“I don’t know what that means!” My words were obstinate and resentful and pleading, all at the same time. Most times, they just rang in my head, unspoken; sometimes I would voice them out loud.
I was told that the God of the universe wanted to be in relationship with me. . .that I needed a personal relationship with Jesus. But no one seemed to know what that really looked like or how it was accomplished.
I was four or five years into my adult walk of salvation, and I was getting nowhere. I was doing all the things they said I needed to do: serving at the church, participating in a small group, Bible study, Sunday services, regular prayer. But I was still miserable. I was still struggling with secret sin. And my marriage was still falling apart. It’s not like I didn’t have the background needed for success. I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a church elder. I was baptized at 9 years of age, and I was acutely aware of all the things good boys who follow Jesus are supposed to do. At the age of 45, I thought I knew how to do the Christian thing, even if I was a little rusty.
It was all about the rules. If you followed the rules, you would be okay. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be working.
I’d been away a long time. Like many of my peers, I turned my back on the rules at 17. . .and didn’t look back for nearly 25 years. I went to college and did most of the unfortunate things my generation did at college. I met a girl and married at 21, attended law school, moved to Dallas, and I began my pursuit of the success promised to those who work hard. I was, however, never satisfied and never really happy. After 4 miserable years in Dallas, I quit the practice of law, and we moved to Seattle. I re-started my career in a different field and began to climb the ladder again.
Still, it was not enough; I was still discontented. I tried finding “my bliss” in camping and fishing, in skydiving and scuba diving, in cars and motorcycles. Nothing worked.
In 1991, I agreed with my wife that maybe we needed to start a family to find some deep joy. That ended badly. She had a series of miscarriages and started to cultivate a fascination with mental illness – her own. Over the course of the next 15 years, that fascination blossomed into a hot mess: a diagnosis of atypical bipolar syndrome, a persistent and active addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs, our eventual divorce, and her tragic death from drug-induced heart failure.
In the middle of my wife’s death spiral, I turned in desperation to the church. I re-committed my life to Jesus in 1998, and tried to salvage my crumbling marriage by re-embracing the rules. It didn’t work.
I remember a night in 2006, standing on the front deck of my home, feeling frustrated and defeated. I told God I was done. “If you aren’t going to help me, then you go to your corner, and I’ll go to mine. You aren’t down here dealing with this mess, and you aren’t making it any better. I believe, and I may be saved, but I’ve had it with you!” I quit attending church, leaned into my small circle of friends, most of whom were Christians, and spent my days just putting one foot in front of the other. Bare survival was all I was going to manage.
As is always the case with God, the story didn’t end there. God was working, whether I recognized it or not. And His work would hold me together through a difficult divorce, would lead me to meet the woman He had always intended for me to marry and would usher me to return to the Church. With artistry and tenderness, God opened my eyes to what it meant to be in relationship with Him.
First, He enabled me to recognize all the ways He had been present and active in my personal and relational struggles. I began to understand that God “relates” to us in the ways He moves and acts in our lives. . .to bless, to instruct, to correct, and to love. Next, He helped me turn down the noise in my life, so I could hear His voice. A word, a thought, a sense for direction: He began to tune my ear to His guiding voice, and in that voice, I could experience anew how He expresses His love for me.
He taught me to pray, not with flowery words and crafted phrases, but with authenticity and vulnerability from the depths of my heart. As I learned to see Him working, and as I learned to engage Him for guidance and for action, my relating with Him became powerful and intentional.
And it changed everything. Through my new wife, God put me in a healing ministry that opened my eyes to my own brokenness and forced me to deal with my areas of sinfulness – my deep selfishness and insecurity, the sexual brokenness that caused me to rely on pornography, my stubborn refusal to relinquish parts of my life to Him. Jesus ministered to the deep, unseen parts of me and offered me forgiveness for my failures, including my failures to my first wife. And He blessed my union with my new wife.
The Lord opened my eyes to all the ways He had been working in my life, despite my resistance, my rebellion, and my confusion. The Holy Spirit kindled in me a passion for others, especially men, who struggle to find relationship with Him. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples has little to do with teaching the rules and everything to do with teaching relationship.
Accordingly, God gave me a new heart – a heart that is broken for men and women who struggle in their relationships. He called me to minister to those in the Church who ache for healing of their relational brokenness. . .in their vertical relationship with the triune Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and in their horizontal relationships with spouses, children, parents, and friends.