A common testimony in a Christian’s life includes the rebellion years. It is that time in the walk with Christ that people turn away from the truth and run as fast and as hard as they can from God. This is by no means a new story and the Bible has example after example of the lives lived in open opposition to God’s will. The reason why the story of the Prodigal Son has such an impact is that we can all recognize our self in it. Some have played more than one role in that story from Father, to the obedient son and the fallen son. I am the most afraid of having to experience the pain of the father, who day after day searches the horizon for his child that is lost in a world to vast to search.
When I became Born Again and joined a community of believers I was struck by how many others my own age were doing the same. I joined a local church that was bursting with passion and love. I found acceptance in the Youth Program and in short order I could sing all of the praise songs, know the clapping rhythms and other social aspects regarding worship. I went to nearly all of the events that were sponsored and made some very good friendships. I even purchased the silver jacket with our program “Acts Alive” logo boldly visible on the back and wore this proudly everywhere.
I had never felt so alive and filled with the spirit than I was in those days. I experienced the speaking in tongues and the all consuming heat of the healing hand of God. I was a dreamer and at night the spirit would reveal to me images of such beauty and love that I could wake up weeping. Sometimes I would experience warnings and would see clearly the spiritual forces that are referenced to in scripture. I walked and lived filled with such certainty of purpose and expectation and I was blinded to the growing cancer in my life.
The church I was in had passion but there was very little teaching. We attended church for our own fulfillment, to experience worship for the way it would make us feel. There was no depth to the faith, and no true exploration of the nature of God. We could sing, and dance but we could not minister. We had passion, but passion is not enough to sustain you. Passion, like the warmth of a camp fire, only lasts while you are near the flames. Should you draw away or let the fire die, then you will be cold and in darkness.
I should have known something was missing. As I look back I can see events that were clear signs that all was not correct in my faith. I remember yelling at my Mother once that she was becoming a fanatic with Jesus. To this day I do not know why I said that. She was living the life that we as Christians promoted and perhaps I saw in her something I was missing and was afraid to search after. I am not sure but I do know that from that day our relationship was different and we did not talk about Christ as much.
I remember walking home from work and passing the video arcade to see a local high school girl in tears in the parking lot. She looked at me, saw my jacket and said “Are you a Christian?” God forgive me, my answer to her was “It depends what day it is kid” and I left her there. How does someone seek forgiveness for that?
I was slipping away from God and church in my senior year and once the slide started there was nothing in place to stop it. By the time I entered the military and left home I was feeling just as isolated and barren as the day before I accepted Christ. I wanted to feel close to him but I did not know how. I began to question if all that I had felt, experienced and saw was real. Did I create those sensations in some delusional state or was God really out there? The evidence of his presence was missing; did this mean he did not exist? These were questions I did not have answers for.
I entered the military a virgin but did not stay one for long. One night a prostitute in a cheap Alabama motel explained the act of sex to me for forty dollars. It was dirty and exciting and for a few moments I felt alive and close to another person. It was not the same as being filled with God’s spirit but it was better than nothing. From that moment I sought after this experience with a vengeance. With each new conquest of flesh I replaced God with women.
Their faces are a blur, the nights a maze of confusing blending images. After a while one woman in my life was too easy and without satisfaction. I needed increasingly new challenges and sought out situations where deception and lies became the normalcy of my day. I told stories to everyone and each tale was different. I created a game of bringing people to a state of emotional attachment to a person that did not really exist. To some I became a divorced father of two kids. I used pictures of my brother’s daughters and claimed them as my own. To others I was a child of the street, a person recovering from abuse and addiction. The stories got more outlandish and I reveled in it. I lied about my lies and then told more lies on those.
Every now and then I would see a church or hear a song on the radio that would convict me. To deal with this pain I turned to alcohol and like the rest of my ‘no limit’ life style I drank and was drunk more than I was sober. On any night I would be easily found in a bar, with a woman and telling stories acting like a young prince with the world in his pocket. There needed to be around me, at all times, people who were equally corrupted so I could join into a community.
When a new soldier arrived in our barracks who was a practicing Christian, I launched a campaign to introduce him to the wonders of wine, women and song. For three months he avoided my tricks but in the end I got him. One night I got that young man drunk and put him in the bed of a village whore and his corruption was complete. From that day on he slid down a gutter of filth and even out performed me in come cases. He caught some form of VD twice in eight months and tried to kill himself at least once. What will I say when he gives testimony against me at my judgment?
There was no end to what I was willing to do to ruin my life. I entered into a relationship with a whore where I agreed to marry her, on the condition that she would leave her only child behind. I had her make a choice that no parent should have to be faced with and to my shame she agreed. She was willing to leave her son behind to follow a wretch like me into an unknown future. After she said yes, I turned my back on her and never saw her again. I left her alone with the knowledge of what she had done and put her out of my mind.
I wish I could say that was the worst thing in life I ever did, but it was not. I have hurt a lot of people in my short life, far more than I have ever helped. I have played with people’s lives like the pieces on a chess board, moving them where I willed and removing them when possible.
Why am I reporting all of this? To what purpose will this serve? I am not sure I can fully tell you. I have faith this is a story I have to tell and that God wants me to tell it. Perhaps by opening these old wounds I can let loose some puss or lingering shame that I can ask our Lord to heal me from. Perhaps there is someone who may read this and recognize their own life and may be responding to these words with some conviction. Let me send this hope; God can restore all people who seek him.
It is hard to have abused God so fully to trust in his capacity of love and forgiveness. I know. I know how it feels to walk the road back to the Father covered in self applied filth, each step taking you closer and closer to the face and eyes of God. I know how painful each one of those steps can be, but let me encourage you if I can.
The center of the story of the Prodigal Son is not the son, it is the father. You see it was the father who was looking when his son came down the road. It was the father who saw his son from a distance and ran to meet him. It is the father who embraces his son, covers him in kisses and smothers him in love. It is the father who restores a man, who had squandered his inheritance, to the status of Beloved Son. And it is the father that gently rebukes the obedient son and reminds him that the son who returns is the greatest gift of all.
I have a story to tell, and in a way it is my story. But really this is God’s story because I am only the Prodigal Son. I took the gifts that God gave me and spent them in a life of sin and only when I was shattered and alone did I seek him again. But it was God that accepted me again and it was by his Grace that I can find peace knowing that while I do not deserve it my Father is willing. He is willing to look past my shame, and beyond my crime and see the heart of one that is worthy of love. What he has done for me, he can do for everyone.
wow, Michael what a story. I am reminded of a song I heard once, asking God why a person had to pass through such fires. And the answer was so I can pray with a brother and say I have been there too. you have been there! I know God will use that