Early in my law enforcement career, I was assigned to an office in an economically depressed part of Indiana. I recall going out on one particular raid with fellow agents and police in a rundown housing project. When we barreled through the front door of this dingy apartment, there were small children sleeping on a ragged couch in the living room. The spectacle of a dozen or more police and Federal agents with guns, vests, and a battering ram was apparently nothing new or terribly alarming to them. They never even flinched.
Fast forward 20+ years and I was in Chicago, going out on a raid with another dozen agents and police in a similar rundown housing project. Again, we barreled through the front door to discover small children sleeping on yet another nasty couch. Again, they didn’t flinch. And it hit me: Nothing had changed except the passage of time and the particular apartment. We were still doing what we were doing and little children were still growing up numb to their sad, dangerous circumstances.
The person we were there to arrest that day in Chicago was in his mid-20s, which meant he could have been one of those children sleeping on the couch in Indiana 20 or so years earlier. No doubt, 20 years later another group of agents and cops will be experiencing pretty much the same phenomenon in yet another housing project with different unfortunate children as witnesses.
I began to wonder if the impact of my law enforcement career was the equivalent of putting my hand in a bucket of water and pulling it out.
We all do a lot of what we do because we are desperate for a huge gulp of significance, right? I mean, who wants to waste their one and only life?
Some of the biggest decisions I’ve made (and some of my biggest mistakes) have been in pursuit of doing something meaningful with my life. I sometimes struggled to figure out where to find that spiritual oxygen Dallas Willard refers to above. Many times I second-guessed myself and wondered about my choices. Perhaps you can relate.
Like many young people, I graduated college with outrageous idealism for a road map. Over the years, my concept of what really mattered changed. It became both clearer and a lot more complex.
Before the FBI, I held jobs in advertising, public relations, promotions, special events, and association management. I was able to be imaginative, raise funds for important causes, manage budgets, and have great life experiences. I thought that was meaningful (and to an extent, it was).
When I joined the FBI, I felt I had found the ultimate in both creativity and significance: complicated cases to solve, values like justice and honor to uphold, the opportunity to influence society in a positive way, and the chance to do it all in an intellectually and physically challenging work environment . . . just wow.
I never took for granted how fortunate I was to have that career. The bonds of friendship formed by facing down evil with people you trust – that’s rarely experienced outside of law enforcement and the military, as anyone who has been there will tell you.
But let’s be honest, in the overall scheme of things, my lasting impact in any of the jobs I held or cases I worked was pretty negligible. That realization had hit me like a brick that day in the Chicago housing project. Looking back, I can say that certainly there were times when my involvement was important to the success of a project or perhaps even the safety of another. But in all of that, I was completely replaceable and that’s humbling.
Here’s a hard truth: If you live long enough, your life will probably include plenty of potholes, detours and apparent dead ends. You’ll have to come up with your share of workarounds. Sometimes you, too, will feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and you’ll question the point of it all. (Have you seen the movie, “Groundhog Day”?)
But finding meaning requires discovering spiritual oxygen: truth that keeps you going and gives you confidence that your life has value no matter what. For me, it comes from my Creator and my unique relationship with Him, as well as from the relationships He has given me to steward.
Who I am to my family and friends, to the people I love and care about, and those I am personally called to serve; that’s where I’m irreplaceable. How I build into them and the daily investment I make in the eternal purposes of God on this earth gives life to my soul. The way He inspires me to connect with Him in all this is what bestows significance and brings me hope.
There are thousands of association managers, public relations specialists, advertising copywriters, FBI agents, and writers. All are important on some level … and ultimately, all are replaceable. I’ve come to understand that it isn’t how I make my living but how I live my life – in humble dependence on God – that really matters.
I want to breathe the spiritual oxygen of being in relationship with the true Irreplaceable One who alone can rescue His sleeping children. How about you?
- Maybe This Will Help - February 10, 2017
- I’m Firing Olivia Pope - January 24, 2017
- I’m crossing some things off my list this year - January 11, 2017
- I learned a new word - November 30, 2016
- The best question I’m asking myself these days - July 18, 2016
- A tragic story with a tender twist - May 17, 2016
- Gosh, people are a mess - May 12, 2016
- I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition - May 2, 2016
- The surprising thing about “weakness” - April 20, 2016
- The holiness of a four-way stop - April 13, 2016