Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 2

A CHURCH FOUNDED ON JESUS’S LOVE

When my Christian friend from college met me at a Starbucks the week after we had attended a church in Orlando together, he asked me if I wanted a relationship with Jesus. I was hesitant because I didn’t completely understand what faith in Jesus meant. But, what I had gathered from visiting the church together was how different Christianity was from the Catholicism I had been raised around. The difference was significant enough to make me feel immediately welcomed; this church was a place I didn’t feel resistant to. The church we visited played invigorating Christian music and a pastor who was more passionate about speaking of the love of Jesus and His power to transform lives, and nothing about shame or guilt. This immediately grabbed my attention, considering what I had experienced the previous 10 years.

THE REAL JESUS

Growing up, my family had not prayed for anything other than our food before dinner, sometimes not even then. Our prayers, however, were not directed at Christ, but God—and I never really knew who the God was I was praying to. He was the one we prayed to, sure, but there was nothing personal about Him. That was the main difference between the anonymous God that I grew up not taking seriously and this Jesus Christ of the Bible… I had never understood Him, nor had I cared to. Now that Jesus’s true nature was being revealed to me through this new church and my Christian friend, I was beginning to see not a religion with rules and rituals, but a man with morals, humility, feelings, intentions, thoughts, experiences, integrity—and Lordship. But it wasn’t so much the Lordship of Christ that drew me in at the beginning as much as His humanity.

“Yes,” I told my friend. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I wasn’t signing any contracts or giving away my social security number. I was going to discover more of who Jesus was, and go from there.

WITNESSING JESUS’S IMPACT

Nothing happened right away. Faith came in gradual steps and moments; conversations, Bible studies, questions and answers, prayer, and time spent getting to know the stories of the Bible with more context. I had never even known there were “translations” of the Bible and that certain translations made the Bible easier to follow without changing the meaning or significance of a single story inside. That intrigued me. When my Christian friend (and my roommate at the time) helped me find a Bible translation which was easier for me to read (It was the NIV at the time), he also helped explain what I was reading based on Bible studies he’d had with spiritual mentors of his own. His stories were insightful and sometimes playful and funny. I could see my friend had developed a healthy relationship with Jesus, and so his genuine mix of humility and confidence were striking. My thoughts became, “Is this what it’s like to know Jesus?” The anger of my previous 10 years was beginning to subside, and a deeper-rooted understanding was taking its place. I was beginning to realize that the message about the Bible that I thought I knew as an atheist was either based on distortions I had gathered along the way, or they were assumptions I’d made based on the limited scope of an understanding of the stories I had read with people focused more on guilt, shame, and repentance than on love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing.

MORALITY AND LUST

Like I mentioned in Part 1, I turned to lust when all else failed to soothe my pain. When I learned about Jesus and His integrity, as well as His teachings, I came to realize that the way I was desiring women was very misplaced. Not so much that I viewed them as sexual objects, but I viewed women as though they were the solution to my problems; my emotional problems. With Jesus, I learned faith is the solution to a dead life. When I applied what this meant to my life, many things changed. One of the changes was that I recognized the way God loved women through Jesus, and that there was a call to love women the way Jesus loved the church (community of believers). This image of love was inviting, and clearly more healthy than my approach had been. It was a beautiful picture of what love should look like, and it was a reality I wanted to embrace as my own. That meant changing my thinking, my motives, and my perspective of pain and solutions.

This helped me, tremendously, to appreciate and admire women more than need them. While God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) He did not add that man is incomplete without a woman. To me, that meant that God wanted us to have companionship, but He wasn’t suggesting that man needed a woman in order to be complete. Again, all of this changed my view of women—whereas before they were the solution to my pain, now they were people who I respected, admired, and wanted to see more with the eyes of God.

HEALING FATHER WOUNDS

When I first brought up my new faith to my dad, he too had found Christianity from another church in Michigan. I was shocked and pleased, because for the first time in my entire life, we related to something meaningful and intrinsic. Also, for the longest time, my dad and I didn’t really speak for more than once every few months. But that changed to once every couple of weeks during my slow transition into becoming Christian. I wanted to know that my dad had Jesus, and I wanted to develop an emotionally deep relationship with him in ways we had missed out on during my adolescence. Over the course of almost 8 years, we have come a long way, and we are much closer now than we ever were before I left Michigan to go to college.

A SON’S LOVE FOR HIS MOTHER

While growing up, I had looked up to my mom like a god because she was authoritarian, strict, and always seemingly knowledgeable. When I found Christ, I realized how powerless my mom had always been. Her emotional outbursts also became crystal clear to me; she hadn’t been upset because of me, but because of separate issues from far before I ever came along. When I grasped this truth, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, I prayed that God would lift the weight off of her shoulders as well. My faith has also enabled me to see my mom in a healthier way, loving her where she is in every aspect of her life, rather than feeling tormented by our differences.

I’ve prayed, so many times, for Him to show Himself to her in a way that would soften her heart and help her to see, feel, and intimately experience His love for her in a way she couldn’t miss. Up to this day, I continue to pray. She has a stubborn heart, and I love her, truly and deeply for it. I continue imagining how much glory to God she would give if she aimed that stubbornness in the direction of passionately evangelizing about the love of Christ in her life.

THE BLESSING OF INNER-TRANSFORMATION

After learning that Jesus was a wise, personal, loving, intelligent, spiritual, knowledgeable man with incredible insight and presence, I had to know more. What I can tell you is the more I’ve discovered, the more I can’t help but want more.

Ultimately, the pain I experienced that led me to my bathtub so many years ago has been replaced with a hope I can finally explain. I know Jesus is real because I’ve spoken with Him, experienced Him, and I continue to pursue my faith in Him because I understand now that He was working in me all along. I truly believe His love was pouring into my heart when I tried to kill myself and that that was what drew me from the water; that His hand scooping me out was His response to my screams for a reason not to die. I believe He didn’t want to lose me then, and that He doesn’t want to lose me now. I truly believe the divorce was His way of asking me to take faith seriously and to find Him in a way that would ensure I wasn’t “following the crowd,” but rather, choosing Him on my own accord.

Sometimes we find ourselves asking Him, “Couldn’t you have done that a little less drastically?” But, really, who are we to question God’s motives? If He can align all that is needed to maintain the universe from imploding or exploding, does He not also have the strength and foresight to know what we need and how we need it in order to mold us into our best selves? Would we really claim that we know any better?

THE NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY

Being a Christian doesn’t mean a person is perfect, and it doesn’t mean that a person knows everything. To me, being a Christian means putting my relationship with Jesus first and seeking Him when I forget to do that. Being a Christian means humbly pursuing Him and coming back to Him when I lose track of that pursuit. Christians are not perfect people who have decided to stop pursuing a life of denial, nor do we think we’re perfect because of our decision to accept Jesus; Christians are sinners who recognize their sin and acknowledge their need for a Messiah capable of and willing to extend mercy, grace, and love through sacrificing Himself in order to prevent us from experiencing the eternal judgment that we actually deserve.

THE POWER OF MERCY

This may be new for some of you, so please feel free to leave your thoughts in comments below if you have a different perspective which you would like to share. The way I view this is, we are all sinners—that is, we would all fall short of our purpose in Christ if we did not have Jesus’s mercy, and therefore no one would deserve anything but the consequence for their actions. However, because of Jesus’ mercy on us, His mercy says, “You’ve sinned, and it requires a debt (a consequence). But because I love you, I’ve taken your punishment upon myself and paid, with my life, the debt which you originally owed me. Now, you don’t have to worry about paying me back. Go and love others, living in the joy of knowing that you are debt-free.” That, to me, is mercy.

We can extend mercy to others on behalf of the mercy we receive from God through Jesus, but mercy requires forgiveness, grace, and love—and we do not have this power without God first extending it to us. I believe this is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and any other faith. This is another massive part of the reason Christianity drew me in and continues to do so today.

A NEW JOY AND HOPE

I still fall and make mistakes constantly. But I believe what is important, both for me and any person willing to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, is that we can seek refuge in Him (Psalm 119:114) who has already experienced our consequence for us. We need to ask for His strength to move us to action, and to continually replenish our souls with hope and joy. To me, this is no longer cliché, because I’ve experienced what having faith in Jesus feels like in my mind, soul, and body. 

If you have not experienced this, I hope and pray that by reading my testimony, you will feel encouraged to open yourself to Jesus and experiencing the fullness that comes with living in relationship with Him. Truly, faith in Jesus changes everything from the inside out: Our perspective of pain, our view of purpose in life, the meaning of everything large and small, and not needing to have all the answers.

MADE NEW IN CHRIST

After all that I’ve been through, Jesus words, “I am making all things new,” makes so much sense to me now. He made me new, starting at a soul level by giving me a purpose (writing). He made my relationship with my father new by connecting us through our faith; he made my relationship with my mom new by clarifying that only He is God—and by placing the desire in my heart for her to know His love the way I have come to know it. He even renewed my desire for love by providing the healthiest way to view women through His own eyes. I cannot imagine my life now without Jesus having intervened when He did. I was ready to die, but now I’m ready to live. So, without a doubt:

Trust Him, listen to him, love him, choose Him, and continually pray (speak) to Him. He will never forsake you.

LET’S CONNECT

If you resonated with what you read in this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. May God meet you where you are and affirm you in ways you never imagined before. In Jesus name!

Heal

Finding Miracles At Our Breaking Point

We all need someone to look up to; a role model, an inspiration, someone to emulate and challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. While I was very little, my role models were characters from movies from TV shows. At around 5-7 years old, I was drawn to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; their vigilance in fighting crime and standing up for the innocent, especially in their turtle-form, was appealing and entertaining. Later, my role model became none other than Superman himself. He continued to be my hero for many years because he represented the desire of humanity for peace, justice, and the American way; fighting injustice without killing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admiring characters like this—characters with larger-than-life stories. As humans, we want to connect with something beyond ourselves because we need that inspiration to do what we believe transcends human nature; to live into a higher calling. Why else do we consider these characters “larger than life”?

After I discovered the person of Jesus in my life (in the form of the Holy Spirit in my heart), He became my role model. I had a perspective shift in what it means to live “larger than life”. To me, the best way to summarize what larger than life looks like to me now is through the lens of humility, healing, and surrender. Let me draw you a picture.

Before I accepted Christ, life for me was all about lusting after women, idolizing music and movies, and writing poems in the middle of the night when my dad and step-siblings were asleep. I didn’t feel any sort of purpose in life, and the things inspiring me to live were the songs of bands like Korn, Linkin Park, and Marilyn Manson. They validated my anger towards the pain of my parents’ divorce, and towards the confusion and hurt behind experiencing my parents’ response to their divorce—and not understanding either of their responses at that time. I was exposed to depression from multiple family members suffering from it, without even knowing that’s what I was being exposed to; the malady of which took me into the bathroom tub full of water and the temptation to stop breathing underneath. My purpose in life was defined by music telling me that my anger was legitimate and empowering, that my hurt was deep, and that both were real. Those were the messages I didn’t feel coming from people around me during those times when everything I’d come to know and feel safe with dissipated overnight. God allowed trauma to grab me from behind, but He allowed it knowing what the aftermath would become.

See, I witnessed my parents experiencing their own divorce. My dad grew quiet and uninvolved with me, I didn’t know what to make of it then; I was hurting too, and perplexed. Looking back, I can only imagine the pain he was going through after so many years of marriage. I witnessed my dad experience a pain I’d never seen him feel before, not to mention the death of his parents only weeks before Christmas the same year of the divorce. Mom was experiencing her own depression, and everything happening around us took a toll on our relationship. Our family seemed to be crawling through Hell, and I couldn’t make sense of a loving God inside of that devastating mess. Atheism wasn’t a vague, foreign idea to me after all of that. These thoughts covered me with water in that tub, more than once, when I tried to convince myself not to be afraid to stop breathing when the water pressure was too high. I was afraid because I was alone. Not only in the bathroom, but in my life. I didn’t feel like I had anyone who saw me, and I was desperate for an answer to save me from my self-deprecation and hate.

Years later, after exhaustive amounts of time spent in this deteriorating mentality, I was not only desperate for a reason to be alive, but for the reason why I was desperate. I found it intriguing in such a morbid way that I wouldn’t kill myself and yet I kept asking myself what life was really for.

What was all the darkness trying to tell me? Why were Korn’s songs so important to me—so validating? Why did trying to drown make me feel like something was being balanced in the world—as if trading my presumed worthless existence for the more worthy existence of everyone else—and why did I, even to the slightest of a degree, want a reason to believe that that might not be true…. as the air in my lungs was collapsing, and I had to choose to come up for air or choke on gallons of water imploding on me.

Was Jesus speaking through to me even though I wasn’t listening yet? Did the silence in my heart have anything to do with the hope that kept me alive, even though I rejected His goodness as a fallacy for so many years? Did the fact that I stayed alive despite multiple attempts to die have anything to do with the miraculous power that He had over my surroundings; encouraging me, even at bare minimum, that there was something worth living for? How can I, looking back, not acknowledge Jesus at work in a life not believing, surrendering, loving, or reaching out for the Lord who was trying to show me He was really there all along? How can I not say that wasn’t the intervention of a LOVING Supreme Being who knows me better than I know myself? See, Jesus knows I enjoy water, and He knows I enjoy the quiet because I find it peaceful. When I found myself trying to drown myself in both, He met me, even though I couldn’t feel Him or hear Him at the time—and He took me from death by feeding me even the slightest reason to keep going, even if it was just the music and vindication I received from listening to rock songs and writing poems.

I understand everyone has their own story of adversity, struggle, trauma, crisis, and pain. We all do. I have mine, and I’ve shared a chunk of my story so that you can understand that I don’t speak of anything I haven’t experienced myself. I experienced the desire to die as the main focus of my life for several agonizing years. I’ve also experienced choosing narcissism over Christ, trying to get what I want just for me—and hedonism was a disappointment through that as well. Self-satisfaction is no reason to live at all. All that living for pleasure ever did was tire me out and make me want to die. You may think that perhaps I didn’t find the right kind of pleasure. I disagree. For instance, the argument for sex is invalid. For about 15 years of my life, I’ve heard from countless people about meaningless, promiscuous sex, about how much fun it is, but how unsatisfying, and therefore unfulfilling it is. They admit how having sex with someone you love is much more satisfying, but wisdom will tell you that it’s nothing to live for.

For another instance, those who would concede to the argument of the pleasure of drugs as a good reason to live—the high from drugs has the same effect; if anything, people lose brain cells from drugs, as well as concentration, time, and the ability to prioritize. Drug addicts continuing their lifestyle without any desire to change ignore the truth that their addiction only obscures their reason for doing drugs: To hide from pain. Sure, some do it for fun because they feel they have nothing better to do. That’s my point: There IS something better to do! There is so much… and I was drowning myself in a tub because I couldn’t see it, either. 

To give you a more recent picture of my life, today I see women as treasures of the living God, and relationships as complements of what God allows into our lives when we treat them as gifts from Him, and not invitations of the devil to throw our souls away. Though my history distorts relationships because of my traumas, I seek the Lord and pursue the way He views women, fighting my past with faith in Jesus as my guide to healthy boundaries. I still deeply appreciate music, but I intentionally incorporate worship music to balance out my propensity for rock music, and the rock music I enjoy does not glorify the devil, nor degrade or convolute the concept of God. My writing continues on and off this blog; I write songs once in a while, but I enjoy writing these articles in hopes of inspiring others like you to look beyond disbelief and darkness, seeking answers to your life’s purpose, ranging deeper than you could imagine.

Truly, I understand atheism and disbelief like the back of my hand. But I’d rather adhere to knowing Jesus as the center of my heart. Now that I know why He came, what He was, is, and will always be about—He worthy of all of my time, all of my thoughts, desires, and hopes. If you haven’t gotten to that point of your life, I empathize with your dissension; there is no judgment here. I spent the majority of my life being spoiled and not giving any glory or credit to Jesus: I’m one of the people who don’t want to spend another day without surrender and humbleness. I want you to know I didn’t find Jesus in the tub that day, but it was because I hadn’t chosen to see Him yet; not because He wasn’t there. I don’t believe that. What I believe, because of what I experienced—is that the second Jesus knew I was ready with a softened heart, He flooded Himself into my life; and I’ve been different ever since. There was a lot of learning and growth to do, and there still is, but compared to the days of my crisis and family trauma, I’m light-years away. I write this to you so you’ll know you’re not alone in your pain. You’re not alone in your situation. God sees you and wants to help you, but He won’t come into a closed heart. He won’t because that’s your choice to let Him in or keep Him out. 

My prayer is that you would find peace, even in your pain. That you would find forgiveness for those who have hurt you, and peace even inside of all the trouble you’re facing. When I say Jesus really is the light of the world, I don’t mean for that to sound cliché. He is the “light in the darkness” because He is the hope in a world crumbling at the feet of sin and corruption. He is the reason I keep going, and I pray He will be yours. When you can’t feel His closeness, I pray you would seek Him by name; the name above all other names. There is no one like Him, the One who saves us from ourselves each and every day. I believe in His love, even when I’m too rigid in my shame to receive it from Him. May you find it in yourself to seek Him at all costs, above all the rest of your priorities in life; may you find Him in your heart, and once you do, may you never look away—may you never move back. I pray you would let Him transform you from the broken soul you have now to one of restoration, peace, completion, humility, and strength from above.

As an atheist for most of my life, I never found any satisfaction in anything of this world. Often I reminisce just to look over the differences in my life since I accepted Christ, and every time I do, I realize how blind I was when I was closed off from Jesus. I understand it all happened in its own timing according to God’s will. He knew how long I’d need to accept Him, but He didn’t push harder than He knew He should. I chose Him when I was done trying to find pleasure in narcissism. After I exhausted myself of trying to find meaning in this world, I realized there was nothing to find, and what I did find was never, ever enough.

Jesus’s love, and the hope which comes from His resurrection, brings me more satisfaction than anything this world has to offer. When people talk about parties, alcohol, sex jokes, vacations, or time to just “to do nothing”, I pity for them; despite understanding their desire for a break (Jesus Himself commands us to heed the Sabbath for rest), I always find myself quiet so as not to offend people who brag about worldly pleasures. If people ask me my opinion, I honestly tell them I’d rather read or watch a movie than to go partying. I already know there is nothing meaningful in this world besides faith in Christ. 

My rigidity to faith in Christ was not at all different from unbelievers’ rigidity to Jesus today, but some people hang onto theirs for longer. One of the differences between me and other unbelievers is that I got tired more quickly. I hope you won’t wait long before you let Him in to give you a more satisfying purpose. He is always waiting, always ready to give us all we need. We only need turn ourselves to Him with humility and surrender, and He is ready to embrace us. He was never gone, we just weren’t looking. 

Let us “look” today, let us try to strive in a world more and more confused by its own contradictions with the hope of Christ expressed through our words and actions. May God bless you as you choose to search for Him and may you recognize His goodness, even in your pain. He loves you, and He desperately wants you to choose Him, as He is a jealous God. But He won’t make you. You have a choice. 

If you resonate with what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more, please follow this blog. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog, Twitter at LPBlog2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would benefit, and if you’d like, please write in the comments below and share a thought, a prayer request–I would love to hear from you! God bless you!!

Gone