The Last Arrow
Cultural pioneer and thought leader Erwin McManus examines the traits of individuals who break the gravitational pull of mediocrity and risk everything for a life that many only dream of - an authentic life lived with relentless ambition, a heart...
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Cultural pioneer and thought leader Erwin McManus examines the traits of individuals who break the gravitational pull of mediocrity and risk everything for a life that many only dream of - an authentic life lived with relentless ambition, a heart on fire, and no regrets.
:Before You Die,
Live the Life
You Were Born
When you come to the end of your days, you will not measure your life based on success and failures. All of those will eventually blur together into a single memory called "life."
What will give you solace is a life with nothing left undone. One that's been lived with relentless ambition, a heart on fire, and with no regrets.
On the other hand, what will haunt you until your final breath is who you could have been but never became and what you could have done but never did.
The Last Arrow is your roadmap to a life that defies odds and alters destinies. Discover the attributes of those who break the gravitational pull of mediocrity as cultural pioneer and thought leader Erwin McManus examines the characteristics of individuals who risked everything for a life they could only imagine. Imagine living the life you were convinced was only a dream.
We all begin this life with a quiver full of arrows.
Now the choice is yours. Will you cling to your arrows or risk them all, opting to live until you have nothing left to give?
Time is short. Pick up The Last Arrow and begin the greatest quest of your life.
Erwin Raphael McManus is an author, speaker, activist, filmmaker and innovator who specializes in the field of developing and unleashing personal and organizational creativity, uniqueness, innovation and diversity. In other words, he gets bored really easily.
Erwin also serves as the primary communicator and cultural architect of Mosaic in Los Angeles. He is the author of An Unstoppable Force, a Gold Medallion Award finalist; Chasing Daylight; Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul; The Barbarian Way; Stand Against the Wind, Soul Cravings, and Wide Awake: The Future is Waiting within you. He also serves as a Research Advisor with The Gallup Organization.
Koorong - Editorial Review.
The Point of No Return
William Osborne McManus married my mom when I was around six years old. He wasn’t my birth father, and he never legally adopted me or my brother, but for all intents and purposes, he was the only father I ever knew. We became close, and I imagine that in my childhood, I loved him as much as any son could love a father. When I was young I called him dad. Later in life I simply called him Bill.
This man was a contradiction in every way. He was warm and engaging, charismatic and winsome. At the same time, he was a con man for whom truth was simply material woven into whatever lies he needed to tell. I remember when the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, came out. My brother, Alex, called me up and said, “Have you seen the movie? It’s Dad.” I had the exact same thought when I sat in the theater watching the movie. If you want to understand my childhood, it’s summarized for you in two hours.
Over the years, Bill caused my family deep pain, callously disregarding my mom and my two little sisters, the daughters he had fathered. By the time he left us, when I was seventeen years old, all the love I had felt for him had turned to disdain. That day, he must have seen what I was feeling and thinking when he looked into my eyes, because he moved toward me aggressively. And while my instincts made me want to step back in fear, my anger made me hold my ground. Standing face to face with me, he said, “Hit me. I know you want to. See if you are man enough.”
I looked at him and said, “You’re not worth the effort.”
He got in his car as my little sisters begged me to find a way to reconcile. I went outside to plead with him not to leave. My last memory of him from that day was seeing his face on the other side of the windshield when he clipped me with the front of the car as he drove away.
Even after that fateful day, we did find a way to reconcile and stay in touch by phone, although our contact was minimal. But there is truth to the adage that what has been torn cannot be mended. Eventually Bill remarried, and around that same time, I married as well. As if it were a script, his new wife and my wife, Kim, were pregnant at the same time. But for more reasons than I can explain, I made the hard decision of leaving my stepdad in the past and focusing on building a future for my family without Bill as part of our lives.
Before I knew it, fifteen years had passed—years in which Bill and my son, Aaron, never met. Aaron was the first true McManus in our family. I had taken the name McManus from Bill without his ever legally becoming my father. And ironically, McManus wasn’t even his name—it was an alias he assumed. He was the kind of person who was always running from his past, and his false identity was a part of that. Finally Aaron came by the name legitimately.
When Aaron was fifteen, he wanted to meet the man who gave me that name in the first place—the man I called my father. I felt I owed him that. So even though I hadn’t spoken to my dad in fifteen years, I tracked him down as if he were a stranger I was trying to meet for the first time. We found him in a small town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, called Matthews. He was more than happy to see me and more than happy to meet my son. I think I had caused him great sadness by extricating myself from his life for the past fifteen years.
I didn’t know what to expect, but the reunion went well enough—for a while. Then there were the last words I heard him say as we were leaving (not just the last words that day but forever, as he died not too long afterward). He said to my son in my presence, “I don’t know what your dad has told you, but he was average. He was just average. His brother was exceptional, but your dad, he was just average.”
Those words cut me like a knife. Please don’t misunderstand me. What hurt most was not that those were the last words my father chose to say about me. Nor was I most hurt because my son heard this judgment. What cut me deepest was a terrifying sense that Bill McManus was right, that I was just average.
Frankly, if you look back at my early life, those words would have to be categorized as an exaggeration toward the positive. I was, in fact, always below average. I wasn’t the C student; I was a D student. I wasn’t second string; I was, at best, third string. The painful truth is that “average” had always eluded me. I seemed to always be diving toward the bottom. I was never picked first, nor second, nor anywhere in the middle. I was always literally the last player picked.
And while I always hoped that one day there would be something special about me, the truth is, I made my home in the average, if not the below average. I found a strange solace and safety in my power of invisibility and made obscurity my residence.
I am in no small part indebted to that conversation with Bill for all the thoughts that follow in this book. I do not believe anyone is born average, but I do believe that many of us choose to live a life of mediocrity. I think there are more of us than not who are in danger of disappearing into the abyss of the ordinary. The great tragedy in this, of course, is that there is nothing really ordinary about us. We might not be convinced of this, but our souls already know it’s true, which is why we find ourselves tormented when we choose lives beneath our capacities and callings.
There are two ways of hearing the indictment “You are just average.” One way of hearing this is as a statement of essence, that you’re cut from an average cloth. The second is subtly, but significantly, different. The statement can be about character—that you have chosen a path of least resistance, that you have not aspired to the greatness that is within your grasp. Here is the painful reality: we will find ourselves defined by the average if we do not choose to defy the odds. Odds are that you and I will fall at the average. That’s why it’s called the average. It’s where most of us live. To be above average demands a choice. It requires that we defy the odds. You have no control of whether you have been endowed with above-average talent or intelligence or physical attributes. What you can control is whether you choose to live your life defined and determined by the status quo. Even when the law of averages works against you, you can still defy the odds.
Bill’s was a statement of outcome and actions. I walked away from his house that day with a clear resolve that although I have no control over whatever talent has been placed inside of me—no control over the level of my intelligence or whatever other advantages or disadvantages my genetic composition might have brought me—I will take absolute control over my personal responsibility to develop and maximize whatever potential God has given me for the good of others. The journey of The Last Arrow begins when you raise the bar. We need to raise the bar of our standards of our faith, of our sacrifice, of our expectations of ourselves, of our belief of the goodness and generosity of God.
We can refuse to be average. We must refuse to be average. We must war against the temptation to settle for less. Average is always a safe choice, and it is the most dangerous choice we can make. Average protects us from the risk of failure, and it also separates us from futures of greatness. The Last Arrow is for those who decide they will never settle.
I am not talking about an uncompromising rigidity to your own expectations and standards. In fact, a huge part of the process we are about to enter into is learning how to let go of those things that don’t really matter and even of those things that do not matter most. This book is not about holding others to the standards you have set. This book is about not underestimating how much God intends for your life.
I have never found a way around failure and so I cannot teach you how not to fail, but I can guide you to the place where you will never quit. Even here I feel a need to clarify. You may be doing things today that you needed to quit yesterday. There may not be anything worse than winning a battle you never should have fought. I am convinced, though, that every human being has a unique calling on his or her life—that each of us was created with intention and purpose. And I am equally certain that most of us underestimate how much God actually wants to do in our lives and through our lives. The Last Arrow is about leaving nothing undone that was ours to do. It is squeezing the marrow out of life. This journey is about ensuring that when we come to the end of our lives, we will arrive at our final moments with no regret.
Don’t Stop Until You Are Finished
The concept of The Last Arrow came to me when I was reflecting on a story from the life of the prophet Elisha in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s an obscure moment and could easily be missed, yet it is both poetic and profound. It is also, I am convinced, a window into how God works in the world and how we either open ourselves to his bigger future or ensure that we make the future smaller than he intends for us.
In this story, Jehoash is the king of Israel when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are divided and at war against one another. His kingdom is being threatened by the armies of Amaziah, king of Judah. The one great advantage Jehoash has is that the prophet Elisha is with them, but now Elisha is suffering from an illness that will lead to his death. Jehoash goes and weeps over him, less because of his sorrow for the loss of the prophet and more because of his fear of the loss of Elisha’s protection.
Jehoash calls out to Elisha, who has been a symbol and source of God’s strength and power, but now is clearly at the end of his life.
Elisha then gives him a somewhat unusual series of instructions. Elisha says, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he does so. Then he tells him, “Take the bow in your hands.” When Elisha commands Jehoash to do this, the king immediately complies. When the king raises the bow and arrow, Elisha puts his hands on the king’s hands.
“Open the east window,” he says, and the king opens it. “Shoot!” Elisha says, and Jehoash shoots. “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declares. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”
Then he says, “Take the arrows,” and the king takes them. Elisha tells him, “Strike the ground.” He strikes it three times and stops. Then the Scriptures tell us something that is quite unexpected: “The man of God was angry with him and said, ‘You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.’” Right after he says this, the story tells us, “Elisha died and was buried.”1
Much of what happens here doesn’t make any sense to our modern minds. How could the king’s future be so affected by whether he struck an arrow three times or five or six times? Why didn’t Elisha explain to him what was required before holding him to its consequences? How could the king have known that six is the magic number and that three would leave him wanting? Up to that moment, he had done everything Elisha instructed him. But when Elisha told him to strike the ground with the arrows, the prophet left the instruction open ended.
It is not insignificant that the text says, “The man of God was angry with him.” Clearly much more was happening here than meets the eye. This was no small mistake. The king began with the promise of a complete victory and afterward was the recipient of much less. And it all centers around one decision: he struck the ground three times and then stopped. Putting it another way: he quit. The Bible doesn’t tell us why he quit. Maybe he was tired, maybe he felt ridiculous, maybe he thought it was beneath him, or perhaps he sensed it was an act of futility. But it is clear that, for Elisha, the fact that the king stopped striking the arrow was connected to his determination to receive the full measure of God’s intention for him. He quit and the victory was lost. He just didn’t want it badly enough.
I wonder how many victories are lost before the battle has even begun. I wonder how much more good God desires to usher into the world that has been thwarted by our own lack of ambition. I wonder how many times in my own life I thought I failed but actually the only thing that happened was that I quit.
What is it about us that stops before we’re finished, that mistakes quitting for failure, that settles for less? I see too much of myself in this—can identify too many times when I have prayed too little, expected too little, and done too little. Have you become the kind of person who is always looking for the least you can do, trying to do only what is required? Or are you the kind of person who has given up not only on life but also on yourself? When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I gave everything I had,” or will you have a hollow feeling inside of your soul that you quit too soon, that you expected too little, that you did not strike the last arrow?
I think many of us hear God say, “Take your arrows and shoot,” but, much like the king, we never hear the command, “Stop striking the ground.” We simply stop before we’re finished. We stop before God is finished.