I kept waiting for Arnold to address the elephant in the room, but it didn’t happen.

As I watched a 3-hour documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger—arguably one of the most successful individuals in sports, entertainment, and politics of the last 50 years—I couldn’t stop thinking about his childhood. Throughout the movie, Arnold never considered that the punitive and abusive discipline he received from his father and the compulsiveness of his mother may not be normal. Rather, he viewed them as fuel for his relentless pursuit of success. Schwarzenegger chose to slam shut the door to his past (without looking back) so he could channel the focus he learned from his mother into sculpting his body to perfection. The self-proclaimed “fire in his belly” drove Schwarzenegger to hunger for achievement, whether to be named Mr. Olympia 13 times or become a world-famous movie actor and governor of California.

Sadly, Arnold’s only sibling did not fare so well. When Schwarzenegger received the news that his brother—a troubled alcoholic—died in a car crash, he rationalized that his sibling had a much softer nature than he had. Instead of funneling his childhood pain into achievement, Arnold’s brother imploded. As I watched the series, I wondered when the impact of Arnold’s childhood would manifest in a harmful way. The slow-ticking bomb in Schwarzenegger went off in the last thirty minutes of the show.

When Maria Shriver—Arnold’s wife of twenty-five years—asked her husband if Joseph was his, the bomb detonated. Shock sank in as I heard Schwarzenegger admit to being the father of their housekeeper’s son, Joseph. (As it turns out, Joseph was born less than a week after his youngest son with Shriver was born.) BOOM! My heart sank as I listened to Arnold talk about the implosion of his marriage and family. Twenty-five years of marriage and the lives of four children were blown up (“Terminator” style) by what Schwarzenegger described as “a terrible mistake.” Schwarzenegger said that even over a decade later, he feels “reluctant” to talk about the scandal, as “every time I do, it opens up the wounds again.” My heart hurt for him and his family. Yes, it was a terrible mistake, but more than that, I suspect Arnold’s unresolved pain and neglect from his childhood eventually led him to numb out in the arms of a woman who was not his wife. That’s not only a mistake; it’s a tragedy.

You may wonder what this story has to do with knowing who you are, the topic we began exploring last week. Because my passion is to guide others to recognize and come into alignment with how God made them, I began to wonder how Schwarzenegger may have missed all that God had for him. While there is no doubt that Arnold achieved more in his lifetime than most people, I know that God never intended that his success in life would be limited to professional achievement. You see, God chose a man (Abraham) and his family to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 12:1-3). God’s plan has always been to use the legacy created through the family to expand His kingdom of love, grace, and freedom across generations. Although Schwarzenegger managed to create a life of breathtaking achievement in his professional life, he failed to steward his personal life to the same degree. Oh, what a legacy he could have created if he only understood that he needed to steward the gift of family as well.

“I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this, my wisdom stayed with me. I denied nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecc 2:9-11)

It’s often said that we don’t get to choose our family, but that doesn’t mean God hasn’t chosen one for us. Our birth families are not an accident. Even though our parents are selected for us, they clearly are not without fault. Schwarzenegger’s father was not unlike the men around him—disillusioned and broken by war. He was also harsh and mean. Although Schwarzenegger used his pain to drive him to professional success, his untreated wounds never went away. Pain is pain. We may be compelled to disassociate or medicate (sometimes through sex and also, in Arnold’s case, cigar smoking), but unless it’s recognized and healed, the likelihood is that we may replicate the pain we suffered. (In an online article about Schwarzenegger, Arnold recounts how he threw his son’s bed off a balcony into the pool because he didn’t make it and his daughter’s sneakers in the fire because she didn’t put them away.) Examples like these are good illustrations of the saying, ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’

However, as true as that quote may sound, that’s not what God says about your design and destiny. Your upbringing may influence you, but it doesn’t get to define you. God does that. This is why I am passionate about acknowledging and dealing with unresolved pain from your childhood. Without doing the work, you won’t be able to truly know how God designed you to be and therefore step into all that He has for you. Schwarzenegger may have won the title of Mr. Olympia thirteen times, but I believe his unresolved trauma caused him to miss out on his call as husband and father.

We will pick up this topic next week, but until then, I have some optional homework for you. First, if you haven’t pondered the questions from last week, I suggest you start there. As you consider what you read today, I invite you to respond to the following prompts:

  • Ask God in what ways you are reacting to or replicating pain you have experienced in the past. Journal about what you see, sense, or hear.
  • Ask God to show you if you have allowed an experience from your past to define you in a way that He had not intended. For example, I know that God has deposited His greatness inside of me, but the pain of my past drove me into a pattern of perfectionism and over-achieving. That was not from God.
  • Ask God if a negative behavior/habit/addiction has roots in what happened in your childhood. Perhaps you, like Schwarzenegger, have slammed the door shut on your past and have not considered how it may be impacting your life now. Journal about what you see, sense, or hear.

I would SO love to hear your thoughts and responses to what came up for you as you read this post. Have you considered the ways that your childhood has defined you (in both positive and negative ways? Comment below!

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