Thursday, March 08, 2007

Moses and Me

There's a reason so many personal life stories are in the bible, especially in the Old Testatment. I don't think the reason is to "pad" the length of the book, nor to make sure the printed edition feels nice and solid when placed in hotel room nightstands across the country. I think the reason is to provide a broad enough human experience that just about all of us can find ourselves in there somewhere. Tonight is a little illustration of how I do that.

Moses' story takes place about 3,000 years ago, in Egypt. His family was in slavery to the Egyptians. So far I don't have much in common with the guy. His ancestry, location and political atmosphere bear little resemblance to mine. What I see in him, though, is three distinct phases of life. Phases that I'm starting to see are taking shape in my own experience.

Interestingly, each of Moses' three phases lasts 40 years. Since I'm not planning on living to 120, I may need to move at a slightly quicker pace than he did. :)

Phase 1 -- I'm Kinda a Big Deal

Moses was born into a slave family, but due to a unique turn of events, ends up being adopted by the Pharoah's daughter. He's pretty much in the position of a Prince of Egypt, hence the Disney film with that name. It would mean unimaginable wealth, comfort and education. He is among the very elite of the whole empire.

My own beginnings weren't quite so dramatic or illustrious, but I'll admit I was advantaged. Raised in a wealthy and free country, by loving and generous parents, I had access to all the great opportunities of the time. And they far exceeded the comfort of Egypt circa 1,000 B.C. Advanced education was available full-time -- I didn't need to work for wages at a young age. And good nutrition helped me grow physically, far beyond children in many other countries.

By the teenage years I was excelling at both academics and athletics. This continued into college, where I played sports and made honor roll. Even the FBI came calling about their training program, since I hit their three key marks of a Special Agent (intelligence, athleticism, foreign language skills). I didn't interview with the FBI, and injuries halted the sports career, so I went to business school. At age 22 I was the youngest graduate of a top MBA program, and was told by the professors that I was sure to be a rich, successful CEO before long. The world was at my fingertips. I was kinda a big deal.

Phase 2 -- I'm Not So Great

When Moses was about 40 years old, he was exploring the city to check in on his fellow people (the Israelite slaves, not his adopted Egyptian family). What he saw, though, was an Egyptian slave master beating up a slave. He did the understandable thing -- check to make sure no one is watching, then kill the Egyptian and bury him in the sand. OK, maybe a little outrageous to us, but it was a different kind of life back then.

Bottom line -- news of the murder spreads and Moses flees to save his own life. He ends up a shepherd, apart from his family and far from the glory of Egypt's palace. While he does get married and have children, that doesn't seem to pick up his spirit. Moses named his son Gershom, which means "an alien there". It would be like me naming my son "illegal in hiding". Nice. Moses' life isn't going quite the way he thought it would. I guess after living with the pharoah, watching sheep all day just doesn't cut it. Moses is realizing that he's not such a big deal after all.

Again, my own Phase 2 isn't nearly so dramatic, but some of the same themes are there. I was supposed to be this awesome business leader... hasn't happened yet. In fact, when you count inflation, I make almost exactly the same money today as I did eight years ago as a fresh-faced, naive graduate. Not exactly the fast track to CEO-land. Like Moses, I also got married and have children. Unlike Moses, I didn't name them something depressing -- on the contrary, they are a great joy to me.

But no matter how much men might want to deny it, there's this little voice inside us that says, "If only X... or if only Y... I could be President/MVP/Donald Trump/Astronaut/etc... it wouldn't be hard". And no matter how much joy our comfortable family life brings, a little part of us always wonders if we cheated ourselves by not going for glory in our worldly pursuits. The movie Fight Club put it a different way:

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be
millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly
learning that fact."

Every guy hits this phase. Some at 23 years old, some at 93. I'm 30, and it seems like my time, and I won't feign guilt about those feelings since they're a natural part of life. What seems important is to not get stuck here. Which brings us to the final phase.

Phase 3 -- I Have a Purpose

Ask somebody on the street what they know about Moses. Whether they're a bible scholar or just someone who likes Charlton Heston movies, they may give any of the following answers:

  • The guy at the burning bush
  • Flowing beard, ten commandments
  • Parting of the sea
  • Led his people out of slavery

Every one of these things happened in the third phase of Moses' life -- after he was over 80 years old! His first eight decades were preparation time, and now came the payoff. He had received incredible training under the Pharoah, yet he also had time to learn humility, stillness and patience as a shepherd. He would need all those tools for the challenges ahead in Phase 3.

Moses thought he was ready for those challenges a lot earlier. In Acts 7:25, Stephen notes that when Moses killed the Egyptian slave-master, he thought that was his moment to rise up as the leader of his people. Yet it didn't happen then -- he needed another 40 years of seasoning before he was truly ready to serve a noble purpose.

Where I Am

I have no delusions that my purpose will ever be as grand as Moses'. Or that it will be impressive at all, in the eyes of our materialistic society. Maybe one day doors will open up to a wonderful opportunity of managing a small coffee shop near a college campus, and making a life of reaching out to the next generation. Something like that could get an old red-headed man out of bed in the morning.

Bottom line is that no matter how I serve mankind, it is done best with no more than a dash of ego. And there was wayyyy too much ego in Phase 1. And as Phase 2 continues, I'm learning a few things:

  • The more I realize it's not about me, the more good things seem to come my way, from places that were blocked previously
  • The less I worry about winning, the more I find contentment
  • The less I toot my own horn, the more other people seem to notice my contributions
  • The more I focus on others instead of myself, the more nights I go to bed smiling, and wake up motivated in the morning

Another 30 or 40 years of humility training, and I'll be ready to get to work. :)


~aj~ said...

This is great Michael and I think a lot of people can probably relate. Most of us think we're pretty hot stuff when we're younger, then we get the reality check at some point and then as we mature, we realize what's really important in life.

I'm definitely excited to see what the future brings!

Anonymous said...

This one was VERY insightful, Michael--WAY TO GO! You are STILL growing, just like you're supposed to--and, don't forget to add that the MARINES wanted you to be an OFFICER straight out of HS!!!!! I'll always be PROUD OF & LOVE YOU!

Roland said...

How cute that your Mom's trying to stay anonymous... Awkward...

Redlefty said...


If you knew my mom, you'd know it's quite impossible for her to stay anonymous, no matter how hard she tries. :)