Lisa and I enjoyed a respite from Houston’s heat and humidity in mid-August after I taped a couple shows for Focus on the Family (on the upcoming When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People) and we drove out to Glenwood Springs, Colorado for a few extra days.
Lisa’s ideal vacation means five or six events a day, while my ideal vacation envisions zero or one scheduled activities, so we usually compromise at four or five. On our last day, after three very full days, Lisa figured we could fit in a “quick walk” to go see Doc Holliday’s grave (after we picked up her morning coffee at Deja Brew, of course). I had run thirteen miles the day before and then went for a seventeen-mile bike ride with Lisa through Glenwood Canyon, but a short walk sounded like a good way to stretch out some sore legs before driving back to Denver and getting on a plane.
What I didn’t realize until we arrived is that the sign we were walking toward signified a trailhead; the actual grave, Lisa told me (after we got there) was “one half a mile up the hill.” I hadn’t realized there was half a mile or a hill, but now that we were there…
We walked straight up to some wonderful views but my runner’s sense of distance kicked in and I said, “this seems longer than half a mile.”
“Well, it’s actually seven-tenths of a mile,” Lisa admitted.
“You mean, you lied to me?”
She put on her cute face. “I try not to.”
“How do you try not to lie?”
“It’s hard sometimes.”
I laughed because after thirty-five years of marriage Lisa knew that the OCD part of me wasn’t going to turn around until we got there. She had me and we kept walking straight up.
When we got to the top, the disillusionment set in. I’ll be honest—there was zero draw for me to visit Doc Holliday’s grave to begin with. Holliday was a gambler and dentist who became famous largely for a thirty-second gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He died destitute and alone at the age of 36. Hollywood has kept his legend alive (nearly three dozen actors have played him, and he was even depicted in a Star Trek episode) but how can a gambler and failed dentist who took part in a thirty-second gunfight be worthy of such remembrance? Is that really a life to celebrate?
So I was already skeptical when we finally got to the top of our climb and a sign pointed left. What we came to, however, wasn’t a gravesite; it was a memorial marker. Since Holliday died destitute, his grave was covered with a wooden marker that had long since disintegrated. Cemetery records were lost in a fire so nobody knows where Doc Holliday is actually buried. The monument says his bones lie somewhere in the cemetery but even that’s a stretch; he could have been buried in a nearby area called “the Potter’s Field,” so all they really know for sure is that he is buried somewhere on the mountain where we were standing.
Which means, deception got me to a place that was a huge disappointment.
Just like our end-of-vacation walk, much of life is built on deception and disillusionment. What really matters in life and marriage, and what is truly satisfying? If we don’t know the answers to these two questions, our families will suffer accordingly.
I’ve been reading William Law again and in convicting fashion he lays bare the folly of most human endeavor. Law writes about how silly it would be, and how crazy everyone would think this, if a man tired himself out, ignoring his family and compromising his health, in order to say he died owning a thousand pairs of boots-and-spurs. It’s almost funny—who needs a thousand pairs of boots-and-spurs? Then he asks (which is where the conviction gets poured in) how this is any different from someone who dies with a thousand pounds he or she can no longer spend, and it’s not so funny; it’s painful.
This is a world that tells us to value and pursue everything that doesn’t matter. It’s the great deception. We’re deceived that there is something exciting and fulfilling at the “top” if we’ll just keep climbing. The “top” could be wealth, fame, beauty, health, excitement, pleasure, romance, or achievement. It must be satisfying—everyone says it is—so we struggle through the climb to get ever closer, avoiding a lot of other things, ruining or ignoring our relationships, only to be radically disillusioned at the top when we realize it’s all an illusion.
Have you ever asked yourself why the most famous people usually end up with the most messed up lives of addiction, multiple failed marriages, and ruined health? They are the few who have “won” the race everyone says matters, but at the finish line they realize it’s not fulfilling and the race isn’t worth running, let alone winning. There must be something more, so they turn to drugs or alcohol, or another romantic tryst…
While in Glenwood Springs, Lisa and I spent an early evening at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. In one pool, Lisa and I heard a group of women discussing an astonishing number of medical options to keep women looking young. What they did to their faces, injected into their bodies, paid to undergo treatments, and the effort they spent investigating new options (“this is what all the Kardashians are doing now,” one woman opined) was quite astonishing.
Lisa, who is often mistaken for my daughter to begin with, asked me if I wished she was more into that stuff. “What were you thinking listening to them?” she asked when we got into another pool.
“All I could think of was William Law’s admonition that women and men should earnestly pursue humility, patience, generosity, faith, compassion, courage, kindness, and forgiveness with the same intensity that those in the world pursue wealth, fame, worldly achievement, and physical beauty.”
The deception is that looking like you’re twenty-five when you’re fifty, or fifty when you’re seventy, is somehow worthy of more time and money and attention than growing in Christlikeness whatever your age may be. It’s not easy to employ self-denial and then to value the things of God more than the things of this world, which is probably why so few of us ever walk that path—even those of us who call ourselves Christians.
This is why we have to beware of disillusionment: the empty promises of the world never deliver. It’s like an infatuation that is so intense for a few months but then mocks and taunts us as it fades.
Doc Holliday is celebrated, but really, why should we care? Should we erect grave memorials to the many modern-day gang members who have survived numerous thirty second gunfights?
If you spend your life pursuing things that don’t really matter; if you think a successful life is defined by how much money you leave behind; how many people you were able to sleep with; how many dresses you wore that received compliments; how many shoes are in your closet, or how low your handicap was at golf; when you die, will any of that matter? Will you look as silly as the man who ignored his family and health to ensure he died with a thousand pairs of boots-and-spurs?
Everyone of us is being lied to. I believe if we are not “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” as Jesus urges us to in Matthew 6:33, we are settling for a lesser life, a life based on deception that will result in disillusionment. When we see the glory of the Kingdom unfiltered, and the beauty of life when everyone lives in submission to God, we will ask ourselves, “How could I be enamored with any other world or any other way of life?”
The Christian classics urge us toward a spiritual discipline called “the remembrance of death.” John of the Cross, for example, lived with skulls in his cell (and even fashioned one into a bowl) to remind himself of where he was—and all of us are—headed. When we are on our deathbed, how will we have wanted to live? Will we celebrate the sins we gave into or will we mourn them? Will we regret the works of faith we did or will we be thankful for them? Will we wish we had made better use of our time or will we be grateful for the mindless entertainment and trivial conversation that took up so many of our hours? (After this blogpost, we’re going to post two chapters of an excerpt from my book Thirsting for God that covers this discipline, if you want to read further in this area).
If you want to avoid deception and disillusionment, base your life, marriage, and family on truth and hope. Jesus is the only teacher who knew what life outside of the space/time continuum that we call “earth” is like. The apostle Paul got a glimpse, but Jesus could tell us what to expect and therefore what to live for in a way no one else ever has or could. If we base our life on His agenda, seeking first the Kingdom of God, we are following the only teacher who truly knew what He was talking about, the very definition of “truth.”
If you pursue a deception, you’ll eventually wake up disillusioned. Don’t blame your marriage or your spouse for the disillusionment; just wake up to the truth. Spiritual health is cultivated by regularly asking ourselves, every day, “Is this true?” and “Is this pursuit important?”