September 27, 2012 by Mathew
Fall is definitely in the air where I live. There aren’t any overt visual signs yet, as this photo of yesterday’s sunrise will attest. You can feel it nonetheless. Most years it doesn’t come quite this early. Sometimes it will be as late as November before the air trades the dull blast furnace heat of Summer for the crisp, cool, vibrance of Autumn. Around here, it’s rare that Fall announces its arrival in September but, I do remember one year when it did. A few major things happened during that time that changed my life. This is where my testimony begins – the last Saturday night in September 1998 – fourteen years ago today. That’s right, today is the fourteen year anniversary of when I began my close intimate walk with God. I really hadn’t planned on posting this today. I wanted to post it this past weekend but didn’t get the opportunity to finish it until now. So here it is.
By the time September of 1998 was in full swing I was humming along life’s path rather well. I had just turned 22 a month or so earlier. At the time I was working as a carpenter’s apprentice during the day and attending college classes during the evenings and at night. I was carrying a fairly heavy load but, that was okay because for the first time in my life I felt like I was heading somewhere; I felt like I was accomplishing something. Aside from a shadowy ominous foreboding and sense of dread that lurked around the isolated corners of my mind, I was doing good.
The feeling of dread that I’m talking about had its roots in something that took place a number of weeks earlier in Sunday School. I sat sleepily drifting in and out of the lesson that was being taught. I was by far the youngest person in the class. Everyone else was at least a dozen years older than I and they were all married. I was the only single person in the room. That’s what the lesson was about, something concerning marriage. Since the lesson didn’t directly apply to me I wasn’t paying very much attention. The discussion everyone was having became rather heated for some reason and that’s what snapped me out my daydream back into the classroom. I watched and listened for a bit to see where the tension might lead. As one would expect, it sort of wound down and led nowhere. Just as I was starting to drift off again into my own little world someone said something that caused me to clamor back to reality.
Not yet willing to let things go by the wayside, one of the men, clutching his wife’s hand in his own, exclaimed rather pointedly, “We all know that there won’t be any marriage in Heaven!” Apparently that was the white elephant in the room that everyone had been dancing all around and trying to ignore. An unhappy silence settled over the classroom. No one was particularly cheerful to be reminded of this.
If you read my previous blog entry, you already know that this was the first I had ever heard of such an absurd thing. My first reaction was to scoff and tell the dude that he was wrong. I didn’t of course. I assumed everyone else would call him on his folly. So I sat and waited for half of the students in class to pounce on him and correct his obviously mistaken interpretation of the Bible. No one did – which meant that something was up, like maybe the guy knew what he was talking about. I instantly felt sick and unsettled. The pit of my stomach fell down into my shoes.
The hope of marriage – the hope of a wife, was my thing. It was my hidden defense, my secret weapon against the hopelessness and pointlessness of life. To me, marriage was the whole point of life – the end goal of existence. Life without marriage was utter loneliness and isolation – two things that had plagued me unendingly and had been the bane of my existence. If there was no marriage in Heaven, then it was no better than living here. In fact, it was a step down from living here.
Sure I’d heard all the hoopla over the years about going to Heaven when we die – having all your tears and whatnot wiped away; spending all of forever walking up and down streets paved with the shiny stuff; and singing songs to a god who, at least in this life, seemed to be pretty well distanced from those who pursued him. To be honest, the shiny stuff has never meant anything to me, I like asphalt and brick just fine as paving materials, and I’ve never been real big on singing. When your singing voice is reminiscent of Ben Stein’s monotone shtick, you tend to not be so enthusiastic about it. As far as God wiping away all of my tears when I got to heaven, I’d learned to deal with tears and hardship pretty well on my own. After all, I had my secret weapon. The only real appeal Heaven had for me was that it would be a nice safe place to spend all of forever with my future wife. Without her, paradise might as well have been the dark side of the moon.
I went through the rest of church that morning in a daze, wondering if what the man had said was true and hoping that it wasn’t. When I got home, I delved into my Bible’s concordance and found where Jesus’ own words were quoted:
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. (-NIV)
I was absolutely devastated. I felt disgustingly ill to the core of my being. At that point in my life, absolutely nothing had come close to affecting me the way reading that verse did for the first time. In fact I have only been effected that deeply by something one other time in my life and that was a couple of years ago. I know a lot of Christians, probably most Christians, are quite aware of this verse. Most that I have talked to really don’t like it at all but, it doesn’t upturn their entire world. As for me, I was completely laid waste to.
I managed to suck things up though. I did what I had always done, I packed my heartbreak away and locked it up, way down deep inside of myself. I proceeded with my life – working and going to school – maintaining the appearance that nothing was wrong. Something was wrong though; it was very wrong. I had been substantially shaken and very much unbalanced. Despite all of the outward evidence to the contrary, I spent the next four weeks spiraling into an emotional and spiritual crisis. It reached a climax and came bursting to the surface on the last Saturday of September.
The day started out like most Saturday’s. I and the rest of my family spent the better part of it just relaxing. In the evening, a few hours before sundown, my youngest brother and I began walking around Grandpa and Grandma’s property. We started our conversation by noting that Fall had arrived early that year. Even in the evening sun, the air had a crisp bite that indicated Summer was on it’s way out. We ended up talking endlessly about everything. That wasn’t uncommon for us. It was something that we did frequently – walk and talk for hours.
As the evening progressed and the sun set, our conversation turned to spiritual matters. My brother was a senior in high school back then, and his mind often filled with endless questions about God and the Bible. As he frequently did with anyone whom he thought could give him answers, my little brother began asking me all of those questions. As he did so, I felt a change happen within me. From somewhere inside of me came a full, intelligent, insightful, satisfactory answer to each and every question my brother asked. For the first time in my life, I experienced the Holy Spirit. God used my voice to answer my brother’s endless questions.
My brother asked questions way into the night. Sometime – it must have been close to midnight – he ran out of them and decided to go to bed. When I got into bed, I was ecstatic. The Holy Spirit had come upon me and used me! It was perhaps the most amazing thing I’d ever experienced up to that time. As I delved into my nightly prayer I thanked God and praised him for what had just happened. It wasn’t long before my prayer turned to distress, initially over my family’s ever-continuing hard times but, eventually over what had taken place in Sunday School so many weeks earlier.
What it boiled down to was, I was facing an eternity of misery – either in Heaven or in Hell. If I ended up in Heaven, then I was looking at forever with no marriage – the one relationship that had the emotional intimacy, fulfilling companionship, the oneness, and spiritual completion that I had always been in desperate need of. I obviously didn’t want the alternative – which was Hell. When faced with these two options, I really didn’t want to live forever.
For the first time in my life I came to God completely unarmored and vulnerable. I cried and whispered to him, “I am so scared.” For the first time in my life God responded to me in a way that made his presence and his voice undeniable. In an instant something both wondrous and terrifying filled me. All I saw was blinding white light. My heart beat so hard in my chest I thought it might burst. I couldn’t make my muscles move and my body shuddered from the force of what was happening. It was pure love. It was God’s love. It was God’s very presence – just a taste, which was all I could handle. It was wonderful and magnificent beyond description but, it was also terrifying.
“I am afraid,” I whispered.
“Don’t be afraid,” responded God’s soft, gentle, wordless voice within of me. “Don’t be afraid.” God’s spirit just held me in the tightest, most wonderful, most beautiful of loving embraces. I was loved beyond anything I ever thought was possible. I was wholly consumed by the love God has for me. Everything ceased to exist for me save for God and His pure, perfect, all powerful love. I have no idea how long God held me, cradled tightly in the bosom of His soul. My sense of time disappeared. I know that I wanted it to never end. At some point God slowly, gently let it subside. At first I was afraid that He might go away and leave me all alone again but, He didn’t. He stayed and has been with me in a very real, very prominent, very powerful way ever since.
Everything changed for me in that moment. Every aspect of my life from that point onward became different. The first noticeable difference was, I suddenly understood that even though I wouldn’t have a wife in Heaven, I was not going to be lonely there. My all consuming need for a deep, intimate, relationship of oneness would be met by God himself.
Another noticeable difference is that I became very aware of both my own spirit and of God’s. I had asked Jesus to be my savior and into my heart sometime around the age of nine or ten and had pursued Him intently ever since. But my prayer times and relationship with Him had been like that of so many other Christians. I had always gotten the vibe that God was there, that he was listening, and that – in His own distant, disconnected way – He answered my prayers but, there was a barrier or wall of sorts between us. From that night on, it has been different. God was suddenly as real to me as someone standing in front of me. His voice, though not physically audible, was suddenly very real, clear, and undeniable. Mutual, two-way, interaction with God became as natural as and more frequent than conversing with another person.
With those changes, my life suddenly had a whole new aspect that I had never experienced before – intimacy. Up to that point, I had never once had the opportunity to share any part of my heart with another or had anyone share any part of theirs with me. I had never connected in any substantial way on a spiritual or emotional level with anyone – not with my parents or, any other adults, not with anyone my age, and not with God. I had been a solitary creature my entire life and it had mercilessly been eating my soul into blackness. God changed that. He instantly began meeting my desperate, lifelong need to be unreservedly joined as one, emotionally and spiritually, to another.
The following Monday I showed up to work and was laid off. The boss was moving the crew to another town and I wouldn’t be able to drive the distance and still make my college classes. That freed up an enormous amount of time and energy, which I promptly devoted to my newfound relationship with God. I found myself spending as many as eighteen hours a day in prayer, loving every moment of it, and still not getting enough. For the first time in my life my heart was naked to another and theirs to me. Someone desired and accepted me and they let me desire and have them. Together God and I explored my heart; together we explored His. He began to uncover, sooth, and heal the hurtful things from my childhood. He uncovered memories that I had repressed of the abuse from my stepfather and began healing the damage done to me. As I read my Bible God opened my eyes to his story and allowed me to see and minister to the pain of his own hurts and sorrows. He pointed out my gifts and talents and laid out a purpose for me and a general plan for the life that he and I now shared.
Over the next few months I fell desperately, head over heels in love with God. My life went from being lonely, hopeless, empty, and lifeless to an existence that had hope, mutual love, intimacy, and beauty. I found myself totally consumed by joy, happiness, peace, and bliss.
You might think that my testimony sort of winds down and ends here. It doesn’t. God was just getting started. There is another major occurrence that took place several weeks after that first night. Once again, the foundations of my life were shaken. This next momentous event that happened totally shaped my relationship with God and, indeed, the rest of my life since then, as well. You’ll have to tune in to the next post to read about it because, for now, I think I’m done typing.