A Love That Changes Everything
When I was seventeen, I was stealing food from my school canteen. To be honest, I stole whatever I could get away with from wherever I could. I was, and always had been, a bully at school. There were plenty of people to be mean about or mean to — and it made people laugh. I had a lot of friends who were girls, although mostly I didn’t treat them as friends but as projects, to work on until such a time as I might be able to make out with them and then ‘see how things progressed’. I even had a list where I ranked them all. I lived towards the next opportunity to drink myself silly. I smoked, because I wanted to fit in.
But what I look back on and cringe most at is looking at who I was when I was seventeen. I was entirely selfish and insecure. Although I’ve always been someone who wanted to help people — most the time this help came with an agenda. Life was my story — I was the hero and I craved recognition and acceptance from wherever I could get it. If you knew me back then, I’m sorry. I wasn’t a good friend to you.
Something changed, though. If you know me well enough, you’ll be expecting this change to be to do with Jesus — and you’d be right! But how did this happen?
When I was eight years old, my mum took my sister and I away for a week at a camp full of thousands of Christians. I went to a group for the week called the ‘Active 8s’ where we learned about Jesus, played some games and did a lot of singing and dancing. There really wasn’t an awful amount about this group that was special, but as the week drew to a close I found myself uncontrollably sobbing. Although I didn’t know how to express it at the time — that week was the first time I had experienced Christians who seemed to really believe that God was real — and not only was he real, they were overjoyed about this! It genuinely seemed to have made a difference in their lives. I could barely describe the power present. So I just cried.
Back then, I connected with God emotionally, but I definitely hadn’t really figured out what that meant yet. To be honest, God existed in my back pocket as an issue to thrash out another day. I’d play my part at Church by attending, but life was too interesting to give God any of it. At this point, I was going out with a girl. I really loved this girl, and I’m glad I did, because it taught me that not all the things we love are good.
The girl I was dating was cheating on me with her female best friend — who was then trying to bully me out of the relationship. I was exposed to alcohol, drugs and sex for the first time, and although I largely resisted these things, claiming I was too young, there was one more thing I was exposed to which I couldn’t easily shake: depression.
I was self-harming by cutting myself on a daily basis. I was running away from home. I once left a note in my sister’s bag telling her I wouldn’t be coming back — luckily someone found me that night and convinced me to go home. I once pulled a sick day and planned to commit suicide — but the plan failed because I got scared. I bunked school whenever I could get away with it, but largely I was just empty and angry.
The thing about depression is that it doesn’t really have rhyme or reason. I knew my behaviour was destructive, I knew it was hurting people around me, but it was like a drug. I couldn’t control it, I couldn’t stop it. Life was a façade, a total joke. The people around me didn’t really care much beyond their own noses, the qualifications I was studying for were pointless, I was living in a self-congratulating, selfish society which existed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. I didn’t care that I wasn’t happy. I wanted to die. My friends couldn’t talk me round, my family couldn’t talk me round, trained counselors couldn’t talk me round. I pretended they were helping, but they weren’t really.
I’d also taken God and thrown him out of my back pocket. I read a story called the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds — and I hated it because in my head, the story was unfair. I told God so, and said to him that unless he could speak to me, through someone else so that I knew I wasn’t making it up, to tell me that I needed to follow him, I wouldn’t. What would be the point? I shut my Bible.
A few months later I was stopped by one of my church leaders who told me he had a word for me from God. He opened his Bible to the parable of the sower and the seeds. He explained the story to me and he said: ‘Tom, God wants you to dig your roots in deep’ — in other words — He wanted me to follow Him.
At this point, no matter how I tried to play it down as coincidence — I knew that to deny that God had totally fulfilled the criteria of my request would plainly be stupid. So I conceded that he might be real. I even agreed to let my Church leader pray for me — so we arranged an evening and we sat and talked, about everything. We went through everything that I was fed up about, and then he and his wife prayed for me. At the time, it was fairly peaceful, they were commanding a lot of nasty things to leave me alone and praying for God’s peace and protection over me, but at the end of the evening, it felt as though nothing had changed.
The change only really took hold when I realised I wasn’t cutting anymore, and I didn’t want to. I was actually fairly happy, half the time. And, what’s more, people were noticing and commenting left, right and centre that I’d seemingly ‘changed’. I’ve never since slipped back into depression — of course I have bad days and difficult periods, but nothing like that has ever hurt me again.
Ten Years Later…
I look back on this story, and I look at my life right now. Things have changed. The journey I went on since is one which led me to go from an intellectual belief in God to a personal one. A belief in a high-off being turned into a relationship with a Father.
Since then, I’ve journeyed with this God — making it my mission to love as He loves, to help the poor, to be generous. I’ve witnessed miracles, I’ve seen people’s lives totally transformed, people weeping and falling to their knees under God’s power. It would take words and words, hours and hours for me to explain the crazy extent of the journey I’ve been on. I’d love to share it with you.
I would hope you don’t think of me as someone who’s pushy. Those of you who know also hopefully know that I’m not crazy, or easily fooled. But I am a fool for this God, I am totally convinced of his existence and power and I cannot help but share it. Christianity is not about being perfect, it’s not about following rules, it’s not about being well-behaved and judging the world whilst you secretly look forward to some eternal life in the clouds playing a harp.
Christianity is a terribly exciting adventure — one which lives in harmony with a God who loves the poor, stands for the broken and is coming back one day to restore justice to our broken world. By dying on a cross and rising again, Jesus has offered a way to life lived to the full. You don’t have to be perfect, because he is perfect. You don’t have to be together, because he fixes the broken. You don’t have to be found, because he seeks out the lost.
His love is a love that changes everything. I don’t steal anymore. I don’t take advantage of the women I know. I don’t go out to get drunk and I try to treat people with love and respect wherever I go. I don’t do this perfectly, I’m still learning — but it’s not these changes to my life which I believe are important in what Jesus has done for me. It’s what I decided to live for. I no longer live for myself — I live for Him. And to Him, the highest priority is to love. Love the poor, love your friends, love your enemies, love yourself, love the lost, love the broken, love the hurting, love the healing. Just love. Love. Love.
I could never fully describe it, but I can try. Suffice to say this for now. There is something more to life than the immediate surroundings you were born to. There is something better, stronger and more incredible than you could imagine. He really exists. He really loves you. And His love changes everything. My words can only explain in part, my life can only reveal in part, my example can only inspire in part. But whatever part that plays, I hope it leads you to meet this God for yourself, and to live an adventure with him which is full and boundless, and will never end.