As the sermon came to close, the mood was set. Lights dim, soft guitar playing in the background, teenage girls crying together behind me. Everything was perfect and I was hopeful that tonight would be the night everything changed. In my right hand was a small post-it note on which was listed my greatest struggle and in my left a single nail. I bowed my head and began to earnestly pray that God would take away my sinful desires. My prayer was interrupted suddenly by the loud clash of hammer and nail coming from the front of the room. I looked up to see one of my peers pounding away at their sin. My youth pastor standing by, encouraging him, “Thats right son. Give it to God.” I stood up and began to make my way towards the makeshift cross at that had been crafted just for this moment. I was ready for the pain to stop and for God to break this long time habit of sinful lust. I was ready to give it to God and make him proud. With each blow of the hammer I became more certain that it would all be over soon. I drove the nail in with such vigor that the head of the nail recessed into the wood. I stepped back and gazed upon this cross, covered with impaled post-its, and felt a sense of closure, as if my long awaited freedom had been granted to me.
As you’ve probably already figured out, this exercise didn’t turn out to be the cure I thought it was going to be. Neither was the time we laid the post-it’s on the altar or the time we burned them in the campfire. I tried everything just short of spray painting my sins on a lamb and leading it to the slaughter. Yet time and time again I found myself back in the same old struggle wondering why God hadn’t taken what I had so desperately tried to give to him.
In my young teenage mind I began to believe something about God that I had already come to believe about the majority of the other people in my life; that when I was in need, I couldn’t count on them. I had followed the instructions to the tee. I had prayed and read and sang and begged. I had done everything I was supposed to do in order to give this to God but he just didn’t seem to want it. I found myself trying to stop doing something for a God who wouldn’t help me. I was lost and alone and so I just quit trying. I came to believe that I was a lost cause and that I wasn’t worth fighting for and that belief began to shape many of the decisions I made.
Despite my continued involvement in church I began to carelessly just do whatever I felt like doing outside of church. I jumped into the party scene for a while and partook in underage drinking and careless sexual encounters. I tried marijuana a few times and had some scary experiences that helped me realize it wasn’t for me. I got into shoplifting and even stealing from people I knew. I can’t really point to a reason why I began to live this lifestyle. I don’t necessarily think I was trying to fill a “God shaped void”, or find acceptance, or stick it to the man upstairs through rebellion. I think I just didn’t have any direction or purpose. I think I believed that my life didn’t matter so therefore my choices didn’t matter.
I had heard all these great stories in church about this Jesus and how he died to save my life but from my perspective he wasn’t all that interested in my life. When I prayed for him to stop my mom from cutting herself he didn’t do it. When I prayed for him to help my Dad not to work so much, he didn’t. When I prayed he would protect me from the danger in my own home, He didn’t. And so when I prayed for him to fix me and he didn’t, I suppose I just decided I didn’t really matter to him. I suppose that’s the trouble with being an all powerful God...people expect you to do things for them.
In my most broken moments, well meaning people would say, “Give it to God” and I just didn’t know how. They would say, “You gotta have faith” but I suppose mine wasn’t strong enough. They would implore me to obey His commands because doing so would protect me, and I assure you it wasn’t for a lack of effort, I just couldn’t do it. I was broken and lost and worst of all, I was without hope. You see it is the hopelessness in suffering that defeats us, not the suffering itself and yet, here I am today.