Know your ‘why’s’ before the charade crumbles

May 29, 2024

Do you ever wonder what motivates you to do the things you do? Many of us are too busy to consider the ‘why’s’ until we’re forced to. That’s what happened to me.

I was a successful trial lawyer. I tried nearly one hundred criminal cases and had developed a reputation such that my clients received better dispositions, plea bargains. I convinced myself that I was just doing God’s work, that I was purpose driven, bringing balance and order to a criminal justice system that can often be stacked against the weak and vulnerable. The praise of my colleagues was nice, but I was a humble man who certainly didn’t need their kind words because I was much deeper than that. So I believed.

Then one strange rainy California winter day, in the middle of a very challenging trial where my client was facing life in prison, I felt my grip on the case slipping away. All my hard work, sleepless nights, and talents were not gonna get me another win. The following morning the clouds cleared while I rehearsed my closing argument in my bedroom and it felt like the walls were closing in on me, my words choking in my throat, my thoughts a disjointed mess that in the end fell into one clear thought as clear as the morning sky. I was going to loose this case, this young man would be sent away for life and there was nothing I could to do stop it. I had a nervous breakdown. I lost control, laying on my bedroom floor, sobbing. Making matters worse, I had to get up and show up and fulfill the role of advocate. There was no calling in sick.

Later that evening, and after a time for painful prayer, reflection and a good talk with my wife who was very concerned about her husband who she discovered crying on the floor that morning, I began to peel away at the layers of presupposition that culminated into a bright light of clarity a few weeks later when a colleague said, “We drew strength from your success, but the truth is that’s a burden no one can bear.” His words, ‘no one can bear,’ brought tears to my eyes. I was bearing this impossible load. I wanted, and beyond that, I needed praise. This was hard to accept. My heart was foul, what happened to my client concerned me but it wasn’t driving me. What was driving me lay beneath the surface of my projections, what I wanted the world to believe about me, and ultimately what I convinced myself was true about me. The truth was painfully unearthed and examined, the charade crumbled.

One of my favorite New Testament scriptures refers to the pharisees, the religious self-righteous of Jesus’ time who would not recognize Jesus as the Messiah because doing so would dismantle the power and praise they had with the people. The verse goes, “For they loved the praise of man more than the praise of God.” How many of us live in this state, in the deeper places of our hearts, where we hide the truth? I have learned this about myself and believe it true for many-we do things, believe things, consume things because we are hungry for the praise of others.

The origin of this urge is probably different for you than for me. I didn’t get a lot of praise as a kid. That was common for folks of my generation. And, perhaps on the flip side, kids showered with undeserved praise become too accustomed to it. A neediness created either way.

In my new book SACRED DUTY, Pastor Max Engle is a case study of this kind of struggle, though his need stems from a deep sense of guilt that can’t be forgiven by him or God. If you or someone you know suffers with such issues this is a good read-a story delivering a gentle balm of truth that doesn’t feel like a lecture or sermon.

The book will be out soon, written and audio.