I always tell people that I was raised “Catholic-lite,” a personal euphemism for being raised in the Episcopal Church. My parents did the very best they could to drag my older brother and I to church every Sunday; we would kick, scream, and argue with my mom not to go. I am so thankful for that now, but at the time I hated it. I would sit in the pew so bored that I would often draw pictures of goblins, castles, or cars. I would do anything to distract myself from the boredom of the sermons.
Looking back, I recognize that our church did not have nearly the amount of youth group or youth related activities that I see so present in my church today. I’m not sure if it was a focus for them at the time, or if I was just unwilling to go to Sunday school, but I would assume the latter. As I continued to grow into my early teen years, my mother made a decision to allow my older brother and I to choose whether or not we still wanted to go to church. Because I valued sleeping in on Sundays, and playing video games, I inevitably chose not to go anymore.
My parents did not shame me for making this decision, nor did they attempt to argue with me about it. They simply let me make my own choice regarding where I would spend my Sundays. I greatly respect them for this because I’m not sure that I would offer the same option to my own children. Autonomy was always important to my mother growing up. She encouraged us to do whatever we wanted as long as it was productive and not harmful to others.
During seventh grade, I transitioned from a public school to a private Christian school. I was ecstatic about what the experience was going to be like. I loathed the fact that I would have to wear a uniform, but I was excited about playing football for the first time in seventh grade. My expectation was that everyone was going to be nice, fun-loving, and nonjudgmental. After all, they were Christians, right?
The reality was so different than what I expected. The kids had their own cliques and I didn’t belong to any of them. They had grown up together and formed bonds with one another. I quickly learned that I was an outsider and I began to have doubts about both God and Christianity as a whole.
Because the rejection had wounded me, it was easy for me to view everyone there as hypocrites. I had a very limited amount of information about the Bible, and definitely no personal relationship with God at this time. I did however believe that we were to love one another just as Christ loved the church. Unfortunately, due to this exclusive atmosphere, feeling alienated, and without witnessing this love, I began to write off Christianity as a whole.
Shortly after being rejected by my peers, I was then rejected by my teachers in the eighth grade. One English teacher in particular told my mother that I would not be able to “hack it” at the high school level at this Christian school. My mother was heartbroken and angry. She understood that both of her children struggled with ADHD, and had difficulty reading and retaining information.
In ninth grade, I transitioned to another private Lutheran High School. The first day I toured the school the head administrator of the school told me “you will struggle to make good grades at this high school.” Talk about starting off on the wrong foot! I couldn’t imagine why anyone would tell a prospective student this. I mean here my parents were, about to shell out an untold amount of money to get me in, and they tell the kid that he isn’t going to make the grades… It just didn’t seem logical to me, and I already had a bad taste in my mouth about the school from the get-go.
However, when I started ninth grade the unexpected happened; I ended up loving it. I couldn’t stand the academic aspects, but I made friends quickly. There were still cliques, but several of the students were extremely fun-loving, welcoming, and nice. This is what I always imagined Christians acted like. I remember taking several classes on the Bible and learning about prayer and worship. Two times per week we had the opportunity to worship at school. Sadly, in an effort to be “cool,” my friends and I constantly made fun of Chapel. I began testing the waters of my faith, but I still had no idea who God was.
By the time I graduated high school, I had gotten in with the wrong crowd. I was drinking and using drugs regularly. I was very far from God at this time. From my senior year of high school until I was in my early 20s, I struggled on and off with drug usage. I don’t consider myself an addict because the very notion of losing my job, fiancé, and apartment was enough for me to stop using drugs. I was using drugs as an escape, and an anxiety management strategy. I was hurting myself in order to stop hurting. It wasn’t until my wife’s family became aware of my drug usage that I actually considered what I was losing. For the first time in my life, I was able to stand in a room full of devastation and pain that I had caused. The experience shook me to the core.
People often talk about rock-bottom moments, but I feel I was facing more of a “fork in the road” situation. I fully understood that I could continue using drugs, but I also knew that if I chose this path, I would lose everything that I held so dear to me at the time. I’ve been asked about when I was saved multiple times throughout my life. For me, this has always been a difficult question to answer, since I had prayed a salvation prayer when I was in sixth grade at a Christian summer camp. However, I’d never fully submitted my will and life to God until I was about 22 years old.
I realized that I had screwed my life up so bad that everyone in my life was finally willing to walk away from me. I was reminded of the pain of the rejection that I felt in seventh grade. This experience was not something that I ever wanted to feel again. The change I attempted to make at the ripe age of 22 was to give over the full control of my life to God. This has not been easy, and I have attempted to knock God out of the way and take back the steering wheel several times. I have sinned many times even after being baptized at the age of 22, and I will most likely sin again.
God has shown me that people are fallible, but also that his grace covers all of us. God has also shown me that his grace is not a license to live my life any way that I choose to. I know that there is no condemnation for those that are in Jesus Christ and for those that walk after the Spirit instead of the flesh.
The biggest epiphany is that I still have carnal desires; however, my appetites are changing. I’ve started to crave righteousness, and to do things that are pleasing to God, not people. As a person who has been severely wounded by rejection, I have been trying to please people nearly my entire life. Because of my relationship with God, I have now recognized that this is not only unhealthy for me but also pointless.
I will never be able to make everyone happy. However, by loving God and serving others, I pray that my life will amount to something once I’m at the end of it. There are a lot of mistakes, ruined relationships, and oodles of sin left out of this story. For the sake of brevity, I will spare you the details. My walk with God has a lot less to do with the terrible way in which I lived my life and a lot more to do with how God is using me. My best efforts are exactly what led me down such a bad path. I understand that God is the only one that can restore the mess that I created. My human efforts are simply not sufficient to put the pieces back together again.
Ironically, I see myself as a hypocrite much like the people I interacted with in seventh grade. I recently heard a speaker say that Christianity is not about what effect you have on it but rather what effect it has on you. I’ve taken this to heart most recently because there is a daily transformation of the mind, spirit, and body that must take place.
In order to become one with God, I have tried to learn as much as possible about myself. By looking inward, I’ve begun to see why God has led me here, and what I’m supposed to do with the finite amount of time that I have left. As complicated as my walk has been so far, I am also amazed by the simplicity of a personal relationship with God.
As my good friend Blake Thrower once said in a sermon to teenagers, “Love God, Love people.” With organized religion and denominations, it is easy to overcomplicate this message. I’ve heard Christians engage in frivolous, and dogmatic arguments about topics ranging from predestination to tribulation. The more I learn, the less I need to know. Rather than getting tied up in whose religious outlook is correct, I like to focus my energy on loving God, and loving other people.
In maintaining my relationship with God, I’ve developed the habits of attending church, reading my Bible, and praying daily. However, I’ve also begun to understand that the very idea of checking off spiritual boxes is not necessary to attain a relationship with God. Faith without works is dead and works without faith is dead.
I don’t read my Bible because I want extra jewels in my crown when I get to heaven. I read my Bible because I want to know more about God’s nature. I don’t pray because I want a miracle to fall to the bottom of a vending machine. I pray that God would continue to protect me from my fleshly desires, and that God would help me maintain humility on a daily basis. I don’t go to church to be seen going to church. I go to church to learn more about Jesus and to worship God.
My message to you is to stop trying to do life under your own power. I spent years of trying to manage my life to the best of my abilities, only to realize that I kept making the same mistakes over, and over again. I understand now that God is the only one able to guide and keep me. A life lived by his direction is so much more fulfilling than my own could ever be.
My challenge to you is to examine the good, bad, and ugly from your life and to try and find value in it. I’m not sure what your spiritual beliefs are, but I pray that you will find my testimony as an inspirational call to action.
James 4 verse 8 tells us to “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Purify your hands, you sinners; sanctify your hearts, doubting souls” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Simply put, doubt is a part of faith in that without it we can never be fully sure about who God is. So I would also challenge you to lean into your doubt and to test it against God’s word. Ultimately, you might learn more about yourself than you ever hope to know.
If you or a loved one is struggling with your faith due to drug and alcohol addiction, reach out to us! We’re here to help. At Stonegate Center, we incorporate your faith into your personalized, addiction treatment plan. We believe that we can overcome addiction by addressing issues related to one’s mind, body, AND spirit.
So come join our recovery community and give our Admissions Specialists a call at (817) 993-9733 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Satchel Stillwell is the Clinical Director of Stonegate Center. He has worked in the field of counseling since 2013 and has had work published in the Fort Worth Child magazine. Upon completing his Master’s in Counseling at DBU, he began serving the male population at Stonegate Center as a Licensed Professional Intern in 2014. You can usually find Satchel watching military history documentaries or playing with his three lovely children when he isn’t at Stonegate Center.