to get away, and disappeared for 4 days to a Santa Barbara retreat center. I was an incredible mess. Forty-plus years of Wanna-be heroism had me carrying two torches–two lives–simultaneously, and it was not working. Most of my adult years had consisted of living two separate career-paths at the same time. As a full-time Seminary student, I was also and a top performing sales rep for a Fortune 500 company; a church-plant Pastor and Regional Sales Manager–I always found a reason to take on a double life.
It started in High School. When I hit my senior year, I had no real aspirations or need to ace my grades. My mom had given me the game plan for college–her plan not mine–and school bored me. So I decided to break up my school week and take Wednesdays off.
No big deal, really. The beach and the Santa Monica Mountains beckoned, and I had nailed forging my mom’s signature on the absence card. Every Wednesday. I was able to maintain my “B” average and no one was the wiser. That August, just prior to starting college, Jesus found me, and I went all in. Ministry, Christian commune, volunteering, witnessing, all the while carrying 16 units with a Pre-Med major at a major university.
In my mid-twenties, I got bit by the bug of SUCCESS. Hard. Tony Robbins, Sales Trainers, and the “One-Minute Manager” had me convinced–along with my High School experiment, that I could live two lives at once. That is when the pressure point right under my sternum became my new, daily companion.
As a 40-year-old Senior Pastor, I had gone gray. Nevertheless, financial pressures drove my massive ego to continue to believe I could do it, so I got the ok from my Board to take on a high-tech marketing post with 3M. If it was ok for the Apostle Paul to make tents and change the world, I was in great company. Then I started to write men’s discipleship books 4-6 hours a day, exchanging my day J.O.B. by starting up a management-consulting firm. Somehow, I always thought I was following Jesus, maximizing time stewardship, all the while trying to do the minimum needed to be a decent husband and Dad, I had this alternative Sybil-like persona trying to get people around me to think, “Wow, this guy is incredible!”
To my immediate family, I had become a dark comedy and the joke was on me. They worried. My drive and biblically justified ADD had taken its toll on my marriage and with my sons–all of whom struggled to both love me while remaining ready to head for the exit if I started to self-combust with intensity and anger.
I turned on some Celtic Harp and Pan Flute music and forced myself to be quiet. Three verses into an hour-long meditation of Psalm 23, I heard my Father’s voice in me say, “Art, I am so weary of you competing with me to be god. There has always been only one real Hero, and He is my Son.”
My heart nearly stopped–and then, it began to break. Fountains of weeping ebbed and surged for the next 24 hours as the pressure under my breastbone was gradually released. I knew that this was not a one and done cathartic moment. I needed God to change my internal wiring—my own narrative—and for that to happen, I’d needed to know and understand why I had spent my life and energy–presuming I was serving God–while secretly building a parallel and self-destructive temple to a Hero named Art Hobba.
I returned home under cast-iron clouds of compounded, immense mourning. The losses of 4 decades–so much time—family time—fun time—time alone with God—the knowledge that the bulk of my “reward” in heaven was a tinder-ready stack of “hay and stubble.” I mourned the time lost for making and nurturing true friends, and the simple joy of listening to their hero stories, instead of trying to make them listen to mine.
I had resolved to do two things well going forward:
- Begin a new life, and start by confessing to each family member, and work to redeem my relationships with my wife and 5 sons.
- Kill—Annihilate–the hero in me
As a final thought, each time I share this story with another guy, they often get sober-faced—even kind of sheepish looking in their demeanor. Some don’t respond but just nod silently. But more than a few have said, “Isn’t that true for all of us?”
“The Kingdom of Heaven suffers (allows for) violence, and the violent ones seize it by force” — Jesus, in Matthew 11:12