This is the story of my life – or rather my lives. The first one began in about January of 1943, and will end at some point as yet unknown to me. The second began in April, 1999, and will never end.
You may have heard the saying that life begins at 40. In a lot of ways, that was true for me, because I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until then. The reality, though, is that my life really began at 57. That’s when I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and committed to follow him as my personal Lord and Savior for the rest of my life.
I’ve always been kind of a slow learner. I have a need to think more deeply about things than most people do, and in my early years, things just happened too fast for me to process. School was hard, because the teachers and the textbooks were beyond boring. Nobody seemed able to get my brain turned on. The teachers would tell my parents that I had a perfectly good mind, but that I just didn’t seem to want to do the work. They were right. It was insufferably boring.
Dad was a drinker, and loved to party. He accepted his role as provider, so he worked and Mom stayed home. But he was always looking to have some fun, and he just didn’t think the day was complete until he “had a little snort”. I didn’t realize it until I was an adult, but the Dad I grew up with was a kind of a caricature of the real man. The real man had suffered some pretty deep wounds during his own formative years, and never learned how to put them behind himself. So he “medicated” them away every night, and dealt with the world behind a self-made dream state. It wasn’t real, but it didn’t hurt as much as real life.
I just wanted to have a Dad who loved me for me. I wanted to hear him say that he loved me, and that he was proud of me. What I usually got was a detached but stern disciplinarian. He did tell me he loved me once. But I was in my 30s by then, and it just didn’t seem so important anymore. And until much later, I thought I had outgrown my need to feel loved by him. And in reality, I never really came to terms with our strained relationship until years after he died. I discovered that in failing to affirm me as one he loved unconditionally, he put a wound on my heart that I struggled to recover from for the better part of my life.
The discovery came as a result of a men’s Christian group I was in, and the study of a book called “The Blessing” we were doing. The premise of the book was that every child needs the gift of being blessed by his parents. He needs to arrive at the threshold of adulthood with the firm knowledge that he has learned well, has become a man his parents are proud of, and that it is now time to go and build a life with their blessing. If a child leaves home without ever having felt affirmed and blessed in this way, the emotional baggage he carries is insidious and nearly insurmountable. I was 62 years old when I learned about the baggage I had carried all those years.
By then of course, my Dad was already gone, and I could not go to him to reconcile, as the authors had recommended. What they eventually said was that I should write him a letter. I decided that was a pretty good idea, even though I thought I was fine by then. I had no idea that doing so would unleash a torrent of emotion the likes of which I had not experienced ever before. I sobbed – literally out loud and uncontrollably – as I told him that I missed him, that I had always felt that something was missing in our relationship, but that I understood, and that I forgave him. To say that a burden was lifted would be a huge understatement.
But it was also hugely cathartic. I finally realized that although I had not gotten the affirmation I felt I needed so deeply, I at least had had a Dad – a Dad who was there physically, if not emotionally, and who did love me, even though he didn’t know how to show it too well. And he had lost his own Dad before he was done growing up. How could I have been so insensitive to that?
I do feel blessed now – not just in the sense that I have built a life I know my parents would be proud of, but because I now know that all of my early struggles were part of who I am today, and that there was a reason for the struggle. And most of all, I feel blessed because I now know that I do have a Father. And he’s been with me from the beginning. And he does love me unconditionally. In fact, He loves me so much that he gave up his own eternal Son to pay the ransom for my soul. Without Jesus – the firstborn of all creation – I would have no hope and no future.
What kind of love could cause a father to give up his only son to pay the ransom for one he wanted to adopt? Yes, Jesus is alive today, so the Father never really lost him. But he did suffer, and in his humanity, he did die. These lines from a favorite song express it well:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
I have also learned that although nobody likes to suffer, it comes to every member of the human race. To paraphrase Job 5:17, ‘Man is born for suffering, as surely as sparks fly up from a fire.’ And suffering is necessary! There are things we really need to know viscerally that cannot really be learned without it. It’s not enough to just have an awareness of some things – we need to know in our bones that they are true.
Now that I have been ‘born again’, that’s how I feel about the big questions in life. Those questions fall into four categories. They are of our origin, of life’s meaning and purpose, of morality and how it is determined, and of our destiny. I know that the universe was created by God, whose power and genius and creativity are beyond measure or understanding. He spoke, and all of creation sprang into being. I know that His purpose in creation was to bring into existence beings created in his own image, in order to love them, nurture them, and to give them the priceless gift of life. I know that God is the origin of all morality, all right and wrong. Anything that is pleasing to him is good, and anything that is not is evil. And I know that death is just a door through which we must pass in order to arrive at our destination, our eternal home.
I know these things in my heart. I know them in my soul. I know them viscerally. I know them because I remember much of the 57 years I lived with a false paradigm. And my testimony is that those 57 years were lived in a way that was out of synch with what I now know to be true.
I thought that life just was. I had no idea where it came from, what its purpose was or why it existed at all. I thought that Darwin was right about the origin of the species, and that Carl Sagan was right about the cosmos being all there is, ever was or ever will be. I thought that life was about feeling good, not doing good. I thought that God was something they talked about in church, and almost nowhere else. And I thought that church was even more boring than school. My victories were few and far between, and seemed shallow and worthless. My defeats seemed huge and frequent, and each one heaped up upon the ones before and added to my overall sense of frustration that no amount of effort or talent or striving ever seemed to be enough to get me what I wanted. I didn’t agree with those teachers who said I was not living up to my potential, because I was trying – really, really hard. Yet the results simply didn’t square with what I should have accomplished, given my obvious talent and intellect.
For most of that time, Christianity was not even on my radar. It seems strange in retrospect, but I had never met a Christian I admired and respected. They all seemed like goofballs to me. Finally, though, I came face to face with a few tragedies that removed every shred of hope that I would ever become a rich man, so I gave up trying. It was only after all of that that God started putting some people in my life who were real, authentic Christians. To my amazement, these Christians were not goofballs. In fact, I found myself drawn to them, and wondering what I had missed.
Today I know that it was this: I mistakenly thought that faith in God required that I leave my brain at the door, and accept the totality of Christianity by blind faith. The truth was contained in two little passages from the Bible:
- Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
- Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
I did become more open to learning about Christianity, and did start to ask questions, and I did open myself up to at least the possibility that He existed, although at first I neither sought Him above all things, nor believed with my heart that He was truly God of all. But those two little shifts in my mindset proved to be all that were required. God says ‘come to me, and I will give you rest’. What I discovered is that those small steps were all God needed to start me on a path to salvation.
My surrender didn’t come right away, but little by little, the more I sought, the more he gave, and the more I received, the more my faith grew.
I cannot tell you that every question had been answered by the time I stepped across the line. There were still a few biggies. But what I did know, I knew in my bones, and I knew that what was being revealed to me was so much more appealing than what I had experienced before, that all of my pragmatism simply melted away, and I surrendered heart and soul, knowing that this is what I had been seeking all my life.
So, what about you? Have you really given faith in Jesus Christ a chance? Has the price seemed too high? There’s no question that it can be high. Some Christians, even today are martyred for their faith. But as GK Chesterton put it, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Try it. You’ll like it.
Caveat: I have used the male pronoun here merely for convenience, and brevity of words. Every time it is used, I could as easily used the female. I am a male, however, and have always related as one. My apologies to those who might otherwise be offended. No offense is intended.