I guess you can say I've lived a fairly easy life. My brother once remarked,when speaking of our upbringing that we lived a "charmed existence", and I can't say I disagree. Of course, there were tests and trials, and moments where I thought I was facing the most dire circumstances of anyone on earth, but those were few and far between. I went through school, elementary and high school, with ease. I had a good number of friends, never had trouble fitting in, and never really had to pick up a notebook to keep up straight A's. I was liked by my teachers, my classmates, was never too much trouble for my parents, and had a very easy transition into teen years. Got my first job at 13, saved enough money from that to buy my first car at 16. I started dating my future wife in senior year of high school, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and had a full time job lined up the next week. Worked that job for a few years, left for a job in sales, and parlayed that experience into the job I have now. I've been moderately successful in my short career, used the money I make to buy my first new car, move out on my own at 22, and pay for my own wedding at 24. Ive achieved a lot of what I've wanted to by his point in my life, and have done so with relative ease.
The only problem with having a life like this is that it makes you slightly arrogant. I used to believe that all I had in life was a direct result of me, and my work. I believed I never struggled in life because I didn't allow myself to. I've dealt with tough things, sure. I lost a sister at a very young age, a very close cousin in my early teens and two grandparents in late teens. I had asthma as a child, and vividly remember having attacks without any medication, waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe for what felt like minutes at a time. I nearly drowned on two separate occasions, had the measles, lost control of my car in the middle of a snowstorm on a major highway, and been held up at gunpoint. But no matter what happened to me, I was going to get things in life that I wanted. Nothing could stop me. I was, as far as I thought, in full control of my own life.
When we graduated high school, my girlfriend and I slowly started pulling ourselves away from the church and lifestlyes we grew up with. Growing up, our church had been our whole life. We went 5-7 times a week. And the time not spent in church was spent in school, with the same people we went to church with. On weekends, we would hang out with our classmates or other friends, all of who went to the same church. Basically, it was a very small, very tight-knit church community, outside of which, we knew very little about. 19 years in that environment, we had had enough. We wanted out, to spread our wings, to "sow our wild oats", if you will. And we did, over the years, drift further and further away from church, and, I can only speak for myself here, but further and further away from God. God was such a big part of my life for so long, all I knew really, and I wanted a break. I knew God existed, I never doubted that, but I just wanted time for me. I attended church less and less, prayed only when I needed Him, and never read the Bible. I saw no need. I was doing well enough on my own. Look at this life I made for myself, I would think. Master of my own destiny, decider of my own fate. God, thanks, but I got this.
It was all going pretty well, I thought, for me. My girlfriend, on the other hand, started to feel less and less satisfied by the carnal life we were living. She wanted more. Maybe we should start going to church, she would suggest. Why? We just worked so hard to separate ourselves from our church because of all we though was wrong with it, why would you want to replace it already? I don't know, she would say, I just feel empty, and guilty. Ignore it, I said. I controlled those feelings whenever I got them, and I feel great now. You just have to be more like me, is all. Debates like this would pop up from time to time, we would move past them, and continue on living at our own pace. But eventually, the empty feeling in my girlfriend got to be to much, and she started actively seeking God again. She went to church with her sister in law a few times, a few times with her sister, a few times with work friends. One time, after a women's conference with her sister's church, she came back, and I noticed a change in her. She started talking more seriously about working on a relationship with God, about finding a home church to attend. Go right ahead, I said. Good on ya. I'll continue doing my thing, you do your God thing, and well be good. She found the home church she wanted, after attending a church with a friend, and also found the relationship with God she had been missing all these years. She was saved. That's great babe, I'm happy for you, want to go out this weekend, my friends having this party at this bar? No, she said, you don't get it. I'm living for Him now. I'm done with that stuff. Well I'm not, I said, so... She started going to this church every week, and attending Bible classes during the week. After a few weeks, she asked me to join her. No, I said. What works for you doesn't work for me. You're at this point in your life, I get it, but I don't want any if that stuff anymore. I'm good on my own. Well, I don't know if I can continue on in our relationship if that's how you feel, she said. I don't want be in a relationship with some one who doesn't support my spiritual growth. I support it, I would reply, I support the crap out of it. Just for YOUR growth. I don't need growth. I know I'm a good person, and I'm making good decisions, I don't need a man on the pulpit confirming that. And it hurt her. I could tell. She has since told me she prayed for me to change my heart every day during that period.
The prayers wore off. One week I told her, I'll come to church with you Sunday, I want to see what's taking up so much of your time, and wedging itself in between us. I could tell she was excited, but I hoped she didn't get her hopes up too high. It'll probably just confirm what I already know. That it's not for me. I went, with my guard up super high, but actually enjoyed it. The pastor, bright and witty with charisma for days, was nothing like I had heard for the 19 years in the other church. The worship, with a full band backing it, was catchy, modern, and the people in attendance raised their hands, and cried, and seemed to mean what they were saying. It was new, and fresh, and completely different. I left, and told my girlfriend I liked it, but still had my doubts about making a commitment to this or any church. But as I went through the next couple weeks, I started to have the empty, guilty feelings that I'm sure my girlfriend was having. Push them away, I would tell myself. I went to church a few more times with her, and my heart would start to pound at the end of every service, when the pastor called for those who wanted to commit their life to Christ to come to the front of the church. I could feel my girlfriend standing beside me, praying for me, every week, to go, go down there, make the commitment. And I would avoid eye contact with her, and stand firm at my seat. I couldn't understand these feelings I was having. I didn't want them. I didn't need them. I could live my life just fine without God, why was I being pulled in? I wrestled with this for about a month. I continued living how I wanted, but I didn't get the satisfaction from it I used to.
One Sunday, my girlfriend didn't go to church. She was spending the weekend at a friends, so I was off the hook. I didn't have to go either. So I went out on Saturday night, and woke up Sunday morning and for some reason I had it in my head that I needed to go to church that day. I didn't want to, and despite my better judgment, and dragged myself out of bed and went, trying to shake the hangover and feelings of guilt and confusion. This is silly, I thought, as i made the hour long drive, feeling compelled to go to church. This is exactly why I didn't want to start going in the first place. This guilt is what I would feel growing up when I forgot to pray, or read at night. I only felt it because I was taught my whole life I was supposed to read and pray every night. But I spent the last several years learning to ignore that guilt, and now, since I'd gone the past few weeks, it was back, that feeling that I "had" to go this morning. I don't " have" to anything. And yet here I was, pulling into the parking lot. The service started and I immediately knew I was in trouble. It was as if the pastor knew exactly what I was thinking on the way here, and prepared this just for me. He was speaking of the time during Jesus ministry where he encountered the crazy man in the wilderness. This man, who had been a good upstanding and successful citizen, was overcome by demons, tried to cast them out on his own, but instead was driven from the town and into the hills, a disgrace and an outcast. It wasnt until Jesus heard him crying out from the wilderness, that he was finally delivered of His demons, and restored to his former self. Well, a new and improved version of his former self. During the service, I was overwhelmed. I kept thinking, that's me. I'm that guy. I'm struggling out here, in the wilderness, by myself, crying out, wrestling, and losing. I'm being cast out, slowly, from my family, my girlfriend, and if I continue this way, I'll be lost. I can't win this battle that's raging inside me, and I'll be completely consumed by it. Until Jesus hears my cry. Until he finds me, and calls to me. And that's what was happening now, at this service. He was calling me. The message was weighing on me like a ton of bricks. This is your moment, Chris. Come to me, Christ was saying. Let it go. Everything. Give it to me. I still had my reservations though. What would everyone think, all my friends. How would I tell them about this change. How would I explain? Then the pastor asked for those ready to commit their lives to Christ to come forward. Go down there, Chris, go. But I can't. And then the final song started to play. A song called "I surrender". And that was all I needed to hear. The lyrics to that song. "I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life". That's what was holding me back. My pride. " I surrender all to you". Thats what I had to do. Surrender.
Needless to say, I responded to alter call that week. I surrendered my life to Him. It was simultaneously the easiest and hardest thing I've ever done. All I had to do was ask Him in, but it took all the strength I had in me to overcome my own foolish pride and actually do it. As I look back on my life, I realize all that I've ever achieved has been because He has allowed me to. I owe everything to Him. I keep reflecting on the scripture "pride goes before destruction", and I'm thankful everyday that He didn't allow that to happen to me. I still struggle, obviously. I still fall back into my old ways of thinking, that I can control my own life, but when I do, I think of that song, my new credo; I surrender all to you, which I've since tattooed on my left arm, to serve as a constant reminder that this life is not my own.