Last year I had a blowout fight with my family. After which, I didn’t speak to them for months. I really had no desire to, I had written off the people who raised me, who made me the man I am today over pent up misguided anger that I should have let go of long ago.
Then one day in a church I’d been attending for only a few months, the pastor was discussing Matthew 21:12-13, which covered Jesus entering the temple and overturning the tables to return it to being a “house of prayer” instead of a “den of robbers.”
That day everything changed.
I’m no stranger to religion, or God. I was raised Roman Catholic. At least every other Sunday I attended a Catholic church with my parents. I was indoctrinated in the faith via after school Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). I can tell you that beyond the most common topics of any given Sunday, I can’t recall a single thing I learned there.
I even cut CCD. My church’s school was known for having a very holey roof (not Holy). My parents never questioned when I said CCD was cancelled due to a leaking roof. That held until I overplayed my hand and the teacher called them to ask where I had been the past few weeks. I wasn’t exactly one of God’s faithful followers.
The day I turned 18 years old was a joyous one. My parents dictated that I had to go to church until I was 18, after that – I didn’t have to. I can’t say I went often (besides Christmas and Easter) for the next 12 years. I wasn’t missing anything. Sit down. Stand up. Reading 1, Reading 2, Gospel, Sermon, Tithe, Handshake, Leave.
So clinical. So detached from God and the community. Then I experienced the Episcopal church. As a former in-law put it, Catholic-Lite. Similar, but different, it was a smaller church, a more tight-knit community, and I finally felt like I was part of something. I’m certain God was there, as he always has been, but I was still blind.
I didn’t go to church because it was God’s house. I didn’t go to worship Him. I went there because it made me feel good. It made me feel part of a community. My ex-wife’s family was heavily involved in the church, and it all just seemed to be lining up. My crooked path was being made straight, or so I thought. What was coming was a grand lesson.
As the relationship blossomed and the wedding approached, friends, family, and clergy kept pushing. Push, push, push. Blind in love, I went along with it. God had to be with me, right? All of this was happening because of a church! Oh, how wrong I was. I won’t get into the details here, but I did say “ex-wife” (who is actually one of my best friends today, but I digress).
I left that church behind in December of 2013 after we separated. The last time I would set foot in a church to worship for 5 years was March 13th, 2014, the day I filed for divorce. I walked into Saint Stephens during a daytime service, sat in the back row, and wept. My marriage had failed, I had broken my promise to God, what began in an Episcopal church ended in a Catholic church.
When asked why I refused to worship, I simply said “God and I had a difference of opinion.” I blamed the church for my failed marriage. I blamed God for my failures. After the divorce, I used to think I was an atheist, but how can a man blame God and NOT believe in Him? I was depressed and angry. I embraced as many sins as I could find in rebellion.
Middle fingers in the air, I sat back and stewed as my life crawled to a stand still. I would proclaim my hatred of church, religion, and God in anger and despair. Years went by as I watched out my window (across the way is a Church) – I laughed to myself as I saw the faithful walk in and out every Sunday. Every day angry, depressed, and alone. Friends were getting married, having kids, settling down and living the life I wanted as the bitterness ate away at me from the inside out.
Then something started to change in me. One evening I lay in bed and began to contemplate what it would be like to not exist. No heaven, no hell, no afterlife, I die and I am gone. It terrified me. Anxiety gripped my chest. In desperation, I remembered how going to church made me feel, before the divorce, before the pain. I remembered the peace and joy I would leave that building with, so I went to church.
Nothing happened. I went through the motions, I recited the creeds, I shook the hands. Maybe it’s an off week I thought, so I went again. Was God angry at me for my sin? Was He punishing me, depriving me of this joy because I took His name in vain so many times I lost count? Another week, nothing. Maybe it was the church? I crossed the field and entered the church I’d laughed at for 5 years straight. Still nothing.
I was crying out for God to forgive me, to take me back, to give me a sign that He still saw me and loved me. Every time I cried out and prayed all I heard was a busy signal. WHERE WAS MY SIGN??? I went through the motions, I checked off the boxes one by one, I did everything I knew to do. I was physically and emotionally numb, a side effect of depression is a condition called anhedonia. I was convinced that I simply would never feel joy again. Whatever I had felt before was fake, and this was my new reality.
Then one day, without planning, I got in my car and drove to a church my friend had been attending for some time. It was based out of my old elementary school. It was my last resort. I walked in the door and people who didn’t even know who I was, were friendly to me. The music was great. The people were openly filled with joy and worship, hands in the air, singing aloud. I was absolutely confused.
Where was the tradition? Where were the readings? Where was the absolutely depressing music I was used to? What were all these people feeling that they looked so joyful? The lead pastor spoke for nearly an hour, he preached the Gospel. As he spoke a feeling kept rising within me, I don’t even recall what book he discussed, but with every word the feeling grew stronger. I could feel my heart beating again.
I was feeling again.
I went back and the feeling grew stronger. I still tried to deny it. Every service I was told that my attendance was an answered prayer. Every preaching of the Gospel connected with me, with my soul. Every couple weeks, the pastor would ask us if we were ready to give our life to Christ… Every week, I held my hand down. All along I prayed for a sign that God still saw me, He was all around me and I fought it. I couldn’t believe that what I was feeling was real.
Then came Sunday, March 24th, 2019. A week prior, I made the decision to accept Christ, to give my life to Him. When the pastor asked of us who was ready and willing to make that decision, instead of fighting to hold my hand down it shot up without a moment of hesitation. I was saved. On March 24th though would be the first time I truly heard God.
After the Gospel had completed, the pastor related Jesus’s decision to overturn the tables in the temple to those of us in the congregation. He asked us to close our eyes and take a moment to think of what tables needed to be overturned in our own lives. I closed my eyes and in a flash I had a vision of me pulling up to my parents house, and stepping out of my truck.
It had been months since I saw my parents. I was resolved to never see them again. The message was clear, go home. God commanded me to go home. When the service ended, I told my best friend that I was going home. She said “Ok cool, I’ll see you later.” Then I repeated “No, I’m going home.” She then knew what I meant, her jaw dropped, I told her what I saw, and I headed out. All this time I begged for a sign, something loud, obvious, and unmistakable. What I got was a whisper, and it changed my life.
When I got there, my Mom opened the door and didn’t look too happy to see me. She asked me why I was there, I simply told her “God told me to.” I sat with my parents and spoke, for the first time in months. They told me their side of things, of how they felt and what they’d gone through as a result of the fight. From that moment the healing began. God brought my family back together because I obeyed his command to go home.
There have been several other instances since then, and I’m sure there will be more to come. On April 28th, 2019 I was baptized at Grace Community Church, I rose out of the water born again into a life devoted to Jesus Christ. Each day since, my paths become a little more straight, and while I am still a sinner, I am doing my best to grow closer to God.
Thy will be done, Lord. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.