In 1999, I was given new inspiration. After years of running away, I was provided the opportunity to come home. I finally realized that my broken relationship with God wasn’t his fault. He’d been trying for a very long time to show me, but I’d convinced myself it was he who was at fault, and so I refused to listen. I thought that being apart from him gave me freedom, but alas, I was trapped.
I had been raised in the Catholic church, but after getting through confirmation at age 15, I decided that I didn’t really want to be a part of The Church, because I really didn’t like the things that I saw. Real life and what I heard in church were two different and separate things, and those I saw who were most connected to the church were those I wanted least to emulate. So, sadly, I convinced my parents and siblings to stop going: it was a waste of time. So we did, and I never really looked back.
I spent most of my time convincing myself that I didn’t need God, and that if He was real and loved me, He’d try a lot harder to show me. But, since I had worked so hard to become independent (I was a teenager for crying out loud), I really didn’t want or need God to show me anything. I felt it would be better if He just left me alone.
And so, over time, I continued to build a wall between Him and me, never caring to look on the other side. Whenever I’d hear about someone being “born-again”, it would drive me nuts! Why can’t people that already know God just be content with that? It seems that if you need to be born-again as a Christian, you were never a Christian in the first place.
But the funny thing was that I considered myself a Christian. I figured it was a default value. I knew I wasn’t Jewish or Muslim (hadn’t even heard too much of them), or Buddhist or Hindu, so I figured that “Christian” was the closest term to describe my spiritual state. Of course, my spiritual “state” was Alaska, nowhere near home. I guess I always believed in God (He wasn’t a new concept, just one I wasn’t confident in), but I just wasn’t whole-hearted about it, and eventually began to consider myself as agnostic.
I didn’t know for sure (that’s what I told myself and others), but didn’t really care. The not really caring thing came pretty easy, since I’m a guy. I’d never heard the term apathetic up to that point, but if I had, I would probably have used that instead to describe where I was at.
But deep down inside, I knew that God existed, but felt I was doing okay on my own, and since He hadn’t helped me so far, we didn’t need to change anything. As time went on, I continued to “add up” all the things that God wasn’t doing for me, and used those as the cement in the wall I’d been building between us. Then I’d hear things from others like “if there was a God the world wouldn’t be the way it is” or “if God was real he wouldn’t allow such suffering”. And I’d say “yeah”, what’s up with this guy? And add those bricks to the wall (and those weren’t even really my bricks).
Well, one day I meet a girl, start dating and fall in love (though I think we fell in love pretty much straightaway). One night after a date, when we’re in the car just talking in front of her house, the subject of God came up. At one point in the conversation (it was very late and very quiet in her neighborhood where we were parked), I said “if there is a God then He should let me know!” As I finished speaking, there was a very loud and unexplained “thump” near the back of the car, as if someone had struck the car purposefully. It scared the hell out of me, and I felt very small in that moment. Of course, I made every effort to explain the sound away, but the conversation was over. Besides, my statement was rather rhetorical, because I’d already convinced myself He wasn’t real and so wasn’t gonna listen to Him anyway. It’s unlikely I would have believed Him if He’d appeared to me in person.
But I got past it, and a couple years later we got married, in a church, and oathed before God (yes, the one I really didn’t feel strongly about) – and all our family and friends – our lasting intentions. At this point, I came to believe that this is why I was on this Earth. My wife seemed to give me a purpose I’d not known before, and was excited to move forward.
A year later, we had our first child, a daughter, and the process of experiencing childbirth (indirectly) was truly miraculous. I really began to have more frequent thoughts of God and purpose and increasing conviction that THIS, my daughter, was the reason for my entire existence; to be a dad and raise this baby girl and present her to the world. But this perplexed me, because if that were indeed my purpose, who was in charge of giving that to me? and to what end was I being given this responsibility of being a father?
Well, as is customary by parents, we decided we wanted her to have something we didn’t really have: a chance to know God. So we had her baptized, and in the Catholic & Lutheran denominations, baptism is believed to be that cleansing act that washes away your sins so that you can go to heaven. And when you haven’t really read the Bible, you only know what they tell you.
We knew that whatever washing we had undergone when we were babies had long since worn off, as this practice was a clear safeguard just in case something tragic happened while she was a child, she was guaranteed a spot in Heaven. Whether or not we’d get to go too was of growing concern.
Eventually, I began seeking God discreetly. I say that, because I joined the church choir. I did so in an effort to be at church more often. Most times, we’d drop our kids off at Sunday School and leave, and then come back and pick them up. It was a nice litte arrangement. But my participation in the choir and proximity to the other boring church attendees didn’t bring me any closer to God. He didn’t rub off on me there. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the songs – even took a stab at writing a couple of my own – but it just wasn’t enough.
Over time, we had two others, boys, and everything was great. Well, of course it was great! I was apathetic and didn’t know any better. But meanwhile, I was apparently not the man my wife had married, and she let me in on a secret: she thought we should separate.
Huh? What’s that all about? Well, you’ll be happy to know that I manned up and sought to restore whatever it was we’d lost. I vowed to jump through whatever hoops were needed to better our relationship.
Well, during that time, it just so happened that someone she knew had been regularly inviting her to church. She’d been refusing for months, but he was lovingly persistent, and the timing was finally ripe that she decided to check it out. She’d asked that we both go, that we should find a new church together, for us and the kids, and that we should check it out.
But I couldn’t do it; I wasn’t quite ready, though I could feel the pull. On her third visit, I went with her and had a pretty decent time. It wasn’t anything like the church I’d grown up with, or the one we’d semi-attended over the years. This place actually seemed like people wanted to be here, and that they actually loved one another. People came early and stayed late, in addition to the lengthy service and message. The “A-mens” and occasional hand in the air put me off a bit, but still: I was intrigued by what I saw.
At some point after a few visits, we were invited to a Bible study. Now, I knew straightaway that that was not for me. The last thing I wanted to do was be in a room with a bunch of scholars and talk about things I didn’t know. So my wife, again, went without me. But she came home that evening so joyful and excited, and just couldn’t stop talking about the people she met and the things they showed her and how I just had to come the next time.
Well, okay. It was at their home, not at church, and they were going to feed us beforehand. We were introduced to carne asada and Coronas (which go amazingly well with carne asada), neither of which I’d had before. I’d actually not even had a sip of beer since high school. We didn’t drink normally, but dang, these were really good.
We then split up, guys and girls separately, and I had the opportunity to get to know some men who actually, really loved God. I could tell by the way they talked and interacted. It wasn’t condescending, and they genuinely cared for and took the time to help me understand the things we would read together in the Bible. Like my wife did on her first visit, I was truly blown away by the love I experienced that first night. These guys were connected to God, they knew him personally. I hadn’t realized it until that night, but I was desperate to know him too.
For weeks we would return to their home, eat, and enjoy our time together reading Scripture, talking about its meaning and application to my life, and more importantly, about Godand having a relationship with Him.
And while together we took our time to discuss each topic in-depth, my convictions grew exponentially. I wish only I’d read this passage the first night, but of course, I wasn’t ready for it then.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ears too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
Wow! Okay. I spoke earlier about my “wall” that I’d been building all these years. Here it is right before me, and God’s on the other side. I built the wall, not God. I fortified it, not God. He’s asked time and again for me to tear it down, and I say “leave me alone.” The very wall that I had built was a monument to my pride and stupidity. I felt like God didn’t care enough about me to pursue me as I felt He should. So my wall got stronger. God didn’t knock down the wall himself and tell me He loved me. So my wall grew taller.
But here it is, God speaking to me plainly, in words that broke my heart. It was my fault. I built the very wall that separates us, and then complain about His lack of power. But He’s respected my decision to build the wall, and what kind of Father would He be if He just forced His love on me? Love doesn’t work that way. You can’t force it, you can only give it. Regardless of how it’s received. So He’s just been standing on the other side of the wall, all this time, calling to me; but I can’t hear Him. Once in a while I’d call out His name just to see if He was still there, but He couldn’t hear me; because there’s a big wall there.
And for the first time in my life, I was filled with Joy. Because I realized that my lack of relationship with Him was my fault. And that meant that I was in control of fixing it, because God had already done all He could and was now just standing there with His arms wide open: all I had to do was tear down the Wall.
It was an easy decision. And once I made it, all His words came flooding into my mind clearly. Things I’d been reading that I hadn’t really grasped. Throughout Luke 15 & 16, God tells of His great joy in getting me back, and that His love had never failed. He’d been waiting, patiently for me to come home.
Miraculously, my wife made the same decision that very same night in another room, and, like all those who had gone before us, we had been born again, in His Spirit and Truth. We were given new lives, a new purpose, a new hope, and a New Song.
We came to understand that to truly be a “Christian”, one had to be born-again. And that saying you were a born-again-Christian was redundant. But we understand why people were saying it, and we weren’t ashamed to make the same claim. God chose to rescue us, despite the Wall and every curse and every thing we’d done against Him. I understood this, and am continually reminded of it, that parents love unconditionally.
We don’t love because we have to. We give our children good things, and shower them with affection, even after they have said or done the meanest things to us. We will lay down our lives for our children, without question, to save them.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He laid down his life for me, when I was farthest from Him. While I was at my worst, Christ died for me; with only the Hope that I’d one day understand why.
And I’ve taken the time to write this so that you may know that I do understand why, and that I, too, hope with all of my heart that you understand too. Tear Down the Wall.