September 27, 2020
I got lucky.
On second thought, I need to work that “lucky” expression out of my vernacular. I still find myself lazily using it, even when writing. Luck, coincidence, and seeming serendipity are all simply signs of a great God doing His work in mysterious ways.
So a more appropriate phrase would be “God blessed me.”
Why do I say this?
Frankly, I was born into a very happy, stable home. The second-spawned of five siblings (one older brother, one younger brother, and two younger sisters), I was raised and homeschooled by newly Christian parents who—after moving to North Idaho to escape sin, drugs, crime, and turmoil in their cities of Miami (father) and Detroit (mother)—had a deep yearning in their hearts to raise their children in a safe, protected, and spiritually nourishing environment steeped in deep love and connection.
So as a result, from the beginning, I had no “childhood trauma.” I had very little adolescent angst. I was perfectly happy spending my days with my nose in a book, a violin on my shoulder, a chess pawn in my fingers, and a basketball or tennis racquet in my hands. Don't get me wrong, my childhood wasn't plain-jane or ho-hum, but did indeed involve very little drama, fights, heartache, or trouble. No drugs. No alcohol. No social media drama (heck, no smartphones!). Tons of reading. Very little pop culture drivel. Plenty of church and Sunday School. You get the idea.
Here's a perfect illustrative example: I recently came across a newspaper interview with me that took place when I was 14 years old. As you can see from the clipping below, the reporter astutely and accurately commented, “the most important things in Ben's life are his God and his family…”
That's just how I was.
I wasn't perfect, but in most respects, I was a pretty decent kid. I loved God, I dug morality and fairness, and I loved to make everybody around me happy.
The Slide To Inauthenticity
But eventually, I was traumatized—that is, if you consider trauma to be defined as Dr. Gabor Mate describes it: “a loss of connection to one's true self”.
See, I began college as an immature 15-year-old who probably should have been more socially responsible and spiritually prepared before diving headfirst into a giant booze-infused “academic gathering” of peers to impress. Almost immediately, I began transforming myself into who I thought the world expected me to be, what folks around me perceived as cool, and anything but my true, authentic self. After all, who could possibly be impressed by a homeschooled, chess-playing, fantasy-fiction-loving, Bible-believing, classical music enthusiast?
I began drinking and partying multiple times per week.
Sleeping around and treating women like objects.
Remodeling myself as a loud, boisterous, muscle-bound jock, while sidelining any of my creative or seemingly meek character traits.
Falling away from reading my Bible, praying, regularly attending church, and maintaining any semblance of union with God.
While still calling myself a Christian, my lifestyle reflected anything but.
Perhaps my only saving grace—despite my a pure neglect of spiritual disciplines—was that I did not shirk my academic and career disciplines during this time, and thus rose to the top of nearly every class in which I enrolled, completed a full pre-med curriculum, and attained a master's degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics, all while simultaneously moonlighting as a personal trainer, sports camp and tennis instructor, coffee shop barista, and bartender.
In my senior year of college, I married a wonderful, faithful, beautiful Christian girl named Jessa. I gained a slight sense of greater responsibility. I straightened up just a bit, or at least quit partying and drinking quite so much. I began to attend church more frequently, mostly to make my wife happy, but also because I had a slight stirring in my soul that it was probably the “right thing to do.” Then, three years into our marriage, we were blessed with twin boys, and my sense of responsibility even more dramatically shifted. I started a family constitution, a trust, a living will, and an investment portfolio. An outside observer may have assumed I was finally becoming a “man,” though I was still an irresponsible, selfish boy on the inside.
My neglect of the spiritual disciplines was painfully glaring. Studying Scripture, praying, meditating, fasting, silence, presence, and true worship of God were all shoved to the side in favor of pumping iron, drinking protein shakes, flexing, building a business, making money, seeking the praise of men and women, and ultimately, serving my false self while simultaneously staying severely disconnected from my true self.
Often to the neglect of my young family, I began a slow slide into the escape I could afford through workaholism. I built a successful chain of personal training studios and gyms, began making six figures a year as a health and exercise junkie “guru,” was nominated as America's top personal trainer, appeared on the cover of multiple fitness magazines, and simultaneously rose to the peak of athletic success as an adventure athlete who hopped on planes multiple times a week to leave town and compete, an Ironman racer who trained for hours a day while my family played alone at home, and a ripped, fit, picture-perfect image of all the shallow, pleasures of the flesh that the world holds dear. My dear wife Jessa patiently put up with my gallivanting about the globe engaged in my pursuit of ego-inflating enjoyments. She prayed earnestly for me, did the lion's share of raising our boys, attended church by herself as I traveled nearly every Sunday, and—by the grace of God—she somehow patiently put up with being married to the spiritual equivalent of an irresponsible, selfish brat.
I bought a condo. Then a house. Then another house. A couple of nice cars. Biohacking toys. More fitness equipment. Rifles, pistols, bows, arrows, spearfishing guns, gold, silver, bitcoin, and plenty of ribeye steaks. A guitar. A ukulele. A few drums. Nice things for my wife. Toys, toys, and more toys for my boys. A massive library of books. A thriving nutrition supplements company. A lucrative speaking and writing career. Then finally, a dream home on ten acres of forested land in Washington state. Fame, power, money, belongings, and social media followers were my holy metrics of success.
Yet even then, ten years into marriage, saturated with all the worldly success that society places on a pedestal, and from an outsider's perspective, becoming a man who had “made it” with a beautiful family, a successful career, social media fame, and a fit body, I was severely broken and unhappy.
There was never enough to satisfy my carnal cravings.
I succumbed to nearly every temptation the world threw at me.
I sacrificed relationships, friends, and family for all the notoriety, wealth, and prosperity I thought would make me happy.
I escaped the constant pricking of my conscience with what I knew deep down to be true and right by running physically and running emotionally—filling my life with a constant buzz of doing, doing, and doing that kept me from confronting the gaping hole of personal emptiness and unhappiness inside me.
I was disconnected from my true self.
I was traumatized without even knowing it.
And perhaps most sadly, I was disconnected from God.
My God-Shaped Hole
There was a distinct moment when I came to the realization that my priorities in life needed to seriously change and my path to the top of the mountain was in truth plunging my life, my family, and my relationship with God to the bottom of a dark valley.
That moment occurred when I realized I could no longer hide my rotten habits away from my patient and long-suffering wife. Upon returning from a long, solitary walk on a Sunday afternoon, I was convicted by God and broke down in front of Jessa, confessing to her that I had not been a faithful husband. Of course, I had amassed many other wrongdoings related to my inherent selfishness, but I knew that unfaithfulness to my wife was what was really eating me up from the inside out.
It was one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had. In an act of pure grace, kindness, and love, Jessa forgave me, but she was hurt to the core, and for weeks our relationship, already built upon the frail foundation of an absent husband and father, became even more rocky and precarious. I feared that I had screwed everything up – big time – and that the family I loved so much was now going to be torn apart in a public and embarrassing fashion. In the later years of their marriage, I had witnessed my own parents' painful divorce, felt as though the same tragedy was about to happen in my marriage—and worse yet, I knew it was all my fault.
And so one morning, days after my confession and sitting alone in my kitchen sipping coffee while staring off into the hills behind the house in the throes of frustration, fear, shame, and emotional alienation from Jessa, I realized that if I did not begin to tend to my spiritual health and restore my union with God, I really was going to lose all that really mattered in life. I was, as Mark 8:36 alludes to, going to be a man who had gained the whole world, yet lost his own soul.
That very morning, I went upstairs to the bedroom, found my dusty, neglected Bible, and cracked it open. It had been so long since I'd read God's word that I simply began with the very first chapter of Genesis.
After reading, I turned to God and began to pray. It felt awkward, foreign, and strange to be speaking to the Creator whom I had neglected for so long, but I poured my heart out to Him nonetheless in a desperate cry for help and direction. Later that week, I even wrote a personal prayer and began to recite it each and every morning, a prayer I continue to recite to this very day:
“Our Father in heaven, I surrender all to you
Turn me into the father and husband you would have for me to be
Into a man who will fulfill your great commission
And remove from me all judgment of others
Grant me your heavenly wisdom
Remove from me my worldly temptations
Teach me to listen to your still, small voice in the silence
And fill me with your peace, your love, and your joy. Amen.”
I also began to meditate.
And to journal.
As the months proceeded, I dove into the spiritual disciplines that I discuss here, voraciously consuming titles such as Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney, the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele A. Calhoun, and many other books far outside the realm of the fitness, science, nutrition, and biohacking literature I'd so myopically immersed myself in for oh-too-long.
I ferociously committed myself to my family, for the first time in years learning to be fully present with my wife and twin boys, trusting on God to provide for my needs rather than engaging in frantic, desperate workaholism, and being the father, the leader, and the man who I knew from my childhood that God called me to be (despite my decades-long resistance to accepting that calling and forsaking all my irresponsible boyish escapades).
Perhaps most importantly, over the next several months, God slowly opened my eyes and I began to realize that no amount of money, fame and famous friends, business success, fitness, dietary perfection, supplements, drugs, books, toys, or musical instruments can fill the “God-shaped hole” within one's heart.
See, every person has a void in their life that can only be filled by God.
This God-shaped hole is simply the innate longing of the heart for something outside itself, something transcendent, something “other” and something “greater.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to this as the “eternity in man’s heart.” God made us for an eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill that deep-rooted desire for eternity. Nearly every religion that exists is based upon this innate desire to connect with someone or something greater than ourselves, and this desire can only be filled by God.
The problem is we silly, selfish humans can spend much of our life—or worse, all of our life—ignoring this hole or attempting to fill it with anything other than God. If it promises to fulfill our longing for meaning—whether business, family, sports and other hobbies, food, drink, exercise, and the like—then we keep dumping it into that hole, expecting that at some point, the hole will be full and the result will be the happiness we have been craving that nothing else seems to provide. Yet by pursuing these things that are not eternal, we remain unfulfilled and continue to wonder why our lives never seem satisfactory. Sure, we can achieve happiness for a short period of time, such as when we finally get to the body fat percentage we desire, discover the perfect diet, graduate college or graduate college again, cross the finish line of a triathlon, get married and have kids, win the lottery, or achieve massive business success—but nothing fulfills the longing for eternity.
People pursuing all things except God can certainly achieve some measure of “happiness” for a short period of time. But consider the words of King Solomon, who had all the riches, success, and power one could ever wish for—in short, a vast world of wealth that many humans spend their entire lives seeking. Yet Solomon called this all dissatisfactory vanity (Ecclesiastes 1). Solomon at least realized that all worldly pleasures in the absence of God are vain. Many other rich and successful people don't even arrive at that realization. Simply consider the Hollywood suicides of individuals like Robin Williams and Marilyn Monroe, the seeming unhappiness and unfulfilled attitude of great athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, and the wealthy, successful yet miserable status of America's dream job elite highlighted in this New York Times article on those haunting the halls at corporations such as McKinsey & Company, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Apple.
Things get even worse if you, like me, are “driven,” as Dr. Doug Brackman highlights so well in his book by the same name. Many of us are born with a natural genetic drive often seen in entrepreneurs, pro-athletes, inventors, adventurers, and Navy SEALs. Due to our built-in DNA hardwiring, we tend to seek thrills, success, achievement, and adventure even more than the average human—resulting in rampant impulsivity, distraction, havoc, stress, and diagnoses of “medical conditions” such as ADHD, ADD, or OCD. As Doug discussed when I interviewed him for an upcoming podcast about the book, we driven people fight a constant lifetime uphill battle in our quest for happiness until we find God. In many cases, our God-shaped hole can be an even deeper and more problematic abyss. (If this sounds familiar to you, you should read Doug's book or listen to my upcoming podcast with him.)
No Regrets, Only Gratefulness
Ultimately, in the same way a square peg cannot fill a round hole, the God-shaped hole inside each of us cannot be filled by anyone or anything other than God. Not only did I eventually come to the profound realization that my own hole had been empty for a very long time, but the same was also true for my thousands upon thousands of followers in the physical culture, fitness, and health world who had a similar deep, unhappy gnawing in their soul, and were craving the answers I was suddenly finding.
Now, at this point in my life, I could have had many regrets.
Regrets at having played a large part in giving many people the false impression that they could find their happiness through exercise and dieting.
Regrets at having spent so many years neglecting my own spiritual fitness while simultaneously spending inordinate amounts of time honing physical and mental fitness perfection.
Regrets that I had stepped onto so many hundreds of stages and in front of so many microphones teaching people how to satisfy their fleshly pursuits while simultaneously presenting a skewed reality of what is truly important in life.
Yet, upon reflecting upon the plan that God manifested in my life, I realized that there was no need for regret. Instead, I was washed over with the understanding that over twenty years of building a giant fitness empire, God had blessed me with a sizeable audience of people hungry for and craving the same fulfillment I had finally found. As a matter of fact, here's a snippet of a journal entry of mine from November 30, 2019, during which I was meditating upon this very concept and experiencing a temptation to be regretful of squandering years:
“…you idiot! Can’t you see all along that it is a journey of no regrets, and only gratefulness? Are you ashamed of being a bright and shiny spandex gold-tan Gold’s Gym Nautilus spinning As-Seen-On-TV glittery Jamba Juice fitness icon? Well DON’T BE! Why? Because look where it somehow brought you: a following, a stage, a rabid fanbase of listeners and followers who are … get this … all suddenly looking for answers and POP! You’re the dude standing in front of them and you’re standing there with the elixir in your hand and the spark in your soul. Do you really think they WANT another longevity hack or pill to pop or new dumbbell move? NO! They *THINK* that’s what they want and that’s certainly the shiny penny that got them to grab a ticket to the experience that is YOU, but you know what – they’re now sitting in that chair, you’re now standing on that stage and you’ve got a giant audience ready to hear what they really NEED to hear – the message of light and love and hope and fulfillment that only GOD can bring.”
Yes, God works in mysterious ways. He draws straight paths with crooked lines. His path to the top of the mountain is a zig-zagging goat trail that eventually—if you listen to His voice and pray for wisdom and discernment—takes you exactly to where He desires for you to make maximum impact with the life, the purpose, and the unique skillset you've been blessed with. (A wonderful book that explores this “path up the mountain” concept even more fully is The Second Mountain by David Brooks.)
The Great Commission
After turning God to fill the abyss in my soul, beginning to pursue the spiritual disciplines with the same fervor as I'd been pursuing the physical disciplines, and experiencing the incredibly blessed sensation of waking each morning with a satisfied smile on my face, a happy and connected family, and an extraordinary fulfillment of daily union with God, life became absolutely magical—and continues to grow more magical each day as I seek wisdom, discernment, and direction from God.
But I’d be remiss not to mention another meaningful moment that occurred along the way. Five years into my journey of blissful connection to faith and family, the spark lit within my spirit burst into an absolute wildfire-like inferno when I emerged from an intense plant medicine ceremony that I had prepared for with weeks of prayer, fasting, meditation, and intense focus upon my relationship with God. My intention for the plant medicine was to “turn off” my analytical brain and creatively develop a few new personal and business ideas for fully manifesting my purpose in life and impact on the world.
Wait! What's the deal with “plant medicine”?
In summary, as I write in my Heaven article:
“…I certainly think that there is an appropriate, responsible and purposeful use God intended for plant (or synthetic) medicine in the very same way there is an appropriate, responsible and purposeful use for a nice Bordeaux, a touch of tobacco from a cigar or pipe, or a double espresso shot pumpkin spiced latte. For example, I personally derive a great deal of energetic and creative benefit from the left and right merging of the brain hemispheres, the increase in sensory perception, and the neuronal growth that occurs when I microdose with a bit of psilocybin or LSD on a long writing day; the relaxing or the socially and sexually enhancing benefits of a touch of MDMA or cannabis; and even the enormous spectrum of insights and ideas I gain from a more intensive so-called “journey”. Plant medicine, when used responsibly, can be a blessing – but, just like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, St. John's wort or any other popular substance humankind has discovered to adjust dials in the brain – can also be used as an addiction, an escape and a dangerous replacement for God.”
In this specific case, during twenty-seven hours of “journeying” under the guidance of a trained Christian facilitator, I was completely astonished by the fact that I did not experience a single business insight, strategic plan for my company or brand, or a host of new ideas for work and life projects.
Instead, I spent the entire session repeatedly spellbound with intense and overwhelming visualizations of the entire story of Jesus playing over and over again in intense detail: His deity, his death, his burial, and his resurrection.
I spent the entire journey dwelling upon his Hero's Journey, including all the intensity of his suffering that I write about here, along with the glorious message of salvation and opportunity for all of humankind to release their burdens, sin and shame, and ultimate, free solution to all of our struggles both great and small. Upon emerging from the ceremony, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt in my heart that I must spend the rest of my life shouting this good news of deliverance from the rooftops. As a matter of fact, here's just a small snippet of the many journal entries that I logged for days after the ceremony:
“…we can all be saved. All our sins can be washed away until we are as white as snow. All the shame that's carried in individuals and even in families for generations upon generations through thousands of years – that it is all covered by Christ, and through him, we can all be forgiven. Sure, you can keep coming back to the same old wounds over and over and over again, like a nightmarish dream. But I can tell you that unless you know that it is all covered by Christ, you will never emerge from a cycle of trauma, sin or shame. So what do you do, Ben? You armor yourself with the full armor of God. You build your soul with the spiritual disciplines. You help your children put their armor on. You help them build their spiritual disciplines. You pray. You meditate. You memorize Scripture. You go to church. You build a community. You equip spirits. You show the world yourself and your family as a living, breathing example of God’s light and love. You shout this message of salvation from the rooftops until your very last dying breath, because the world needs to hear it so desperately…”
Did I need plant medicine to come fully to this realization? I doubt it. I firmly believe that some are called, and some are not, to this type of approach. But it certainly accelerated, in a very dramatic fashion, my awakening to the meaning and magnitude of my true calling: To use my unique purpose statement to fulfill the great commission in each and every last aspect of my life. And what is that commission? You can find it by opening your Bible to Matthew 28:17-20, where Jesus says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are each called, in our own unique way, to fulfill that commission. I recently discovered a good perspective on unique calling presented by Sadhu Sundur Singh, a remarkable Indian disciple of Jesus Christ (it is well worth reading his biography here). He writes in his inspiring book With & Without Christ:
“Everyone should follow his calling and carry out his work according to his God-given gifts and capacities. The same breath is blown into flute, cornet and bagpipe, but different music is produced according to different instruments. In the same way the one spirit works in us, God’s children, but different result are produced, and God is glorified through them according to each one’s temperament and personality.”
I challenge you too to dwell upon what kind of instrument God made you to be and how His breath of life can fuel your unique purpose in life. Let those things that come easy to you—reading, teaching, speaking, art, music, crafting things with your hands, or anything else—be the things that you minister to the world with, and never feel guilty if it “comes easy.” A violin can spend its entire life glancing with covetousness at a piano while wishing it could, and attempting to, make keyboard sounds; or that same violin could spend its life playing a beautiful, enchanting concerto that displays its full violin glory.
In Zechariah 9:9-17, you can read how God shot Israel like a lightning bolt from his battle bow. But we are all God’s children, and the Bible tells us that children are like arrows in one’s quiver. So also imagine that each day, God is plucking you from His mighty quiver and shooting you from His bow like a lightning bolt into the world. So where is God aiming you? Are you prepared to fly like a fiery arrow wherever He aims and calls you? For more on purpose, read this.
These days, does my life still involve daily struggles accompanied by temptations, failures, and setbacks?
As Romans 8 (one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture) states…
…all creation groans.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
That's right: Life will be tough and full of temptation, toil, and often unpleasant work by the sweat and occasional blood of our brow. We will experience disappointments, emotional ups and downs, conflicts, turmoil, and unexpected, sometimes troubling twists and turns. This will continue until the very last day we are swept into Heaven.
Furthermore, one doesn't just believe upon the Hero's Journey I describe here, then wistfully waltz off into the sunset whistling a happy tune as all of life instantly becomes magical. It takes a bit more than that. It takes a release of shame of what you have done or experienced in your life thus far and a full casting of those concerns and burdens upon God. It also takes forgiveness, a concept perfectly illustrated in the story of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic athlete and airman who endured twenty-six torturous months in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, a stupendous story now illustrated fully in the book and movie Unbroken.
Hailed as a hero for his incredible story of survival, Zamperini, for years after his release, was emotionally scarred, filled with hatred, and plagued by nightmares. He became an alcoholic, abused his wife, and neglected his young daughter. Eventually, in an act of great desperation, he attended a Billy Graham crusade, confessed his sins, entered into union with God, put his faith in Christ, experienced forgiveness, and was finally delivered from his nightmarish existence. He wrote:
“Deciding to devote your life to God doesn't mean instantaneous, nonstop happiness. Hard work lay ahead. I fought despondency and doubt, and tried to come to terms with what had happened to me…the hardest thing in life is to forgive…forgiveness is healing.”
Zamperini's epic survival story didn't buy him happiness. It was only the grace of Jesus that filled the hole in his heart and gave him the peace and happiness he had been seeking for long. So you too (as I did) must forgive yourself and release all feelings of shame to God, ask for forgiveness from others (as I also did) for rotten things you've done in the past, and finally (as Zamperini did to his Japanese wartime tormentors), forgive others who have wronged you and who you may hold bitterness against. That is, when filled with a belief and faith in the Hero's Journey, you will embody the powerful words of 2 Corinthians 5:17:
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”
So there you have it.
That is who I am: A new creation with a renewed and fantastically exciting lease on life.
That is also why, over the past several years, if you are a regular reader of mine you may have noticed a shift in my writing towards a less myopic focus on physical and mental fitness, and instead, a more broad and necessary focus on the inclusion of spiritual fitness.
Ultimately, I am overjoyed and inspired with the clarity of life purpose I experience each day. I have, by God's mercy, been plucked from sin to salvation and from meaninglessness to purposefulness. Within my weekly Sabbath Ramblings are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way.
And where do you and I go from here? I will personally continue to live out my life's purpose, which is to…
… ”To Read & Write, Learn & Teach, Sing & Speak, Compete & Create In Full Presence & Selfless Love, To The Glory Of God.”
This will include me not only continuing to teach you about how to care for your body and brain using the latest research, ancestral wisdom, and modern science so that you too can be fully equipped to live out your own purpose in life, but also me continuing to transform (as God works in me and through me) from an adventurous boy to a more responsible and mature mentor and sage who can teach you how to not make the same mistakes I have, and who can also teach you how to tend for the one part of you that needs care and attention the most: your soul.
It is my hope and prayer that I can help you attain not just a fit body and a fit mind but also…
…a fit soul.
How about you? What is your story? Your experience with unfulfillment to fulfillment, unhappiness to happiness, and purposelessness to purposefulness? Your unique purpose in life? Do you have a fit soul? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback below. I read them all.