30 May, 2012
Try the Steak
I had a very late night talking with someone who is just at their wits end. This person kept telling me that they were so tired of living the way they were, that they knew they had to change or their life was going to end in a tragic heap. They asked me over and over, "How'd you do it? How did you turn your life around?" I told them over and over that I had tried everything I knew, but only one thing worked.
We discussed my trips to rehab, psychiatric units, doctors, psychologists and counselors, and how each might have helped for a little while, I always ended up right back where I started... actually worse.
Deep inside, I thought I knew what I needed... that there was only one thing that would work. But I did not want it to be that "one thing."
There had to be another way... so I kept searching and trying.
But I was always empty. Always tired and depressed. I was only twenty-two years old, but my life was empty, worn out and had no meaning or purpose. I could be playing ball, which was the one thing I lived for... or at a party, or a disco, higher than a kite... with hundreds of people, dancing and laughing on the outside... but I was broken, empty and alone on the inside... to the point that I'd leave the crowd laughing, but by the time I got home, I was ready to end it all. Money did not work. Cars did not work. Crowds of people did not work. Sleeping with different women in different towns after a night of dancing did not work. I'd wake up in the morning disappointed that I had not died in my sleep. So, I kept searching.
A friend told me about the rush he got when he stuck a gun in someones face and robbed them. So I tried it.
He was right. There was an incredible rush... a sense of power and control. But it only lasted for a few minutes and it was gone too... so I'd have to do it again and again and again. Combining the drugs with the armed robberies heightened the experience, but still it was short lived and the guilt and shame of my actions was taking the depression to new depths. I just could not seem to find a way out. Suicide seemed to be the only answer and time after time I tried to take my own life.
I was hospitalized and forced into psych units repeatedly. Ironically, I began to find a sense of comfort in those places and drug rehabs, because I found others like me. The old saying, "misery loves company" is so true. Being around people who admitted they were miserable helped, but that meant staying in the psych unit... which I did for weeks at a time, only coming home for a few days before I'd end up in the hospital again and again. While it brought temporary relief, it was not an answer. There was only one thing that would work.
I thought I knew the answer all along. But I did not want it.
I hated it. I always thought that the answer was in church... but I was angry at God. I thought He had failed me. He'd robbed me of my dad and then my mom. He'd taken my brother from me. He'd caused my family to be broken apart and scattered... and I hated God for the pain He had brought me. My dad gave the best years of his life to the church and he died at 50 years old leaving mom with all of us kids to raise. The pressure was too much and she died just 7 months later. When I was 11 years old, I watched as my brother went into the church sanctuary by himself to pray one night. I peaked in at him several times as I heard him asking God to help him. The next day, they found my brother dead in his bed. He had died during the night in his sleep. And my anger at God grew. In my mind, religion was demanding and brought death... and I wanted no part of it.
Ironically... I was right.
I always thought that the answer was religion and going to church. But what I never understood was that religion was just another drug... a ball and chain to weigh me down. I had bounced in and out of "religion" for the last 10 years. I was very "religious" about going to church, even through the height of my partying days. The thing was, I went to church because I was trained to do that. Even more so, I went to church because if I wanted to play on their ball teams, I had to attend church. So I went. And at times, I really tried to live that life. But try as I may, I always failed. I kept falling back into the same old mess, the same pitfalls. In my mind, I determined that I was not one of the one's who would make it to heaven because I was filled with sin, so why try? I mean, I really tried... but I simply could not do it. I was not a "religious" person, and that simply did not work. It only brought more condemnation, guilt and shame down upon my head. But I was trying, so I'd pretend. I sang in the youth choir and did all the "church" stuff... but all the while, I was still drinking and using drugs. I'd leave church on Sunday night and head out to the disco to drink and snort the night away. And my depression and emptiness only grew. Religion was not working. I got to the point that I figured, "why try anymore?" and I stopped trying to hide and pretend.
As I told all this to the person on the other end of the phone last night, they finally said, "I'm confused. You're saying serving God is the answer... but it's not." And I told them these words, "Religion and serving God are not the same thing. In fact, religion sucks!"
They cracked up laughing and said that I was really confusing them. I summed it by saying this:
Religion is going to church and hanging around church people and trying to become something which you are not. Going to church and hoping to learn how to change your life is useless. It's like hearing all your friends talk about a steak house and how good their T-Bone's are... so you start going to the steak house too. You see the steaks, you smell the steaks, but you never order a steak for yourself. You see how everyone else is thrilled with their steak, and seeing their enjoyment encourages you that you too one day will be like them. So, you go, week after week, month after month and you start becoming friends with the others in the steak house, and because you are around them so much, at times you smell like a steak. You might even order a salad, eat the rolls and a potato... but you never order a steak. So you leave the steak house, maybe filled for a moment, but still not satisfied, not feeling like you see others feel. You are hungry for something more. You cannot figure it out, because you are going to the same steak house as everyone else, but you are not happy. Before long, you'll quit going to the steak house, because it will seem like a waste of your time.
This is what "going to church" and religion do for you. If you do not "order a steak" you are never going to know what "the steak house" is all about. When you go to a steak house... order the steak! When you go to church... try Jesus! The Bible says, "taste and see that the Lord is good" but most people, (like I did) never tasted of the goodness of the Lord... but merely observed what others did and tried to imitate them. When I completely surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, I "ordered the steak." When I "tasted" for myself what a relationship with Jesus was all about, I found what was missing in my life. I discovered that religion had deceived me... and that the answer was right before all the time, but I was trying to do it my way. Many people who have never tried a steak will go to the steak house, and order chicken or a salad... and they convince themselves they don't like steak. In the same way, a lot of people go to church and they try it their way... trying to hang around and hope something rubs off on them... but not willing to surrender their life to Christ. I discovered that going to church without surrendering your life and will over to Christ is mere religion. It might bring about some changes... but it will NEVER fill that empty spot. I'll say it again... if you are going to the steak house, you need to order the steak to understand what it is all about. Only then will you understand.