By: Keith Butterfield
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
“I just really didn’t see it coming,” Chip Johnston says of the seemingly sudden collapse of many major parts of his personal life a couple of years ago. “Everything changed, and it was a very big change,” says the 45-year-old Calgary, Canada, attorney.
All in a matter of months, Johnston and his wife separated, he moved from the home he shared with her and his two children and Johnston experienced his own serious health issues.
The shock to anyone would be understandable. But the series of events were even more jarring given their stark contrast with Johnston’s previous 20 years as a successful lawyer in the highly independent, entrepreneurial Calgary, the capital of Canada’s hydrocarbon industry. Of that time in his career, he says: “It was a long, dizzy period…a lot of fun. I enjoy the entrepreneurialism of the law – and that is very doable in Calgary.”
Today, he discusses the triumphs and travails of both periods in a consistent, rational way: sincere, sanguine and serious.
Of his personal life’s “sudden” challenges, he says: “I came to realize I wasn’t living for Christ and I was pursuing my own agenda.” He also adds that he didn’t arrive at that conclusion immediately.
“My lessons from my previous life were that I could control a great deal and I could handle things by relying on myself.” He explains that he grew up in a lower middle-class but well-educated family. After earning an undergraduate philosophy degree in Calgary, he completed a law degree in Toronto before returning to Calgary to practice. He found very much to his liking the work with private equity firms, startups and corporate law – predominantly related to Calgary’s burgeoning hydrocarbon industry. “It colors how you think and who you become,” Johnston says.
So when those tough times hit, he says he expected himself to independently work through the challenges and overcome them. “I started being pretty critical with myself as I tried to diagnose what I did wrong. As I look back, I think some of that was a bit overdone.”
But he says he also was feeling tugs to acknowledge he wasn’t “in this by myself.” “I kind of had a relationship with God when I was young, but it wasn’t very deep,” he says. And, “while my philosophy background taught me that God was possible, I didn’t feel I needed to spend a lot of time with Him.”
But the “it’s up to me” attitude bore limited results. So Johnston says he started answering the tugs.
“I decided to take a journey into it and see what it could mean if I focused. There were things that were not working: the relationship, my diet, even just simply living for entirely the wrong stuff.”
He had previously joined a Bible study group with his church, but Johnston says it was the full engagement with the Halftime Institute experience that accelerated his journey to God and made the guidance of the Gospels specific – and thereby helping him to become the man and father he wants to be. He acknowledges he’s still very early in that process – having attending the two-day Halftime Institute Launch Event in the fall of 2013 and working through the ongoing coaching that continues to the present.
“I like to say I want to live with an open hand, and the Halftime Institute has been a way of operationalizing what I am feeling, reading and wanting – which is to go on a journey for God and therefore myself,” Johnston says.
It’s early in that journey, he knows, but “I’ve seen it bringing tremendous gifts. The amount we know – as I know from philosophy – is extremely limited. But with the Halftime tools, I’m learning how to practically think about how to approach my life and make those things stick.” The Halftime Institute was not enough alone, but it was critical in translating faith into action, and therefore reinforcing faith.
And the changes for the better have been in all aspects of his life – career and personal — without forcing him to “become someone else,” saying he finds it especially appealing that the Halftime Institute emphasizes leveraging strengths for positive outcomes and doesn’t advocate that we become someone else.
That’s meant supporting his law practice’s clients with a deeper sense of caring and concern. As he sees it: “Fusing understandings of business with trying to take care of people and focus on loving other people.” That also extends to changing his role from focusing solely on the development of his business to directing 20-25% of his time to the development of business for young lawyers who are working towards or are in partnership.
Personally, “as this process goes along, I can see my emotional life return to more normal conditions,” he says. The new normal includes accepting that he and his wife may not reconcile. But it also means returning to old interests while hoping to work toward new ones, such as helping young people become more successful.
“Halftime has been a lighthouse,” he says, nodding to the fact he’s still very much navigating the course.
“Halftime has given me a framework, and it’s really been effective for me in translating what I call the rhetoric of the sermon to the realty of the street. Bob Buford and the people at the Institute have figured that out, recognizing we’re people of action and we just need a plan – but one that keeps us grounded and aligned when we ask: ‘Am I doing the work that Christ wants me to do?’
“Halftime galvanizes us to work on ourselves – not others – and that for me is one of the central messages of Christ. Without a realistic and assertive play for working to live out reliance and love, we really don’t get the benefit of the relationship with God.”
“The whole thing has been deeply transformative. I’ve gone from not enjoying the joys of life to better relationships with my children, family, friends and associates,” Johnston says, adding “there was a real gap in my life and the Halftime Institute has helped me put God where he needs to be to help me fill it.”
Chip’s story may resonate with you and the unique journey you are on currently. If so, don’t do it alone. Join with a small group of like-minded individuals and begin to figure out what God has for you next. Contact Rhonda Kehlbeck at 972-841-7952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.