Note: The following excerpt has been taken with permission from ‘Wrecked for the Ordinary‘ by Jeff Goins. Jeff is an author and blogger who helps others get published at goinswriter.com. In this extract, Jeff wrestles with what it means when your faith collides with the brokenness of society.
Wrecked for the Ordinary
A couple of years ago, I started helping missionaries tell their stories. I realize that not everyone reading this may be able to relate to that line of work, but nonetheless, I believe the lessons I learned from this group were extremely relevant and universally important. As I kept hearing people—twentysomethings, in particular—recount their stories of serving some of the poorest of the poor in the developing world, I began observing certain trends.
These people were getting it—really understanding life and what it’s supposed to be about. In the face of intense pain and suffering, they were shedding their culture-driven narcissism and getting something else in return. They found compassion, selflessness, freedom. They were sinking their teeth into the finer points of what it means to be human. They were actually making a difference on this seemingly futile ball of dirt, and it was inspiring.
No matter where they were, the outcome was essentially the same. In the jungles of Peru, meeting aboriginal peoples while floating on a barge down the Amazon. In the inner-city neighborhoods of Philadelphia, surrounded by poverty and crime, prostitutes and crack addicts. In South Africa, in the company of dying mothers and babies infected with HIV. Everywhere that there was pain, these people were there. They weren’t fleeing from it; they were embracing it.
In the midst of despair, there was implicit hope. In the face of suffering, there was true redemption. And I wanted it.
For a season, these well-intentioned do-gooders would live amongst the poor, learn from them, and return a changed person. Their paradigm had shifted. Their worldview was now infected with a contagion that spread to every facet of their lifestyle. More than one person would say, “I’ve been wrecked.” In fact, I started to hear this phrase a lot in different contexts. It wasn’t just from missionaries, either. I heard it from Americorps students serving in urban public schools. I heard it from suburbanites who had had a brush with the less fortunate and couldn’t bear to return to their Wal-Mart lifestyles. I heard it from business people who had learned that their gift of entrepreneurship was intended to not only bless themselves, but others, as well.
These people were all being wrecked by the promise of a better world, of a way of life that didn’t revolve solely around the self, but made room for others. It was an awakening of sorts, a coming to grips with the fact that the American dream is a disappointment. As the rock group Switchfoot sings: “Man-made never made our dreams collide.”
What does it mean to be wrecked?
To be “wrecked” is to be disabused of the status quo. It means to have a redemptive transformation, often catalyzed by a brush with the pain of a dying world. The process is anything but pretty. It’s harsh and real and painfully honest. Finding out who you are and what your place is feels like a sweater unwinding thread-by-thread. Your old life begins to make less and less sense in light of your new priorities, and it seems futile to rebuild the old way of living.
At first, it’s disorienting—maybe even distracting. It calls out of you the greatest parts of you— the parts you might be afraid to let out.
To be wrecked begins with an experience. It pulls you out of your comfort zone and, consequently, out of self-centeredness. Whether you want it or not, this is what happens—your old narcissistic dreams begin to fade in light of something bigger, something better. The process leaves you with a paradigm that is still left standing after the “real world” has slammed into your ideals a couple dozen times. It’s hard, but only because all things worth fighting for are hard. Being wrecked means that everything you believe about this world, yourself, and your destiny is now in question. Because you’ve seen something larger.
In the end, you’re not who you were before. You’re different. You’re changed. You may even feel like your old values have been, in a sense, ruined by this new worldview. As confusing or as difficult as that may sound, it’s a good thing.