Missing Something? Christ Alone Satisfies.
I've known him for perhaps seven years. When I first met him, he was an employee at one of the gyms where I work out. He was the front desk guy, scanning member keytags, welcoming people to the gym. I believe he was seventeen when I first met him. That number sticks out becuase he is the same age as my son.
Over the two or so years he worked at the gym, I would ask him how life was treating him, how work was going, how he was personally doing and so on. He would do the same whenever he saw me. I guess he decided, since he would often see my son coming in with me to work out and since my son was his age (again, a seventeen year old at the time) and I had a good relationship with my son, that I must be an okay dad and that seemed to mean a lot to him. Over those two years or so, he learned I was a Christian and a minister and he seemed intrigued by that.
He would often tell me, "I'm trying to really become a better person, Mr. Prather."
I would tell him, "Mark (name changed), Jesus came to set you free. He's the only One who can really change us."
We'd talk about God and gospel and I could tell he was interested somewhat, but mostly he preferred living life on his own terms and wanting me to know (for whatever the reason) he was really trying to be a 'better person.'
He stopped working at the gym and I wondered where he was for a while. Later, I saw him at the gym again, this time, not as an employee, but as a fellow gym rat.
Every time he would see me, he'd tell me about life and what he was doing and work, and, (you guessed it), how he was 'really trying to become a better person,' which would always end up with me telling him: 'Jesus is your hope. Give your life to Him.' And then we would talk some more and he would change subjects and he'd go back to his group of friends and to his workout, and me to mine.
He would almost to the edge of embracing Jesus and the Gospel, and then he'd back off.
I hadn't seen "Mark" in probably a year or so when, this past Saturday, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.
"Hey, Mr. Prather! I thought that was you!" He gave me the man/bro hug and shook my hand. "I'm really glad to see you!"
Yep, it was "Mark."
He proceeded. "Man, I've been looking for you for awhile, being you're a preacher and everything."
This intrigued me.
His countenance was bright. He looked very different: "I don't mean to interrupt your workout, but I figured you'd appreciate this and maybe understand."
"You see, I had this like epiphany a few months ago. I realized I've been angry at my mom and dad for a long time. I also realized I've been trying to fill like this hole in my life with all kinds of things that aren't good. Then, it hit me, maybe only God can fill that hole."
I smiled and said, "YES!" and he continued...
"So I'm still not perfect (and I told him none of us were), but I called my dad and told him I forgave him and wasn't mad any more because I figured God wanted me to do that. And I calleed my mom and told her I'm sorry and I also wasn't mad at her any more and it just really took this big weight off me. "
He said: "You see, I never told you this but my dad, he was like 55 or something when he met my mom and she was like 26 (I was trying to wrap my mind around that) and they had me and were married and everything, but then he walked out when I was like 4 and we found out he had this whole other family. My mom just stopped caring about things and she got into drugs and basically I was raising myself a lot. There were times when I was a teenager I'd walk into the houses with a girl and my mom knew we were going to do things we shouldn't do and she wouldn't even look at me or the girl and really I just wanted her to do something or say something like 'don't do that,' or tell me whatever, but she was too wrapped up in her own mess and so I kept rebelling. She also would always have a lot of men over at the house. It was all messed up. Basically about the only time she said anything to me was to yell at me and that was because she was always angry and hurt, I guess."
This story was killing me now. And, now I understood more of what he meant those years ago when he would say, 'I'm really trying to be a better person, Mr. Prather.' And, I also understood why he was interested in telling me those things: He didn't have any father figure. He saw my son and me and he had no framework for any sense of normalcy, but he saw something he wish he had with his father.
He continued to tell more of the story, how he hadn't talked to his father in probably fifteen years or something like that, how his father was in his late 70's. How he called his father and told him that he forgave him and asked his father to forgive him for being angry and that he wanted to see his father and get to know him. He said his father cried on the phone and said he'd 'waited years for a call like that.'
It never crossed his father's mind to pursue his son.
He talked to his mother and said he realized he was doing the exact same things his dad had done and that she had done and he asked her to forgive him for being such a rebellious kid and said he forgave her for not knowing how to handle all the stuff she experienced. He said something like, 'you were about my age when you had me and dad was in his 50's and then he walks out on us later and we find out he had this other family? That had to be hard for you. I think that's probably why you did things you did and I was doing things I did. Please forgive me and I forgive you.'
His mother didn't cry. She didn't say much. She just told him he was 'becoming a better man.' That was about it.
Then "Mark" said this: "Mr. Prather, that epiphany I had? I had this huge hole in my life and I was trying to fill it with all kinds of stuff from partying and girls and money and other stuff. Only God can fill that hole though! I want you to know I started going to church and reading my Bible (and he whipped out his smart phone to show me his Bible app and also a devotional app as proof), and I've rededicated my life to Christ. I'm not perfect as I said, but everything seems new now. I'm really excited! I thought you'd like to know about that."
I told him I did. Absolutely did. We talked more of what God was doing in his life and about following Jesus. I listened a lot and asked some important questions to make sure he was in a biblically sound church (he is).
Then, after about thirty minutes, he said, 'Well, Mr. Prather. I gotta go. It was really good to see you. I knew you'd understand and I thought you'd like to know what's going on. You'd 'get it.' "
What a blessing.
A few take aways:
1) A lot of people are doing what "Mark" did-trying to fill that God-shaped hole with anything and everything other than Jesus. Jesus alone fills that void.
2) Some plant, others water, others get to reap. All of those years of conversation, I thought I wasn't getting far with "Mark." We'd get close-but he wasn't ready. My role in all of his story was to plant and water (and listen). Point: Don't walk by what you think you see-don't give up. You never know what God is doing!
3) Jesus frees us and heals us and allows us to let go of the past. "Mark" wasn't just talking a good game. He realized that all of that anger over all of those years wasn't doing anything other than making him miserable. It wasn't changing his father. It wasn't changing his mother. It wasn't changing him. Embracing Jesus' forgiveness allowed him to extend that to his parents.
4) There is always more going on beneath the surface than we can see.
5) Jesus alone satisfies our deepest longings and greatest needs.
As we approach Easter, no doubt you know people like "Mark." That person may be in your family or in your school or workplace or an acquaintance. I encourage you to invite them to services. I encourage you to be that faithful, kind witness to them over the long-haul.
You never know what God is doing or what He will do, but this I know: He is STILL changing lives!
Grace and Peace to You!
More in Pastor's Blog
October 5, 2018What Churches Must Do in Rapidly Changing Times
October 3, 2018Why We Need The Ancient Paths
July 30, 2018Christianity, the Church and Cutural Engagement in a New Dark Age: Part One