This is the shell of me shortly before the events below.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you are forced to look into the mirror of life and catch a glimpse of what you’ve become. My love affair with pain pills had taken me places I never thought I’d go, enticed me to do things I never thought I’d do and make choices that even today are still sometimes unbelievably hard for me to understand. I never set out to fail the way I had, and I certainly never desired to become the puppet of the addiction to pain pills puppeteer. But that’s exactly what I had become. The rebellion of my youth had culminated into despicable acts of self-centered sin and left me holding the bag of moral bankruptcy.
The words of a great friend of mine had never been more true:
“you’ll never find in sin what you are looking for.”
(What’s up Ritchie!)
My chemically aided fumbled search for love and acceptance had literally taken me into a desert wasteland of lostness. I needed rescued.
It’s funny…but God’s search and rescue tactics don’t always take on the appearance we imagine they should. Some 12 years ago, the onset of my “journey out” came in the form of a drug detox unit and a simple – but not so simple – question. Although this was my first go at a detox, the question presented to me by one of the counselors was one that I had secretly pondered over and over in my mind. In fact, it was one that had haunted me for several years.
As I walked down the hallway of the lock-down unit, I strategically kept to myself by avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. I was ashamed, embarrassed and downright beat up from the disastrous choices I had made to keep my pill addiction secret and afloat. As if he’d been laying in wait for me to shuffle by, the counselor stepped from amongst the shadows into my path and asked how I was doing. His unexpected presence startled me.
To me, this was a stupid question. If it were not apparent to him that I was a complete mess, then obviously this man had chosen the wrong profession. I gave him the typical brush off response – “I’m ok” – in hopes that he would retreat back to whatever office he crawled out of…but noooo…he wanted to talk…whether I wanted to or not.
I appeased him through his small talk questions but as the conversation proceeded I slowly began to sense that there was something different about this counselor compared to the others I’d encountered. He didn’t care to dwell on the drugs or how much I had used of what or when I first started my drug escapade. He seemed more interested in something completely different – ME – and where I was spiritually – specifically, where I was with God.
We muddled through the basic religious questions of what denomination I was, if and where I went to church, and if so how often, but the conversation took on another form when he asked “the question.” With sincerity in his eyes, he looked at me and bluntly asked,
“If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”
Caught completely off guard by his candidly delivered question, I now stood face to face with the very question that had haunted me for many years. I felt as if I’d been exposed. As long as the question was merely in my mind, I thought I could ignore it, file it away for another day (another year), but now that it had been vocalized by someone else and aimed directly at me -
I could ignore it no longer.
Not willing to entirely concede my lostness, I quickly retreated to several of the topics we had already discussed. I fumbled over my words, stammering and stuttering as I regurgitated religious sounding jargon such as – I believe in Jesus; I never did any of these things with the intentions of hurting anyone; deep down I’m a good person; my parents are good Christians; they always took me to church; in fact, I even go myself, once in awhile.
When I had finished my unsuccessful rant, the counselor said in a very diplomatic but firm way –
“I didn’t ask you about your parents,
if you went to church,
or if you were a good person.
I asked you if you died today, did you know where you’d spend eternity?”
I COULD NOT ANSWER HIS QUESTION.
In all honesty, I had always considered myself a Christian – at the age of seven I had walked the aisle, said the prayer and was baptized shortly thereafter. Although, truth be known, if you would’ve asked the people I went to school with, worked with and hung out with during my early adulthood, their response probably would have been something like this –
Christian?!?! I didn’t even think he went to church!
Deep down I too knew something was amiss in my life. None of my life resembled anything godly. In fact, it was the complete opposite – I was the epitome of worldly. My choices revolved around ME – what was good for ME – what felt good to ME – how this or that would benefit ME. Additionally, aiding and abetting all of my catering to ME were the deceptive behaviors I had drug along with me from my childhood as well as all the doors of pleasure I had kicked open along my way. The truth of the matter was -
I was as far away from God as one could be.
The conversation with the counselor lasted several more minutes but to be honest with you the only other thing I remember from our encounter was that he gave me a Bible and encouraged me to read it. I was dazed and confused as I walked back to my room; my simple stroll down the hall had left my head spinning. As I entered my room, I threw the Bible on the desk vowing not to read it.
I was still gripped by my rebellion and pride,
but war had erupted in my soul.
I remember rationalizing in my mind that I had gotten myself in to this mess and by gosh I’d get myself out of it. I would not use God or religion as a crutch. Oh how wrong my thinking was.
The war raged on throughout the night and into the early hours of the next morning. I was tired and restless. I felt like I could explode into a babbling ball of emotions at any point, but I would not relent. Like a movie playing over and over in my head, I recalled failures and mistakes that I had made along my journey. They were painful, and I did not like what I saw. Occasionally, I would look over at the desk where I’d thrown the Bible earlier that day.
It was like something inside of me was leading me to pick it up – just read it.
Finally, I did!
It had been quite some time since I’d read the Bible…but for some strange reason it felt right. It was like the words on the pages began to leap off at me. As I read, all I kept thinking to myself was, “That’s me! That’s me! That’s me!” Without realizing it I began to do something I hadn’t done for a long time – nor do I do that often – I began to cry. Like ice disappearing in the sun - my cold, hard, calloused heart began to melt. I knew that I’d been running from God. No matter where I was or what I did, I’d felt His presence gently guiding and counseling me to give up for quite some time. So it was there in a hospital bed, deep within the depths of the lock-down detox unit that I responded to THE COUNSELOR with three simple words –
I give up!
I knew what I meant –
and so did God.
No amount of humanistic reasoning or rationalizing in my mind could trump the truth that I’d been living separated from God due to the sin in my life. I needed the gift of God’s grace provided by Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection in order to obtain peace with God. By faith that’s what I accepted.
I can – but I can’t – explain what happened to me that night – it was spiritually supernatural. Unless you’ve personally experienced the regeneration that comes from accepting God’s gift of grace, any description of what happened internally to me will sound like mere foolishness. Therefore, all I’ll venture to say at this point is that I felt different. A strange soothing peace had enveloped me. Although I had many self-inflicted wounds, a corrupt moral nature, as well as a host of problems to sort out, somehow I knew I was now on the right path. My journey out had begun.
…from the inside…ray-ray