When You're Not Who You Used to Be

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Six months after my divorce, I had to introduce myself to people I had seen all the time a year earlier. I had changed so much that they didn’t recognize me. I’d lost almost 60 pounds. I wore different clothes. I had a new haircut and corporately acceptable facial hair. Before my divorce, I had been on the front page of my small town’s local newspaper numerous times. I often made a fool of myself with wild hair and ridiculous clothing. People in the community knew who I was from a mile away. But now I could walk around completely incognito. 

It’s still that way for people from my distant (and not so distant) past. 

I have a friend who goes back almost twenty years. We haven’t seen each other in person more than once or twice over the last decade. She recently commented on a Facebook post featuring the picture below on the right:

“Israel … your long hair, your trimmed down waistline, your glasses … your whole you. I think I’d walk right by you and not recognize you. (But if I heard you laugh … I’d know it was you!)”

People change. I changed

But it wasn’t just on the outside. Something had happened on the inside, too. The way I viewed the world had begun to shift. At the time, I called it my Voltaire moment. (As you may recall, Voltaire is the French philosopher most famous for writing the biting satire Candide.) That was the moment when I lost a sense of purpose, when I couldn’t see a divine plan anymore. It’s when I stopped praying and reading the Bible. The truths that had anchored my life for 37 years no longer seemed right.

I am the son of a pastor, and had been a pastor myself for a decade at that point. My life had revolved around church, Jesus, Bible, missions, evangelism, prayer, fasting, social justice, compassion, healing, helping people work through their hang-ups about Christianity, and walking with them through all kinds of horrific trauma that they had experienced. People told me on a regular basis what a huge impact I had made in their lives. 

I had spread hope and joy and healing. I had been the instrument of transformation, a catalyst for radical life change. After my Voltaire moment, I couldn’t even pray for people. One of my closest friends lost his dad, and I was unable to offer a comforting word. All hope was gone. Faith had vanished. Prayer was pointless.

I didn’t talk about my inner change. In fact, this is the first time I’ve shared any of it publicly. I didn’t want to hurt anyone or cause anybody to fall. Like the guy expressing his angst in a section of the Bible called Psalm 73, I didn’t want to share with friends and family what I was experiencing in my soul lest I “betray God’s people.” I wasn’t sure where I would land spiritually, and I didn’t want to create unnecessary turbulence or pain for anyone. I also didn’t want to box myself into some kind of commitment by expressing a viewpoint out loud or in writing. 

My life was in flux. I was becoming someone very different than I used to be. And I’m very happy with the person I’ve become, especially since the new me met and married Melinda. (That never could have happened with the me that used to be.)

The reality: A lot of things change over the years.

Yet some things don’t change.

I still have a lot of drive to achieve and have the ability to focus on a task for a long time. The intensity and direction have changed, but that dogged determination is still there.

I’m still an ENTJ or an 8 with a 7 wing or whatever you want to call me. 

I’m still a pioneer. I love to get off the beaten path and find places few others have trod. My favorite place to be (when I’m not cuddling with my wife) is by myself in an isolated wild place, listening to the sounds of nature, gazing into a sunrise or sunset, watching the stars appear, feeling cold air fill my lungs. 

I still get a little giddy facilitating “aha!” moments and catalyzing little transformations to help people take a next step in their own f&#%ked up ruck. 

And despite all I said above about my personal spiritual transformation, I’m still aware of a bigger world, of a mysterious presence that manifests in different ways along the trail. Occasionally, I still have some powerful experiences that I would call divine. I can even officiate a moving vow renewal ceremony, like I did for my dear friends’ 20th anniversary a couple months ago.

But I’m not the same person I used to be. 

You probably aren’t, either. Especially if you’ve gone through a divorce or some other painful, jarring experience. 

It can be really strange navigating the new you–both for yourself and the people around you. 

You might have new hobbies, new friends, new perspectives, new goals. You might go to different bars, visit different places, eat different food, listen to different music, laugh at different jokes. 

Your old friends and family may want the old you back. But you’re not that person anymore. So, it requires some adjustments on both sides in order to keep those relationships strong. 

For me, a lot of the “old me that people loved” revolves around my former life as a pastor. Two recent examples: 

Situation 1: A handful of people who love me dearly keep encouraging me to become a pastor again. But that’s not who I am anymore. My life has taken a different direction even though it’s difficult for them to see. In some cases, this is excruciatingly painful for them. They’ve told me so. 

Situation 2: A long-time friend of the family called me on the phone. He has known me from the time I was a kid and has been one of my biggest supporters over the years, but we haven’t spoken in at least five years. He wanted to tap into my overly educated brain to get some academic arguments against a scholar who was undermining his grandchildren’s faith in the Bible. I tried to explain that I probably wouldn’t be much help for him, since my views had changed quite a bit over the years but I was happy to share counterpoints to represent the different perspectives on the issue. Unfortunately for him, I agreed with much of what he was trying to refute.

If you’ve gone through the kind of change I have experienced, you’ve probably encountered similar situations. It can be pretty awkward. You might feel like you’re in a Twilight Zone sometimes. It might feel that way for your long-time friends and extended family, too.

That’s one of the reasons Melinda and I started this blog. To be frank, I don’t like spending time thinking about the past. I love my life now, and would prefer to just focus on the present and spend my energy moving toward my current goals. I’d rather work out than write.

But somebody somewhere might benefit from where we’ve been. 

Maybe you’re that person. 

That’s why we write. We’re hoping that our experiences can help you figure out what to do, where to go, how to move forward–especially if you’re dealing with the kind of disorienting changes divorce can bring. Your story is different than ours, but there are probably some parallels. We’d love to hear about it, so feel free to drop us a note.

If you’re in the middle of the pain, we hope you’ll hear our story and know that you’re not alone. You’re going to make it through. And you’re going to be a better, stronger person because of all the pain. 

On the other hand, if you’re struggling to figure out how to relate to that friend or family member who isn’t the same person they used to be, try to find some new connection points and give them a chance to grow and change. These might be the best years of their life. Be happy for them and celebrate who they have become.

If spiritual tension gets in the way, give lots of grace.

Change can be a really great thing. Embrace it and keep getting better. Ruck on!

(If others think you aren’t changing fast enough … there’s always Snapchat to help boost you along.)

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