My upbringing was in a family of eight children. We lived in a small two bedroom house with one bath in a rural Kentucky town. Daddy worked for the government and commuted to Louisville each day. Our mother cooked, washed clothes, tended to us and basically had no life as anyone would think of it today. I wore hand me down clothes and thought nothing of it. My mother used chicken feed bags as material to make undershorts for the boys. We played marbles on the ground outside the house and fought with homemade bows and arrows, sling shots and B-B guns.Eventually, we all survived, attended college and made successful lives for ourselves.
Our parents took us to church each Sunday. The church in our small town in Kentucky also held daily masses and I attended them as well before school each day. I later became an altar boy and participated in numerous special services at church. But all this church attendance did not make me feel close to God or improve my increasingly selfish habits. My sarcastic attitude and behavior toward my brothers and sisters got worse and worse.
In college, with the emphasis on logic and reason I slowly came to an agnostic view concerning God. But as I neared my last year in college, I also began to see that life didn’t provide the satisfaction I felt it was supposed to. I had succeeded in college, been in a management internship in business, dated girls and for all this, I felt empty inside. At the same time, my general attitude was negative and downbeat. On one occasion I nearly got into a fistfight with a classmate over a trivial argument. This incident jarred me into the realization of how empty and out of control my life seemed and yet I was supposed to be looking forward to a great career as an engineer, making a good salary and doing interesting work.
One day at one of my college engineering classes, one of my class mates walked to the front of the class before the professor entered. He announced that he was having a little gathering at his dorm room to talk about life after college and invited anyone interested to come. That was a pretty vague invitation but I decided to go. Several others also showed up a few nights later and we all sat around and related in turn what we planned to do with our lives after graduation. When the host classmate took his turn at last, he explained how his life had been changed by a personal experience with Jesus Christ while on an internship job a few months before. I sat up at this as I had never heard anyone ever tell of an experience like this. It really got my attention. One big reason it did was that this classmate’s whole life and attitude had radically changed for the better in the few weeks since the previous school term. This young man had a notorious reputation as having been one of the most arrogant, loud-mouthed and self-centered guys in our class. Something had obviously changed his life. He was like a different person.
A few days later, he invited me to join him and several others in a personal bible study on Saturday mornings in his dorm room. As it turned out, there were only three of us who began a systematic study of the simple truths of the gospel. I had gotten a lot of religious training in parochial school so I knew the essentials of God, the life of Christ, the Trinity, and so on. But it was only academic knowledge and was more in my head than in my heart.
And I had never actually seen what the bible says. I knew that Jesus had died for sin but I hadn’t seen it as a personal matter. I had not realized that Jesus’ death was full payment for my personal sins. It had not been clear to me before that if Jesus paid for my sins then there was nothing more I could add to this; therefore, I could be assured of an eternity with God simply by accepting the free gift of Christ’s redemption for me.
As we progressed through the simple Q&A lesson guides, I came to see from the bible that the key to the Christian life was “belief.” But this belief was more than an intellectual acceptance of truth; it was commitment of the whole heart to Christ. Still, I couldn’t get a grip on it and eventually became aggravated at myself. One day while alone, and thinking about what it meant to “believe,” I became so frustrated that I remember looking up and saying, “God, whatever it means, help me to believe.” Looking back, I think this might have been the first truly honest prayer I ever made. Certainly, it was the most important one up to that time. I became aware somehow of the presence of the Lord in a different way than I had ever experienced. I think all God was waiting for was for me to admit my own inability to grasp Him and instead let Him grasp me.
I related this experience with my friend in the bible study and as I did so, I was overcome with a sense of joy and excitement that God was real in my life, He was a real person to me, for the first time. Over the days following, and as we talked more about this and looked at what the bible teaches, I realized that I had become a new person inside. My old desires were replaced by new ones. My greatest desire was to know more about God and how I could have a deeper relationship with Him. Amazingly, the teachings in the bible became alive to me and I could read the bible with much better understanding.
As I depended on the Lord, my attitude and behavior began to change. My temper seemed to go away, and I found a concern for other people for the first time. There was a growing sense within that my old life had been a waste and that my life ahead was different than my past. There is a passage in the bible that says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…” That passage seemed to be in play in my own life as well as many other wonderful promises in the bible. My life now had purpose where it had once been empty.
I mark this as the watershed event of my life. No other event has had the importance of this one. It’s important to keep in mind that I did nothing to deserve this. It was given to me by the Lord and all that is good in my life is entirely to His credit. I owe everything to Him. Christ is my life; He gives meaning and purpose that I could find nowhere else.