Finding Peace and Purpose
Throughout my childhood and well into my young adult life, I struggled with physical and social difficulties, which caused a lot of emotional turbulence and made me a sharp self-critic. I was quiet and distant, often teased and bullied by other kids at school, and had a learning style that did not mesh well with quite a few teachers, which often led them to come down especially hard on me. Things got bad quite often, and I would always blame myself for everything, regardless of whether anyone else did. I got so accustomed to this that I began to think there was something wrong if things were actually going well. I had very little sense of hope, or motivation to strive for anything.
With all my struggles through school and frequent mental visits to dark places, I often find myself wondering how my life might have been different had I known Jesus as a child. I was raised in an agnostic home with no spiritual talk or practice, and no outside exposure on the part of my family except for one year at a Unitarian Church, where the Sunday school program was basically a very general overview of many different world religions. I will never know whether being in a youth group or having regular opportunities for spiritual immersion at a younger age would have made my childhood any easier or happier. What I do know is that God causes everything to happen for a reason, and He has used my past and present pains to shape me into who I have become and use me as a vessel of His power and influence.
Despite my family routine, there were some key moments in my childhood that began the transformation of my heart and mind. My whole family loves music, and my one regular activity through middle school was singing in the Northwest Boychoir. We performed regularly at churches, highlighted by the Lessons and Carols series every Christmas season. It was a special privilege to get to read one of the Scripture lessons, and I got to passionately do so my last two years. While I did not yet understand the true meaning of the words, I was lifted in the moment, and always looked forward to my readings. What truly struck me about the church settings where we performed, however, was how everyone present seemed to be unconditionally accepting and welcoming toward one other and drawn together by a common sense of peace and meaning. While I had no means to pursue attending any church activities (and I don’t know if I would have been allowed to do so), the experiences got my lasting attention.
It was in college when I had my first real church experience, tagging along with my roommate and best friend occasionally to Sunday service at the church he attended and college youth group. While I enjoyed the experience whenever I went, I was unable to do it regularly due to school and work schedules, and my mind was still easily distracted. Nonetheless, everyone around me was always encouraging, and as I moved on into the working world and then graduate school still somewhat held back socially and often fighting with myself inside, I soon got the sense that I was missing something important. My own quiet sessions of self-reflection were not providing the comfort and resolution I was seeking, and I was still unsure where I was really heading in life. Moving to Texas and starting graduate school was demanding and stressful enough in itself that I could not bring myself to also look into going to church where I knew no one.
After I finished school and moved back to Seattle, I happened to be spending my first weekend back with some college friends, and we went to their church on Sunday. I received an amazing warm welcome, found the worship music uplifting, and the sermon that day really piqued my interest. My friends were as surprised as anyone when I asked if I could come back next Sunday. The rest, as they say, is history. Regular attendance gave me a place of comfort every Sunday morning and some supportive new friends. Very soon I was singing on the praise team, and then in the choir as well. It was wonderful to be involved in music again, and as I learned more about God and saw evidence of His unfailing love and mercy through the people around me and in deeper reflections on my own life, I realized that my self-hate was misplaced. For the first time I felt like my life had meaning, and it was an easy decision to dedicate my life to Jesus and be baptized.
The LORD said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose.” (Jeremiah 15:11)
My life certainly has not turned out the way I thought or hoped it would when I was younger. But I do feel quite the sense of accomplishment in that despite my physical and mental disadvantages, I have contributed a lot to several different companies, and have gotten to be a husband and father. And I thank God for all of it. Every success of mine after ongoing struggles is a demonstration of His power. Through the story of my own life, I too can be a living example of the love of Jesus. This is my peace, and sense of purpose that I was so desperate to find for so many years.
*This is the third in a series called Faith Beginnings.