The Night I Became King
On my first day at Tulsa Central High School, I didn't know many kids. After bumping through the crowded halls on four floors, any self-confidence I had ever had vanished. I came home and complained to Mother, "I don't know anybody in this school. This feels awful."
She said quietly, "Everybody coming in there is lonely and feeling inadequate, and they are all jumping into a bigger frog pond as minnows. You can just trust me on that. But if you'll learn the people's names and speak to them by name, you'll get to know some of them. And you'll also really be helping them, because all people want to be known." I didn't have anything else to do, so I did what she suggested—except I didn't just speak to a few kids. By the next fall, I had memorized the name of virtually everyone whose picture was in the yearbook.
I also went out for basketball, and I was only about 5' 7" tall. Fortunately I grew to six feet between my first and second years. In my senior year, we did not lose a single game during regular season.
Near the end of school each year, there was a big musical show at Central called "High School Daze." A king and queen of the school were elected, to be announced and crowned the first night of Daze. I had become president of the senior class; we'd had a great basketball team; and I had won a few other honors. Then in the spring, I was elected "king."
Is There More To Life Than This?
I remember sitting in a room backstage alone, all dressed up in a tuxedo with a big red cape looking at the crown they were going to put on me. The school queen was a beautiful girl, and I was crazy about her. But as I sat there alone waiting for the "coronation" to begin, I had a strange hollow feeling inside—not at all the excitement and anticipation I'd thought I'd have. I asked myself, "Is this all there is?" And in that moment I knew a secret: being "king" is not the meaning of life. But I didn't know what was.
After college, some notable successes came my way in a couple of different fields. But the successes didn't answer my question, "Is there more to life than this?" In the midst of my greatest outward successes, I experienced the pain of failure and losses in my personal life—the loss of my entire family of origin by the time I was twenty-eight, and then a painful divorce for which I was primarily responsible.
Finally, in several stages, I saw my incredible self-centeredness. Even though I was a sincerely committed Christian, I had unconsciously put myself in the center of my life instead of God, and I was unwittingly building a Christian kingdom in which I was the king instead of Jesus Christ.
When I discovered that—many years ago—I was horrified. And after much struggle, I finally confessed my self-centeredness and the resulting sins and consciously surrendered everything in my personal and vocational life to God.
Finding God by Helping Others
Since that surrender, what I began to learn to do as a sophomore in high school sixty-six years ago has become the way I'm trying to live my life now—that is, paying attention to and getting to know people around me—all kinds of people. Only now I'm loving them and specifically trying to help them find hope and self-acceptance in life because that is what God is continuing to do for me. And as people ask me—or if it becomes appropriate, I tell them what I've discovered by trying to surrender my life to God.
Mostly I'm not consciously running for anything now or trying to win some kind of prize or "game." And that change of purpose brings peace and happiness into the present. But it's the sense of God's love and guidance that has been teaching me to enjoy life—whatever is going on that I'm facing. I'm eighty-two now and I'm learning how to live for God while walking toward death. And in doing what I believe God wants me to do now, I'm enjoying this final stage of life more than any so far!
Many years after I was "King Daze," I found a real King to live for. I came to see that everyone out there is lonely and sometimes feels inadequate at some level. If I can just get to know a few people personally, listen to them, and help them in ways that I feel God would have me to, I can always have a life of meaning and I will never have to be alone or bored. Of course, sometimes I still wake up lonely or afraid, but now I know that's just a natural part of life—sort of a spiritual "bad hair day."
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
Have you felt lonely or afraid recently? What comforted you?
What kingdoms are you building at work, at home, in your community, or in your church? Or to put it another way, what is your purpose of work?
Is it okay for a Christian leader to be ambitious and build kingdoms in the world? What does healthy ambition look like?
How can you be more active about working for the Lord as you are helping to build kingdoms through work, community, family, and church?