Rock House Way
For I endorse and delight in the Law of
God in my inmost self [with my new nature].
Stupid, ugly, unlovable and worthless best describe what I believed to be true about myself as an eight-year-old. I was the youngest boy of four siblings in a family that had no regard for God. The circumstances of my life introduced and reinforced these lies, producing a heart surging with the emotional pain of self-hatred, isolation, depression, emptiness and even rage. To manage these intensely negative feelings, I started early in life pursuing worldly comforts and sought affirmation in whatever form I could find it. Because these lies had been perpetrated by people, most people became either the focus of my anger or merely prospects to fill my emptiness.
During elementary school and high school, these early beliefs became self-fulfilling prophecies, confirmed by how I was treated and how I performed as a student. With a heart and mind working overtime to manage my feelings, staying focused on school was nearly impossible. Attending school was a miserable experience, as my grades each year were just barely adequate to avoid being held back. Trying to overcome the intensely negative feelings arising from my poor self-image and many failings drove me to seek comfort in food. By the age of 12, my weight had ballooned to more than 200 pounds. My shame, fueled by the obvious disapproval of most everyone in my world, resulted in me trying to eat my way to a state of numbness.
Hungry for acceptance, approval, and love, I was an attractive target for those skilled in providing very conditional acceptance to satisfy their own relationship sickness. Seizing the opportunity to spread his brokenness, an older boy in the neighborhood introduced me to sexual perversion through pornography when I was 10. Since it provided a strong feeling that crowded out my pain, it was added to my strategy for survival.
Friendships were rare in my adolescent world. Interaction with peers was usually in the form of conflicts with other boys. Overweight and unathletic, I was an easy target for their harassment. The random and unexplainable attacks were the most frightening. I vividly remember the day a gang of boys I had never seen before jumped out of some bushes along a dirt road to attack me with a hail of rocks and dirt. Another time, a child spit in my ear simply to entertain others nearby. At home, sibling encounters commonly took a toll on my limited self-esteem as well. Overall, I spent my childhood and adolescent years just trying to cope with a string of unpredictable and damaging hazing episodes.
As a high school sophomore, I encountered a new tormentor in the form of a teacher and football coach who held a grudge against me. His condemnation of me was born out of my refusal to make my 6-foot, 260-pound body available to help him achieve his coaching aspirations. He retaliated by beginning each class with a public proclamation of my worthlessness. The same "tonnage" he wanted to exploit on the football field became the means of attacking my self-esteem. He actually stated that my only value in life would be to "sit around and melt (so as) to bring down the cost of lard." My last day in that school came when a football player and I were taken to the principal's office for talking in class. The football coach was summoned to mete out the punishment. The football player was lightly paddled; I received an abusive beating.
In later high school years, I was targeted from a different direction by someone who saw opportunity in my emptiness and my desperate search for kindness, acceptance and love. The summer before my senior year, I had a job where I met a young, attractive woman who worked as an assistant nurse at a local hospital. She was approachable and friendly and seemed to have a genuine interest in me. We began dating soon after our first meeting, even though two others suitors were competing for her attention. I was quite infatuated, perhaps somewhat obsessed with her.
Our platonic relationship was the focus of my life for six months. Before I returned to boarding school that Christmas break, she announced her plans to have surgery for "female problems." A week later I called home from boarding school to ask my mother to send flowers to the hospital. She told me that my "girlfriend" had undergone a sex change operation and was actually born a man. My father, a physician in that hospital, had discovered the truth, further straining our difficult father-son relationship. The news delivered a profound shock to my soul, leaving me with a broken heart and a tidal wave of shame. I struggled not to question my sexuality or to let the depth of my depression render me completely unable to function.
After that event I really didn't like most people, and was especially suspicious of women. The remainder of my senior year in high school was largely a battle to retain my sanity. Feelings of victimization, anger, betrayal, suspicion and bitterness enveloped me in a blanket of depression so thick that it was often physically difficult to stand erect. To survive this condition, I believed the only solution was to pursue every mood-altering activity or substance the world offers a troubled soul to cool the fire that rages within. This "medicating" became the first priority in my life. I would do practically anything to crowd out my feelings. My freshman year of college brought with it the disorienting news of my parents' divorce and access to more and new medicating activities to get relief from my emotional torment. I was profoundly wounded and empty and focused solely on stuffing the world's idols into my personal darkness. Throughout college and into the first few years of my career, my gluttony included drinking. Soon I was in the habit of getting drunk three or four times a week. My weight approached 300 pounds. Coarse speech grew into a constant stream of four-letter words. Obsession with drinking and female companionship led to routine intoxication and sexual encounters that left me empty and more deeply entrenched in my shame.
Accomplishment seemed a viable way to deal with my pervasive sense of worthlessness. In my early teen years, I decided that I would feel better about myself if I could become accomplished in something. Years were spent trying to master photography, playing the flute, piloting aircraft, lifting weights, competing in racquetball, and pursuing other competitive or creative distractions. I reasoned that if people would praise me for my accomplishments, then my sense of worth and self-esteem would be restored. So I worked to achieve all those goals and more. The compliments came, but relief did not follow. At this point, no amount of positive attention or praise could fix me.
As I worked through my list of accomplishments and saw that each had failed to bring me the sought after relief, I kept hoping that my next achievement would be the answer. And it was this hope that kept me going. By my mid-20s, there seemed to be only one thing left to try. In deluded desperation, I convinced myself that this goal would fill me with self-worth and peace. This ultimate goal was to own my own business. So I bought controlling interest in a small community advertising company. It didn't last a year. I lost my entire investment and became embroiled in a lawsuit.
Owning my own business was literally the last thing on the list. Since everything that I tried had failed to bring me fullness and peace, I didn't know where to turn. This latest failure brought me to a new depth of hopelessness and a sense that my life truly had no value, no happiness, and no point.
The day I realized there was nothing left to put my hope in, I was with a woman friend whom I knew to be a Christian. I had forbidden her to discuss her beliefs with me. I had known a few vocal Christians through work and hated them all. Any references to God, Christ, or Christianity by Christians enraged me. One of my favorite topics of discussion was the non-existence of God, which I had long assumed to be true. To prove my point, I had actually cursed God in front of people I knew to be Christians and dared Him to strike me down if He existed.
Now in a place of hopelessness, I shocked my friend and in some measure myself when these desperate and somewhat sarcastic words came from my lips, "Tell me about this God thing." The next two days were spent learning the liberating truth of the Gospel. It became clear to me that the living God and His Son Jesus were the answer to the hole in my soul. By the end of the third day, the Lord God Almighty had become a fixture in my heart as I declared the truth of His Son at the age of 26. That dear friend has been my dear wife since 1983.
On one level, my search had been based on my desire to relieve my emotional pain. But on a deeper level, it was also a search for the meaning of life. I had never previously considered that this had anything to do with God. It was only when I'd reached the end of my list of accomplishments and was looking for a scrap of hope that I was able to hear the truth.
Even as an unbeliever, I knew enough about Christian values to realize that nearly all of my medicating tactics were sinful. Somewhere inside, I probably also knew that any acknowledgement of His existence threatened to cut off my medicating behavior. To me, that was a death sentence. I later learned what would be required in order to truly live. The man I had become would have to die.
Upon committing to follow Christ, some changes in my life were immediate. Foul language and my habit of getting drunk three to four times a week ended, and my self-esteem began to grow. My priorities switched to reading Scripture and Christian books that furthered my understanding and commitment. The first years of my faith were characterized by excitement about the truth I had found and trying to believe that God's promises for an abundant life could apply to me.
However, something curious happened after about five years of being a Christian. The familiar misery from my old life began to return. Certainly my Christian foundation was intact, but some of the initial excitement about becoming a Christian had begun to fade. In its place, I began to feel that familiar anger, depression, and sense of limited self-worth. I had definitely not fallen back to my pre- Christian condition, but I was hurting.
I sought the help of a Christian counselor. Five years later, I stood healed from many of the effects of a lifetime of abuse, which had continued to plague me for years after my profession of faith. The most profound healing came from forgiving the people who had hurt me. I depended heavily on God's help to get through it. Along with that forgiveness came freedom from a lot of emotional pain.
The most notable burden lifted when the Lord led me to deal with my relationship with my dad. Father.son conflicts are common, and we had ours. I had worked hard to put a good face on our differences after accepting Christ, but every now and then I would say something that made it clear to all that I was still angry with him. On occasion, he would do something that would set off a wave of negative emotions and bring on some type of inappropriate behavior from me. Fortunately, I became convicted that the Lord wanted me to resolve the conflict His way. Through a simple prayer of forgiveness and repentance -- and the power of God -- that relationship was made right in my heart. Soon I experienced feelings of love for my father I had never known. What had been a strained relationship perpetuated by my judgment and unforgiveness became one in which I deeply cherished him. I also came to appreciate his many great qualities and how much he loves me. Our restored relationship has become one of the crown jewels of my faith. Breaking through on this heart issue was the cornerstone event that led me to dig into many other places of unforgiveness. Another layer of self-inflicted torment that had driven my more socially acceptable medicating behaviors was gone.
Taking on the Sin
Over the next seven or so years, I experienced some periods of spiritual growth, but overall, I felt there had to be more to my faith. I was spiritually dry. Prayer was difficult. I could not maintain a routine of studying the Word and resisted doing the Lord's work. Praising the Lord in song was refreshing spiritually, but it was about all the presence of God I could muster. I seemed to be stuck and was grieved by this.
I wanted a more meaningful relationship with the God who had done such profound work in my life. One day I was looking through an old briefcase and found a simple silver cross that my wife, Beth, had given me. I hadn't worn it for very long after receiving it, but sensed that maybe wearing it again would remind me to think of Jesus as I felt it tap against my chest over my heart. There was no discernable change at first, but I did feel that the cross was in some small way making a difference. It was not the cross but the decision to wear it that ultimately made the difference. While I felt a bit more connected to God, there was still a great distance between us, as if loving Him from afar.
Over the months that followed, my love of praising the Lord grew. Praying came more easily. I asked God for a deeper relationship with Him, for help in breaking through my feeling of disconnectedness. My prayers and meditations led me to consider the recurring patterns of sin in my life. I became convicted that even though my life was greatly cleaned up from pre-Christian days, sin was still robbing me of a full and satisfying relationship with the Lord. This relationship block also made it impossible for me to hear His calling for me, which was something I intensely wanted to know.
Following the conviction welling up in my heart, I saw the truth about myself. As a 43-year-old man and a Christian for 17 years, there were still sin patterns in my life born out of my dark, pre-Christian years. Hidden within an apparently cleaned up life were sins I relied on for comfort that needed to be confronted. Even though my life was very Christ-focused, I had been unwilling to rid myself of remaining sins that separated me from God and squelched my desire to be more committed to Him. I had not been able to trust that God had a better way for me to live. Still dependent on the things of darkness, I turned to those places of sin for temporary escape.
As I actively pursued a relationship breakthrough with the Lord, the first barrier to be confronted was borne out of my past exposure to media. In the middle of solemn prayer, sexually suggestive images or violent scenes would invade my thoughts. Recognizing these visual impressions came from the media I was viewing, I began to seriously consider cutting out a life-long crutch . movies and television. The conviction ultimately came. Regardless of what others might need to do, it was important for me to be careful of what I exposed my heart to. It was a clear case of "garbage in, garbage out."
Repentance did not immediately follow the conviction. The life change occurred when the Holy Spirit prompted me to take an honest look at what television meant to me. The truth was that I had been strongly dependent on television throughout my life for comfort and escape. After becoming a Christian, I initially had ignored television to pursue my faith. But within a year, it had become a key factor once again. Given my obsession with TV and my reliance on it as a child, it's not surprising that I returned to it after the excitement of being a new Christian was no longer enough to separate me from my negative emotions. Even after being relieved of the torment of unforgiveness, the draw to medicate by watching television was strong. It was a high priority idol, and I behaved as if I loved it.
As an adult Christian, it was obvious that doing something other than watching television was a wise choice, especially if it were God-focused. However, I still spent many nights watching television for hours. Regret would always follow, along with a recommitment to myself to do better next time. For many years, that night never came. The pattern was predictable: Visual enticement always led to giving in, followed by regret and shame. That matches the workings of any sin or behavior that is out of control.
Traveling for work was the worst. The TV in my hotel room typically stayed on for hours, often tuned to programs with enough sex and violence to grieve the Spirit dwelling within me. Finally, the Lord led me into deep thought that unraveled this pattern of sin, revealing that television had become a significant idol in my life. I realized I was turning to television instead of the Lord for fulfillment. Of course there was no fulfillment in that black box, and it always served as a distraction from my need for God-centered fulfillment.
In examining the way I watched television, several principles of the way sin operates in our lives were revealed to me. The first is what I call "legitimate entry." The reason to turn on the television always seemed to be legitimate. My favorite excuse was that watching the news made me a better-informed Christian.
The "brilliant rationalization" began each night with the feeling I had worked hard all day and had earned the right to some mindless relaxation. In reality, I was rationalizing the second pattern, which I call "returning to the areas of sin." I'd developed a routine in which fifteen minutes of watching news led to spinning channels with the remote, sometimes for more than an hour. In hotel rooms where I stayed while on the road for business, my channelspinning lasted from dinner until bedtime.
My third insight was that this seemingly superficial, harmless ritual was actually a search for flesh or violence. This relentless search for a peak of excitement that is so engaging that it removes you from your world is what I call "spiking." Think of it as the first moment of feeling, that surge you experience when your eye transmits a stirring image to your brain. There is an immediate emotional spike as the image excites you and crowds out other feelings.
Feeling excitement is not the problem. The problem is having an unconscious obsession to search for excitement spikes that grieve the Spirit and cut you off from the Lord. I found that most of my time alone in front of the TV was really spent looking for sexually suggestive images or violence . a desire to return to pornography and the hate that remained in my heart. It became clear that as long as I was under the influence of movies and television, there would be no victory over the 10-year dry spell in my relationship with the Lord. There was no hope of achieving a deeper connection with God while I pursued the idol of worldly excitement. I made the decision to no longer go to movies or watch TV.
The sin pattern was broken with prayers of repentance and a firm resistance to being drawn back. However, the temptation was still strong, and that surprised me. All I knew to do was to believe in God for His power to resist temptation. This brought up a troubling question: If I truly wanted to do the Lord's will, why did I still have this strong desire to return to sin?
Getting to the Heart Issue
During a season of wrestling with this question, I had an opportunity to watch some videos about a ministry that was focused on helping people break free of their sin patterns through confession and prayer with a fellow believer. The ministry targeted sexual immorality, unforgiveness, fear, and involvement with the occult. My first reaction to the ministry was that I already had enough shame about my sins and did not particularly want to expose my sinful self to other people. Surprisingly, my heart shifted dramatically when the leader explained that a person's spiritual gifts and calling often become clear when sin patterns are brought into the light and broken. Furthermore, the very sin that someone struggles with is likely to be related to the focus of his or her calling.
I sensed that this ministry had discovered something significant. The conviction to dig in hit me the next morning during a business meeting with 10 people gathered around a conference table. During someone else's presentation to our foreign business partners, I responded to an urge to flip open my portfolio. I wrote down every sin in my life I could think of that could be blocking my relationship with God and giving Satan legitimate access to torment me. The list filled a page. The places within me that needed attention were not related to fear or the occult but to the wounds left from unforgiveness and inappropriate sexual behavior from my pre-Christian days. These were the burdens from which I wanted to be set free.
The desire for freedom brought on one of the most difficult challenges of my Christian life. Because the process involved spending time in confession and prayer with a couple of other believers, it required exposing my sins to someone else. Scripture certainly validates this approach, but my shame filled me with dread. Memories of public ridicule from peers and hazing scenes from childhood consumed my mind.
When the time came to actually receive the ministry that was required for my personal freedom and for later ministry training, I was overcome by shame and wanted to run screaming from the building. The battle that raged within me was a spiritual war between the darkness that did not want to yield and the spirit of God, which called me to a place of holiness where I could rely on Him for all I needed. A dear brother in Christ saw my struggle and came over to pray for me and gave me a comforting bear hug. Strengthened by his love and committed to the course of freedom, the session began. Two hours later, after praying to God for forgiveness of my sins and forgiving those who had hurt me, I experienced a new level of peace and freedom.
I was amazed to find that not only had a spiritual burden been lifted from me, but a physical one had fallen away, as well. Standing erect literally took less effort. For the first time, I had a personal understanding that the yoke of Christ is a far lighter burden than the one of unforgiveness and sin that had weighed me down. I was truly in a new place, thanks to the power of confession and repentance. The fear and reluctance about unveiling my sins to others seemed insignificant compared to the relief and joy that resulted from getting another part of my spiritual house in order.
Many things have changed since that time. Overall, my relationship with the Lord continues to improve, as does every aspect of my life. What is most exciting is my growing desire to pursue God through His Word and to advance His Kingdom. The greatest blessings have been a significant improvement in my prayer life and a new level of discernment of His Word. No longer were these practices guilt-inspired drudgery.
As for my calling, it has become clearer to me. Those things that once caused me the most anguish are the basis of the work that the Lord has called me to do. He has given me a hunger to minister to others, particularly to men. For the past three years, I've been working with male substance abusers in a local rehab program. I have seen my willingness to share my struggle with common sins convince men to examine and confess the sins in their own lives. They are drawn to understand their own legitimate places of need and confront how those needs lead them to the illegitimate and dark things of the world.
My Spiritual Revelation
The purpose of this testimony is to let you see the restorative work God has done in my life and to convey the perspective from which I approach all ministry, particularly to those needing a radical life change. My experiences with substance abusers, combined with years of working through my own issues and providing ministry in marriages and in emotional healing, have provided the context in which I believe the Holy Spirit has given me critical enlightenment.
The revelation is that true change only comes when we are transformed at our core, at our heart level. This transformation is available to all, but it does not automatically commence with our salvation. We have to take action to clear the way for heart transformation. Such transformation starts with the willingness to build a new life to whatever extent is required for real change. All efforts that do not begin by clearing the way for change will result in change that only occurs on the surface. Should that happen, we become imposters at war with our hearts as we try to maintain a new veneer. That veneer will ultimately be worn off from the inside out.
Each step along my path of transformation has required humility, honesty, and a longing to become closer to God. By any measure, the payoff has been worth the effort. I have been freed from the bondage created by the behaviors I adopted to medicate my self-imposed torment. I've discovered that it is indeed good to allow the Kingdom to take ground in our hearts. It truly brings us closer to the One who created us and loves us perfectly. Perfectly.
Of course, heart transformation requires us to not only love the Lord, but also to love His law. If we conform to His will as expressed in His law, we will be free of the torment that drives us to self-destructive behavior. Forgiveness and humility are the cornerstones of getting right with the Creator. But all God's laws apply. All of the impurities and ungodly offerings of the world can establish bondage in our life, and we are warned by the Bible not to give in to these temptations.
However, I want you to know that you can be the person that God wants you to be. His work in my life proves that transformation is attainable by all. His way truly is easier. I would have been free much sooner if I had sought His solutions rather than my own. I understand the allure of a quick drink, a quick hit, or a quick peek. But I also know from experience that we cannot heal our souls by feeding our flesh. Healing our souls requires humility, obedience and change.
Transformation will challenge your resolve, and Satan will always resist it. However, Scripture promises that you can defeat him:
And they have overcome (conquered) him by means of the
blood of the Lamb and by the utterance of their testimony . . .
With that in mind, I humbly submit this testimony to you. Be encouraged that when you invite the Lord into the dark places in your heart, sin patterns will yield to His peace and freedom. He will fill the legitimate need you have with enduring wholeness and fulfillment.