- A Look At Saul
- Saul, born of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, a Pharisee of Pharisees, had a zeal for his faith virtually unprecedented. While on the way to Damascus he had one main goal: To carry out what he felt was his life’s calling, namely, to promote and protect the faith of his fathers by means of destroying those Christians who opposed Judaism.
- Make no mistake. For Saul, the planned persecution of Damascus Christians was not just a random act of zealotry. Instead, it was a continuation of Paul’s obsessive desire to escalate the assault on Christianity to the point of extinction. He had participated in other anti Christian crusades before. Saul had come a long way since those days when he was simply a passive observer and supporter of Christian extermination.
- Saul’s Passionate Mission
- Beginning from his assent and support of Stephen’s stoning in Acts 8, Saul seemed bent on vigorously realizing the desire which shaped and directed his entire life: to have widespread recognition as the most recognized and acclaimed leader of Judaism. Nothing was going to stop Saul. He was driven to success, achievement, and recognition.
- Saul’s mission in Damascus, it appears, would bring him even greater recognition among the Jewish Community. If successful, he could virtually establish himself as the greatest Jewish leader of the Mediterranean World in his time. For Saul, this trip to Damascus may have been the crowning achievement of all his personal ambition to date.
- The Damascus Crisis
- We know the rest of the story. Saul, who thought he was following God’s calling, unexpectedly confronted Jesus Christ in his Shekinah glory. Rendered powerless through heaven-sent blindness, his crisis was the beginning of a new birth, a new calling, a new and deeper realization of God’s calling for him.
- For the next 14 years in Arabia, this driven, self-made and independent man of extraordinary accomplishment, ambition and drive, would contemplate the implications of his new calling. He would spend tireless energy in his search for what would give him real meaning and lasting satisfaction in his life before God. The road to Damascus did not change his faith. It changed the nature of his spirituality to the deepest parts of his soul.
Saul Before The Calling
- Saul was, in retrospect, a prime candidate for this change of life, this total, full-scale spiritual transformation. Note what things characterized Saul’s life immediately before the call.
- 1) Saul was extraordinary successful.
- Saul was experiencing the greatest success he could ever possibly imagine. he was on his way up…and no one could stop him. He had power to persuade, to outwit, and knowledge to out shine any Jewish scholar in his day. He also enjoyed the unrivaled support of the elite in Jerusalem who entrusted and assigned to him numerous resources for him to use at his disposal.
- 2) In His mind, Saul was in absolute total control of his life, his world, his environment, and his spirituality.
The delegate to Damascus was must one example of his power, influence and prowess to command people, situations, and circumstances. He was, he believed, in total control. People responded to Saul. They listened to him, followed him, respected him and performed for him whatever he asked. He had achieved remarkable recognition and respect. To defy Saul was to defy one’s allegiance to Judaism.
- 3) Saul had high expectations.
Like other men of his day, Saul understood that if you did things well, if you planned, put in the hard work, things would get done. The more you planned, the better they’d be. His world was one in which he could have high expectations and enjoy the inevitable results of his work. It was, he believed, the way the world worked. You get what you deserve; you reap what you sow.
- 4) Saul was virtually unstoppable.
Saul believed that he was unstoppable. His wishes, his desires, his plans would all succeed. God was, he believed, on his side. After all, didn’t his long string of successes demonstrate this? He was on the fast track. He could have whatever he desired. Nothing, he thought, nothing could stop him in his zealous pursuit of his self-styled perception of what God called him to do.
- 5) His supporters urged him forward.
All the people around him praised him, lauded him, supported and encouraged him. Other leaders gave him recognition and support to give him the impression that everything he was doing was the right thing to do. Why should he question his actions? After all, he had the full support of his people. And, he felt, God was with him.
- Saul’s Spiritual Transformation
- In one moment, Jesus Christ changed all that in Saul’s life. The dramatic way by which Jesus called Saul began a process of intense searching that lasted perhaps the rest of Saul’s life. Indeed, he went through difficult times of intense searching both in Damascus in Ananias’ home and during his fourteen years in Arabia.
- A major result of his searching was, as he indicated in Philippians three was that everything in his life before the trip to Damascus was all “skubala”, i.e. “excrement.” Through this painful, heart-wrenching, mid-life spiritual transformation, he recognized that even if he had faith that could move mountains and could clang on like the loudest symbol, without God’s love he was nothing.
- In the middle of his life, he finally began to realize that the only fulfillment he could have that would satisfy was not his successes. Instead, realizing a sense of joy and fulfillment in God’s calling could come only in his connection with and being “in Christ.” To live, he wrote to the Philippians, “is Christ. To die is gain.” Furthermore, as he wrote in Philippians 3, he “considered everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ…”
- Our Spiritual Transformation
- We all may have to go to Damascus. Like Saul, perhaps all of us experience to varying degrees the sense of being in control, the sense of believing that we will change the world and that when we achieve success, we will have arrived at the fullness of the realization of what it means to be God’s servants.
- But when we arrive at that point of success, we still find there’s a sense of loneliness, dissatisfactions, a sense of undetermined existential malaise. What we’ve done, what we’ve achieved, what we’ve struggled for, sweated for, and given our life for somehow has cheated us from the satisfaction and joy we thought it would bring…and the affirmation we deserved. Somehow, all we’ve done still leaves us empty, disillusioned, and strangely isolated.
- Looking For Answers
- While going through a search trying to figure out what’s wrong and why we feel the way we do, we may even experience depression and/or a lowering of energies. We may look for answers in our relationships. We may look for answers in new challenges. We may look for answers in new friendships and pursuits. We look for belonging, we look for purpose, we look for a reason for it all.
- But, whatever we try, the answers don’t come…at least not easily and not immediately. The harder we search, the more frustrated and bewildered we become as we sense a loss of control, a sense that something really important in our lives is missing.
- Damascus Experience: The Result Of Shattered Expectations
- Sometimes we recognize this beginning sense of calling after great failure or disappointment. It may be triggered by church conflict, family disruption, divorce, the realization that children are becoming more independent from their parents and home, the loss of a parent, confidant, close friends, and/or the sense that your vocation is somehow not as fulfilling as you expected it to be.
- These and other events all shatter our beliefs that the rules of this world are “tit-for-tat,” “you pat my back, I’ll pat yours,” “you reap what you sow,” “work hard and success will follow,” “bad things never happen to good people,” “God will never let anything bad happen in your life because you love Him,” etc.
- In this searching, we will often find ourselves using what Roger Pearman and Sarah Albritton in their book, I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You: The Real Meaning of The Sixteen Personality Types (Davides Black Publishing, 1996) call the compensatory “inferior function” of our personality.
- According to the Myers-Briggs personality type paradigm, this basically means that if we’re extroverted, during this searching we will become more introverted (or vice versa). If we’re a “sensing” type, we will utilize the related inferior function of “intuition” and so forth. During this search, our inferior function becomes our “teacher” to give us direction and lead us to a greater, more in-depth recognition of God’s calling for us.
- This searching characteristically may cause us to reach deeply into our selves and resource areas of our personality which we have ignored or left largely unattended to prior to our own “trip to Damascus.” As we resource these little used areas, we may begin to discover new strength, new balance, a new realization of God’s calling and giftedness to you.
- Enduring The Pain
- This struggle is painful. It is painful to give up and leave behind a familiar way of life. It’s painful to leave behind attitudes which have carried us so far. It’s painful to realize that the accomplishments we have achieved are really empty, meaningless, and subject to decay. It’s painful that all that we have gone through to achieve them really didn’t give us the satisfaction that we really hoped our efforts would give.
- Not everyone can face the pain. Not everyone can go through it effectively. Some, due to their fear, will try to deny it, avoid it, or somehow ignore it…perhaps with just reason.
- Make no mistake. As Paul discovered, the mid-life trip to Damascus is the beginning of a painful process. Some have likened to it “slow electroshock therapy.” The major parts of this transformation can take several years before the darkness of searching begins to show a light of hope at the end of the struggle and possibilities for a totally new way of viewing the world. After all the pain, however, the results may be a whole new, more satisfied and spiritual life for those who have endured and gone the whole way down the Damascus Road.
- Finding Truth In Paradox
- During this struggle, we don’t necessarily doubt our faith. We don’t give up our believe in Jesus. We still believe in His forgiveness, in His grace, etc. All these things still hold true.
- Yet, in this searching, we have to begin wrestling with the deeper truths of God’s working in our lives and the lives of others. We begin to look for those deeper truths, a deeper and more complete understanding of just how does God work in our lives, a searching for what really matters to me…and God.
- Often, these deeper truths are paradoxes. Paradoxes such as Jesus’ teaching, “if you lose your live you will find it” and Saul’s lesson that it’s only when we’re blind that we see. We also begin to learn that suffering can bring the greatest satisfaction and that the tears of loss can bring us the greatest tears of joy.
- During such times, God is just beginning to deepen our spirituality, our calling, our sense of self and lead us, perhaps, to the profound, existential awareness and understanding that the greatest things in this life are the lowly things, the humbled things. And that the greatest of us will be last and the humble will be exalted.
Looking For Answers
- As we look for answers, we may search the Scriptures more intently. We may also look to other literatures–mythology, philosophy, popular psychology, classic Christian writings such as St. Augustine’s Confessions, religious writings of the orient, et al–to help discover the answers to bring us to a new understanding of life and faith, to bring us to a higher level of awareness and connectedness in God’s calling to us.
- It’s strange, but sometimes when we’re dealing with conflict and can’t figure out why the conflict is so difficult, and why we’re having so much trouble recovering personally from the conflict, sometimes the reason we’re not recovering so quickly is because the conflict has triggered something deep within us: the not-yet-realized fact that we have just begun our trip to Damascus. We are being confronted with the possibility of radical spiritual transformation.
- It Affects Both Men And Women
- The Damascus experience affects both men and women. Though each go through the experience differently, the call is the same. Experiencing what is known as the gender crossover, men will explore those items stereotypically considered by society to be more “feminine” while women will explore more “masculine” areas.
- Men, formerly driven by externals such as money, success, recognition, and being in control may revert to a more passive, intuitive way of life. Women, formerly tied to their external beauty, identification with childbearing and motherhood, and other stereotypical “feminine” ideals and pursuits, may become more outgoing and take on more stereotypically “masculine” characteristics of leadership. They may direct their energies outward to make a difference in the lives of others.
- Sister Theresa was but one example of a women who, after being on the spiritual road to Damascus, left the convent in her middle age to follow a deeper calling to the poor of India. It was her midlife spiritual transformation that led to her world-wide renown for assisting the poor.
- Are You En Route To Damascus?
- You may be on the “Road To Damascus” if…
- You are experiencing or have just gone through intense church conflict
- You are experiencing unparalleled success, yet it brings no joy.
- You are finding out that you don’t always get out of life what you put into it.
- You are finding that things do go wrong and that you are powerless to stop it.
- Your oldest child and/or youngest child is in high school and independent
- Until now, you have been in control of you life but are in a situation which is out of control.
- You are experiencing energy loss or unexplained depression.
- You are feeling alone and afraid, yet somehow curiously expectant for “something”
- You are struggling to integrate the personal and the transpersonal, the social and the sacred.
- You are finding that things which used to give you satisfaction and enjoyment simply don’t anymore.
- You find yourself looking in “strange” places for answers
- You find yourself not so outgoing, controlling, judgmental, etc as you used to be (or vice versa). Instead you find yourself in the opposite emotions.
- You have lost significant relationships due to death, moving away, betrayal, etc.
- Your life circumstances have changed dramatically.
- You are between 35 and 45 years old (Age ranges can be affected by other factors).
A Mid-Life Crisis???
- Admittedly, the indicators listed above sound like the so-called “Mid-Life Crisis.” I don’t believe the Mid-Life crisis is as much as a “crisis” as it is a normal stage to engender unparalleled opportunities for spiritual transformation and growth. Unfortunately, many western societies have de-spiritualized this spiritual transformation relegating the “trip to Damascus” to a clinically sterile, psychological quasi-dysfunctional condition called a “Mid-Life Crisis.”
- In contrast to modern western societies, other cultures and peoples in our world not only recognize the importance of this stage of renewal, but they also have specific rites of passage celebrating this remarkable stage of growth. Whether it be the recognition of menopause in women or the honorable ascent of males to a special place of eldership within their tribal community, these other cultures celebrate the spiritual transformation depicting it as an event of joyful passage–not a time of “crisis.”
- Are You On The Way To Damascus?
- The midlife “Trip To Damascus” can be a life-changing, spiritual journey. If you’re on the way to Damascus or if God is working the transformation through you right now, let God work His extraordinary possibilities for deepened spirituality and personal growth in your midlife “Saul-to-Paul” transformation.
Thomas F. Fischer
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