Journey to Joy
By Kelsey McFaul
Nonprofit CEO Marty Gonzales ditches lists for relationships and love
The CEO of youth empowerment organization Generation Alive, Marty Gonzales is a list guy. His work encourages young adults in Spokane, WA, and San Francisco, CA, to engage the needs of their communities through action and service, and to make different lists than the ones he made as a kid.
“I was kind of the resistant pastor’s kid. I knew of God but I didn’t know Him personally. I found myself at a pretty young age with a laundry list of things that I thought were going to bring me joy. But I didn’t understand the difference between happiness and joy.”
It took 30 years of pursuing happiness and checking boxes before Marty realized the two weren’t matching up.
“I spent the vast majority of my younger career trying to emulate those around me who I felt were successful. But I found that as I checked these lists that I’d set my sights on for the better part of two decades, what I thought was going to be happiness and joy was pretty fleeting.
“I realized it’s not about what I have or what I know, it’s about what I do with what I have. That led me to Generation Alive.”
Generation Alive organizes 13-week programs for local kids to introduce them to needs in their communities and give them tangible ways to respond, including packaging meals, feeding the homeless, walking animals, and organizing fundraisers.
“I think that when you give kids those opportunities to understand the effects of compassion, not only on themselves, but also on others at 7 or 10 years old, you start to exercise that compassion muscle and it grows. It’s my belief there’s nothing more like Jesus than giving of yourself.”
In 2017, Marty participated in the inaugural Becoming a Steward Leader Experience cohort led by Dr. Scott Rodin, a journey that asked him to give even more of himself to God than he had previously.
“The steward’s journey took me to some places where I had to be very honest with myself and very honest with God in ways that I had not had to do before. It gave me a lot of insight into my insecurities and fears, fear of failure, fear of what people will think of me.”
Fear was a symptom of Marty’s ownership over certain aspects of his life, places where he wanted to maintain control rather than surrendering them to God’s ownership.
“Prior to this journey, fear was a motivator for me. I put it behind me as a kind of tailwind to push me through. In my work, my natural mentality is I’m going to fail. If I don’t attend every event or work 15 hours a day, somehow I’m lesser or people think I’m lesser. My identity has me wrapped up in who I know and who I am, as opposed to being tied to Jesus.”
When Marty began to surrender ownership of his work and his identity, he noticed a new sense of freedom from the fear that had driven him.
“I still obviously have those tendencies to grasp control, but I’m beginning to recalibrate a lot quicker and slow down and realize the perspective that this is all God’s and He controls the outcomes. I try to make the right decisions, I try to love people, everything that He’s called me to do, but ultimately the outcome is His. I have this peace inside me that I’ve done everything I can.”
At work, Marty’s seen the impact of his stewardship mindset on Generation Alive’s staff, who are coming to see their work not as a means to an end but a way to glorify God. Occasionally, they even remind him to relinquish control over outcomes he worries about.
But Marty is experiencing the impact of stewardship in other unexpected areas of his life as well.
“I thought this was going to affect my team and how much glory I give to God, but what I didn’t anticipate was the ripple effects into my friends and family. I had to wrestle with the control I have on time and the fear that makes me negligent as a father and a husband, but I can justify it because I’m providing for my family.
“I think that God wants me to balance working with my family. I am trusting God to be fully in control and I might not have the capacity to get everything that I need to done, but He does.”
Not only is Marty spending more time with his family, but his relationship with his wife is deepening too.
“In our marriage, I think I’ve become far more intentional about being transparent about the things that scare me. I wanted her to respect me and think I had it together, but now I’m sharing some of those fears in my life, whether it be the fears I have about work or fears I have about how people perceive me.
“Being transparent and honest with her, it’s strengthened our relationship in ways that I could not have imagined. I’m amazed that she would respond in this way and that we can dig into prayer together.”
Other relationships in Marty’s life are feeling the impact of stewardship as he relinquishes controls over their outcomes and surrenders them to God.
“The journey has really challenged me to identify relationships that are broken and step into faith trusting that God has the outcome. When I think about giving up on people, it usually has to do with my own self-righteousness. Giving up on them is the point where I think my way is the right way.
“What I learned in the journey is that it’s about being present. Because if my intention is to magically change you with some words that I have, I don’t really have that capacity. I have the capacity to be with you and love you. I have the capacity to pray for you, and sometimes that’s the most I can do and that may be the most important.”
In the old days, Marty made lists he thought would bring him joy. These days, the lists have a different meaning: they’re just one more sign he’s surrendered control of his relationships, work, and identity to God.
“A month after the journey was over, I thought I was being unproductive at work and I looked up at a list of my priorities for the day and everything was checked off. I thought to myself, I still don’t know how to operate in a place where I relinquish control and how to enjoy it. Here I am getting as much done, with less effort, less fear, less anxiety, but it almost created its own sense of anxiety because I’m still learning how to live within that.”
When Marty thinks back to his former self, it’s this advice about an identity built on surrender, relationships, and love he wishes he knew then and that he hopes to pass on at Generation Alive.
“Joy is in your identity, and your identity is in God. When you understand that, all of a sudden you can sit in your own skin and understand this is how you were created. You’re loved in such abundance that you don’t need to find it elsewhere and it just pours out into your relationships with others. I think that relationships and loving people is honestly everything when it comes to success in life.”