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My Broken Road to Grace: Post Twelve (Finding your Faith)
Believing That Which You Cannot See Can be the Ultimate Challenge for us as Intelligent Beings
I decided some time ago that I wanted to write a book entitled "Finding God." My decision came as I looked back over my struggle as a teenager and a young man to come to grips with my own spirituality. I was raised in a Christian home by Godly parents. I heard about God and His son Jesus from as early as I can remember. In fact some of if not my earliest memories are of being in the nursery at church.
Growing up in the church and attending regularly from childhood well into my adult years, If it had to do with church, you name it, I did it. I went to Sunday School and in those days Training Union, Wednesday night prayer services, attended RA's and sang in the youth choir. Any problem that I had with organized religion, as I would come to learn had nothing to do with a lack of involvement or understanding of the principles of the faith or the precepts of Christianity as set forth by our denomination the Southern Baptist. No, it would be an understatement to say that I anything had anything less than a working or a "Head" knowledge of Christianity and all that it stood for. I understood it perfectly had heard the individual as well as basic stories of the faith many, many times and in most cases could quote you not only the story but scripture and verse in the Bible as a reference.
No my problem was not for a lack of understanding but more accurately from a lack of faith. I can remember well the first time I felt that I was beginning to doubt those stories I had grown up hearing and the awful dread that came over me as a result. I was in the ninth grade and attending a physical science class in which our instructor began to espouse his views regarding the church and his disbelief of it's teachings. Ironically because my father was Pastor, my fellow classmates turned to me as if to say "OK, you are the standard bearer here, defend us." I did so and with each volley served by the instructor came back with a sound Biblical principle solidified by a corresponding scriptural reference. In the end It was generally believed that I won the debate and from that day forward our instructor chose to keep his views to himself.
That night however as I lay alone on the sofa in our living room listening to the radio, I began to question why our teacher would have felt the way he did. I knew him to be a man of intelligence, above average in fact and my thought process worked it's way to the question "Was he too smart to be a Christian?" That night a seed was planted in mind that continued to grow and mature until it ultimately manifested itself into a healthy dose of full blown doubt on my part.
Not only did I begin to question all that I had once believed so easily and openly but I even began to pick it apart until I began to think that it not only might not but in all probability could not be true. I had a very hard time conceptualizing certain aspects of the faith, in particular creation, the virgin birth and the death and resurrection of Jesus. They all seemed to me to simply be impossible based on a cursory, much less an in depth look by some one of average or above intelligence.
The questions continued though I pretty much kept them to myself and albeit a hugely hypocritical one continued to pretty much live the Christian life even though, my doubts unabated, I continued to question the validity of the most basic principles of the faith. This continued for years. I was married in the church, my children were dedicated, baptized and placed on the church role. I, along with my family attended church regularly even at one point teaching a Bible study class and a boys Sunday School group. An action on my part that for me begged the question, "If I, with the doubts I possess, can be allowed to teach in these positions, how then can any of this be real?"
Despite the struggles with my faith, my life continued pretty much along what I would classify as normal lines in today's society and ultimately became a series of ups and downs. My first marriage ended, them my second. My children grew up, went away to college, married and began to raise families of their own. I continued to work and as a divorced adult began to attend church sporadically at best. My life, from a moral stand point at least, was marked by a number of occurrences that began to reflect my disregard for Christianity and what it stood for.
There were a extramarital affairs, the consumption of alcohol in what, although I could not see it at the time, were increasingly alarming amounts and finally a obvious decline in my working life as it related to ethical behavior. In short I, quite frankly, became a less moral and thus a less respectable person than I had ever been. The end result of this culminated in my being charged with a white collar crime, arrested, convicted and sentenced to 44 month stint in Federal Prison, which I reluctantly served and returned home penniless, jobless and with little self respect.
Despite my best efforts to somehow rebuild my life, and while I did make some in roads toward that end, it seemed that I was destined to ultimate failure from that point forward. I was diagnosed with a serious inoperable heart condition. I became a full blown alcoholic. My relationships with family and friends began to rapidly deteriorate and marriage number three ended in disaster all based on my actions, or lack thereof and pure and simple selfishness. I could go on and on about the days, weeks and months leading up to my epiphany, my road to Damascus if you will, but suffice it to say that my life reached a point of real, indisputable shambles, for all intents and purposes I was a goner.
I drank 24 hours a day, didn't eat, didn't take my medicine and essentially sat in self pity, did nothing and waited to die. There was however that faithful night more accurately around one in the morning, that I first heard that still small voice inside me. Don't get me wrong I am not about to tell you that Jesus appeared to me in a dream, or God manifested Himself before me, for that simply did not happen. If it had, I can honestly say that my road to recovery might have been easier. No, I had no vision, saw no clap of thunder, no burning bush, no nail scarred hand or pierced side.
What I did have however was an overwhelming sense that in my desperation and derision, God was speaking to me and the message was this "I am not finished with you yet." My first reaction was anger and I responded ti what became a scream more than a prayer. "God I can't do this anymore, I have fought this battle of doubt and fear for so long and now I have succumbed to the harsh cruelties of life. Please, if you are there, reveal yourself to me or kill me. I just don't want to go on."
I have often said that I believe God gives preference to prayers even cries, if you will, of desperation. When you think about it makes sense. When we are at our lowest, when there is no where else to go, we are stripped of all the peripheral, meaningless airs and stand before God at long last as we really are unwashed, unholy, unable to do anything about it and unwilling to continue the fight. That was exactly where I stood and miraculously, God not only heard but answered prayer and reaching down with His mighty hand lifted me out of the muck and mire and once again set my feet on solid ground.
I cannot and thus will not attempt to explain to you how He communicated with me on that faithful night or in days since but I can tell you this, the message was clear. "you do not have to understand, in fact you never will, I never intended for you to, what you do have to do is trust and in the end that is really it. When you do that, I promise that everything else will fall into place and I do not break my promises. I am there, all you have to do is look."
Jeremiah 29:13 says: "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart." Faith, the foundation of the Christian life, the tide upon which every great man or woman of God has ridden to minister to those in need, the building blocks upon which God created the heavens and the earth and all that has come since or will come in the future, is believing that which you cannot see.
My friends, my God, the Creator, The Father of Jesus Christ, He who raised the dead and caused the blind to see illuminated for a man who was lost and struggling and had wrongly, oh so wrongly questioned Him for years. It is to be sure, as simple as that and the questions need surface no more. God is real, He lives and moves among us daily. Reach out and take His hand today. Make that step of faith and He will do the rest, healing your broken spirit and placing your feet on the most solid ground.