Click here for the beginning of my story.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

IV: A Miraculous Resuscitation

My spiritual journey had taken an ironic twist. I had gone from being a merely nominal Christian, to being an on-fire born-again evangelical Southern Baptist Christian, only to end up an avowed non-Christian, all within two years.

I truly did not consider myself a Christian. I was also not afraid to tell Christians I knew why I was not one, and why they should not be one either. They did not provide any compelling responses to me and I became more confident that there really were no good answers to my objections. Yes, I had become arrogant.

But I was drifting aimlessly, and I knew it. I still believed in the existence of God, and constructed several theories about Him in my mind. These theories evolved over time into the general shapeless idea that all religions were equally valid paths to the same Divine Being. God was too big to be contained in one religion, I thought. The problem was that I was not convinced enough to settle into any one of these religions myself, and so I drifted along with no solid direction or purpose in life.

I long to hasten past this sad and grey period and to describe the time, still nearly nine years in the future, when God would bring me home to the Catholic Church. But before that I must relate how God got me out of this spiritual wasteland.

Despite my having ceased to wrestle with my doubts any longer, and having walked away from the Christian faith altogether due to my persistent anxiety over those doubts, there still remained in me a restless discontent. I had found no peace in abandoning the war. Although I tried to slip back into my prior worldly life, there was something different. The secular amusements with friends did not have the same draw for me that they did before. I had a gnawing sense of unease about living without a purpose. I had not had a sense of this before, when I was simply living as a nominal Christian. I suppose at that time I was in the ranks of the blissfully ignorant. Now, despite my best attempts to return to that state, I could not be content with it anymore. I had tasted what it was like for my existence to have a profound meaning. Now that I had lost my grasp on that meaning, the void it left behind tormented me. My head was swirling in a thick fog, and I stumbled through successive days with no clear sense of where I was going.

Then a strange impulse quite unexpectedly pierced through the fog and stirred something deep within me. I hesitate to describe it, as I will surely fail, but it was like a peaceful light, very subtle and very brief, but very poignant. It was momentous, but at the same time it was very simple - a fresh awareness of the most ordinary things in life - a wistful almost nostalgic sensation. I recall that I was in a local “home-cooking” restaurant and I saw an old-fashioned rocking chair. Of all the things to catch my attention, it was a plain old wooden rocking chair. Yet it caused me to imagine, for a brief yet vivid moment, a venerable old man rocking on his front porch, serenely gazing back over the good long life he had shared with his kindly wife, and all of the children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren who had filled his life with laughter and joy - the memories and love they all shared together. Infused throughout this image was a particular quality that will have to remain undescribed because there are no sufficient words for it; words like Joy or Peace do not go far enough. I don’t know, but the way the sunlight came through the window, the smells of the food cooking, the rocking chair - all of this struck a peculiar but powerful chord in my heart. It was a sort of interior glimpse of all the innocent delights of life - simple, clean, innocent delight - of a warm smile from a fellow human being, of family and good friends - the warmth of a home in winter, good conversation. All of this hit me with a swift yet gentle blow and was gone.

I gazed silently out of the window at a world that for me looked familiar and yet at the same time somehow new. I gazed also as if watching whatever had touched me in that moment drift away, and wishing that it would return. I had no name for it, but I knew that I wanted it, and for it to be my life.

This momentary experience laid out a road before me to follow, a goal to pursue. Although it contained within it an idyllic vision of settling down with a family in a wholesome and innocent life and love together, there was that additional “something” beyond all of that which eluded description, and was the real heart of it all. In examining this in the following days, I realized that everything in the “vision” was founded largely upon the peace and joy and moral ethics of Christianity. An essential unspoken assumption in the picture was of a family involved in a common spiritual life together, and the wholesome influence that the Christian faith had on every part of their life. It necessarily involved the traditional central role of involvement in a church as a family. This, of course, left me in a quandary.

During the period after my rejection of the Christian faith, I had retained a moral conscience, and my religion, if it could be called that, was to live by this conscience. I would do that which I knew was right and I would not do that which I knew was wrong. This conscience, I believed, was what God had placed within each person, and each person was in turn expected to live according to it. It was what God used to judge people after they die. I had nothing more sophisticated worked out, but this was what I was striving to live by.

However, it did not take me long to realize that I could not follow my conscience and live a good moral life on my own strength. As a community college student still living at home, I knew that I was on the cusp of entering a wide world, full of attractions of all kinds, and very real moral dangers. I felt the great weight of its pull and I did not like it. I wanted to be good, but the world that I was about to enter into did not hold goodness in high esteem. I was frightened that I would not be able to live by my personal moral code, because I knew how weak I was in myself. The great gravitational pull of a sinful world loomed heavy on my mind. What foundation did I stand upon, and could I stand there for long? My feet were not on solid ground and I knew it. I needed something to hold me up.

I eventually lacked so much peace about this that I could not sleep at night. Restlessness burned inside my head like a fever. At times it seemed that a great darkness was intent on swallowing me, especially in the quiet hours of night. I would lay there staring up and would feel the weight of a terrible darkness bearing down upon me.

During this time I began to have the sense that was going to die soon. I felt fragile and helpless. I felt the intensity of a dark and fearful presence, but at the same time I felt that God was close as well. One night, I sent a prayer out into the oppressive darkness: “Help me!” A strange calm descended upon me, although the darkness was still very close, and I sensed that my prayer had been received.

I still clung to the simple innocent joy that I had glimpsed, the promise that there was something deep and wonderful out there which alone could satisfy the longings of my heart, while at the same time I felt the rumble of dark forces closing in on all sides to keep me from obtaining it. I eventually decided, out of pure desperation, to take a drastic and irrevocable step to achieve peace.

I thought about all of the devoted Christians I had known. They seemed to possess a certain measure of that peace and joy that I longed for. None of the alternatives to Christianity attracted me in the same wholesome and innocent way. I realized that, for better or worse, Christianity was still interwoven into my being as a vital ingredient to a happy life. Many people I knew seemed like blissfully happy Christians. I began to wonder: was it possible for me to decide to live a Christian life, even while having mental reservations as to the actual truthfulness of its specific doctrinal and historical claims?

I had the thought that if there was a religious system which taught that the only way one could go to Heaven was to commit suicide, then for someone to actually go ahead and do that would be an act of complete faith, though mistaken, because it would be an irrevocable decision. If the person went to Hell instead, they could not take back their choice; they would have to endure the consequences of their decision. I began to think that I could do that sort of thing with Christianity.

I was aware that there was evidence to support Christianity which had convinced millions upon millions, many of whom were much more intelligent and knowledgeable than I was. Their lives shone with a light and a hope in an otherwise dark and hopeless world. It would certainly not be a blind faith in a new untested religion for me to choose to believe.

Therefore, I wrote out a contract with myself, which said something like “I will believe that everything in the Bible is true for the rest of my life”. I looked that statement that for a long time. I considered all of its implications; I was taking this very seriously. I wanted the decision to be irrevocable. I told myself that even if Buddha returned to Earth one day and the claims of Christianity were finally proven false, I would still have to believe and suffer the consequences of that belief. There was no going back. After a long period of sitting there and letting the decision sink in, I signed the contract.

There was nothing spectacular that happened immediately afterwards. In fact, as was expected, all of the old doubts that I had battled with before returned to taunt me: Noah’s Ark and the other “improbable” Bible stories, the unexplained difficult passages of Scripture and all of the rest. However, this time I responded differently.

Instead of trying to reason with my own logic why Christianity was true in spite of the seeming evidences to the contrary, I responded to these doubts with the simple statement: “I believe”. Even if these things do prove the Bible false, I told myself, I still have made the irrevocable decision to believe. This change in my response actually made a huge difference. The difficulties were no longer an unendurable torment for me. And when I no longer obsessed about them, they began to fade out of my conscious thought. This was going to work, I thought. I could build my life on the foundation of the Christian religion. Millions of others had done so and had found peace and joy and moral strength, and so could I. It did not bother me that I was not convinced that it was actually true.

Then a miracle took place that changed everything.

I remember vividly the moment it occurred. I was walking down the hall at my community college, surrounded by throngs of fellow students, when the sudden simple realization came to me that Christianity is true. It was like a dark veil had been suddenly lifted from over my eyes and I could see. At that moment, I knew with certainty that Jesus was there with me; the reality of His presence could not be denied. I realized that He had been with me all along, to bring me around to that very point. He had guided all of the circumstances, and used my own longings and fears, tenderly leading me along to make a leap of faith, a leap truly into His loving arms.

I then recalled the prayer for “further light” that I had made back when I was in the throes of my doubts nearly two years prior. Even though I had since lost hope and had forgotten to actually wait for Him to answer, He had mercy on me anyway; and in His time He granted me the light of faith - the gift of spiritual sight - to truly see Him, to know Him and in knowing Him, to love Him. I had been stumbling around in the dark but I had never really been alone. God was patient with my doubts and brought my steps around in a most unexpected way back to Him, and I owed Him my life and all that I was.

What happened with the doubts that so overwhelmed me before?

I had been given new eyes of faith now, and when faced with objections to Christianity regarding those difficult scripture verses I could be content to know that it was “somehow” true, even if I did not understand exactly how myself. Proverbs 3:5 became a key verse for me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” I had sought to rely on my own understanding too much before, and fell away. But now I knew with certainty that Jesus was real and worthy of my total trust. To deny this would be like denying that the sun was shining on a cloudless day.

I have never doubted the reality of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel since that day. I was given the marvelous gift of faith, along with a great desire to seek God and to allow Him to accomplish His perfect Will in my life.

Nothing was going to hold me back.

To be continued in Part 5 of My Conversion Story: "Protestant Passion."


George @ Convert Journal said...

Todd, this is a very moving and inspiring story! It is amazing how the Holy Spirit works in our lives if we let Him and open our eyes to His presence.

TM said...

Thanks George - this has been a very enlightening and inspiring experience for me to look back and write about the merciful ways of God -

Sue said...

In your first post you commented about all the convert blogs, and why one more, but I am glad to read your version!

I am on a journey of my own (along with my husband and kids, thankfully), and at the "almost there" stage. Along with the excitement, though, there is the big question of how to break the news to family and friends. It helps me to process my own thoughts when I read the stories of others on the journey. It's also very encouraging. Thanks for sharing - I hope I have the courage to do the same one day. Looking forward to the next installment!

Solid Rock or Sinking Sand said...

Very well written and heartfelt testimony for our Lord and Savior. You are blessed to have finally found the peace, comfort and joy that only an intimate relationship with Jesus can give you. Blessings my brother in Christ, Lloyd

TM said...

Thanks Lloyd - blessing to you as well.

I hope to post the latest installment of the story soon -

Peace in Christ -

TM said...

Sue, you and your family are in my prayers - thanks for reading and for your comments