There are people in our lives who are not appreciated and valued in the moment until you experience something so incredible like returning to faith from the pit of hopeless despair and realize you wouldn’t have been able to without them. This is one of those stories.
Freshman year of college, I came into school so confused and conflicted about my faith. It was one of those things where it seemed like not caring about the hypocrisy and conflict in my heart seemed to be the more honest and good thing to do. I threw my Christian upbringing away and went completely into the things of this world with abandon.
That quickly led me to a very unhealthy place. After months of partying every night and all night, doing whatever I wanted, I found what I had been looking for and I was no longer confused or conflicted. But what I realized was, the thing I had been looking for had led me to a place that was much worse.
The conviction of sin and the fires of hell became my destiny. I still believed that God existed. But I knew now for certain that I was not going to survive any final judgment. And that led me to a series of logical conclusions that led me to a terrifying place. If I was not going to survive and go to hell, what was the point of struggling to chase all the pleasures of this world? Why wait through the years of having to work hard to have nothing to show for it? Why not end it all now?
These questions haunted me as I continued to put up a smiling face to those around me. It got so bad, having had a few too many drinks one night, I found myself inflicting physical self-harm and at one point threatened people, cursing myself and saying tonight I was going to hell. The next morning, while well-intentioned friends came up to check up on me, I pretended I didn’t know what happened the night before. Inside though, I knew things were not good at all. The end of my clarity and peace I sought so hard after was a cold hard tomb. Death and judgment was the ultimate truth.
Throughout this whole time, there was one upperclassmen named Johan, who was more of a nuisance than anything. He would wake me up by calling me in the afternoon when I would be sleeping since I lived at night. He would bring food to my dorm to eat or coerce me to come out to the student center so he could buy me Panda Express. And we would talk. It’d be the same conversation most of the time. Many awkward conversations that started with, “Hey Joe, how are you these days?” and, “What kind of struggles or doubts do you have about God?”. My responses and my demeanor were clearly of disinterest but to be honest, it was nice to be thought of and cared for.
He convinced me after four long months to join him at a Christian conference during winter break. I went thinking that at least there would be girls from all those different schools. I know that’s very shallow of me but that’s just the honest truth.
It was at this conference that I began to hear those old familiar messages about Jesus. Nothing really impressed me much but during one time of prayer, I couldn’t help it any longer and said the words, “God, I give up.” And then in an inaudible voice, I felt God say, “finally.”
The Gospel is so powerful because even when I had turned completely away from God, hated God in fact, there Jesus was, hanging on the cross to die for me. The one I had cursed, and spat on his face. That Jesus died for me. And I found freedom that night. When I died to myself, I found new life in Jesus and my life would never be the same again.
Johan wasn’t the one who made me realize that. But Johan got me there. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Remember the people who helped you through your worst seasons and thank them today. And remember that you can be that kind of person for someone else today.
Reach out to someone who you haven’t seen for a while.
And keep reaching out.