A Reader Asks, “Why Do I Need Jesus to Change My Life?”


In response to a piece of mine (The Happiest Ending Ever), in which I told of my instant, out-of-nowhere conversion to Christianity, a reader named Sarah left me a comment.

“But why do I need Jesus to change my life?” she wrote. “Can’t I do that on my own? Oh, and, what if I don’t want to change? What if I like who I am?”

Guided by the Holy Spirit (and writing, in blog-style, fairly quickly), here’s what I posted back to her:

The quick answer is that, no, you can’t change your core nature by yourself. I wish you could. I wish I could have changed who I was by myself. It’d be great to have that kind of power and control over your very nature. But, alas, you don’t have that power. No human does.

You’re born human. That means you’re extremely inclined to be selfish, greedy, snarky, gossipy, lazy, impatient, mean-spirited, ego-driven, etc., etc. You’re just born to … self-promote, shall we say. It’s not all you’re born to be: you’re also born to be virtuous and kind and loving and so on.

But all that good stuff about being human isn’t the stuff that poisons your experience. What wrecks being a human is the destructive, nasty stuff you do do, to yourself and others, as a matter of course.

No good. Come a day (I’m guessing you’re yet quite young), it’s likely you’re going to want to stop having to live with the Bad You.

And then, perhaps, you’ll get serious about Seriously Evolving.

And so you’ll do things people typically do when they’re trying to Improve Themselves. Maybe you’ll take yoga. Maybe you’ll learn to skydive. Whatever. But you’ll try.

And you’ll fail like a mouse attacking an elephant. And you’ll fail, and fail, and fail, and fail — and then (and on this day you’ll be worthy of pity) you’ll maybe — if you’re lucky — break.

You’ll give up. You’ll realize that you’re all Tried Out. You’ll realize you have no more power left to change who you are.

Because no one, of their own volition, can ever bring themselves to the state of peaceful integration that every single human in the world constantly yearns to attain.

The day you realize that (and I know how obnoxiously condescending that sounds, and apologize for it), is the day you’ll be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, you need to reach for something outside of yourself in order to make of yourself the best person you can be.

And voila: There, waiting to pick up where you’ve finally let off, will be God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit. (They’re all the same, which I’m sure you know but just in case. God: Absolute, indescribable, heaven-dwelling power. Jesus: God here below, with us. Holy Spirit: God inside you. The Holy Trinity is God above, God below, and God inside. See? Easy.)

To this Sarah answered:

John, thanks for the detailed answer. So, if I’m ready to “reach out to God,” what do I do? How do I become a Christian?

My response:

You reach out to God the same as you reach out to anyone: You sincerely and humbly ask to spend time with him.

You get alone; you close your eyes, and with all the fervor and passion you possess you ask God to open up your heart to His reality, to the sure knowledge and understanding that he’s just as real to you as anything else in your life that you consider real.

More real, actually — since God’s the source from which everything else derives.

You know that nagging — or, better, that acute — sense of morality you always feel … saying stuff to you about everything you do and think and feel and say? That mechanism inside of you that is always very busy determining and discerning what is morally right and what is morally wrong?

If you don’t believe anything else in this life, believe that that is God. That voice is God inside of you. That’s the Holy Spirit, trying to get your attention.

You become a Christian by finally giving that voice your full attention. Once you’ve done that, everything else — everything about Christ, Christ’s atonement, all of that — will follow, as surely as getting wet follows falling into water.

God wants to be with you. But just like you don’t like being anywhere you’re not really invited, God isn’t inclined to too readily be with someone who hasn’t first lovingly asked him into themselves. He needs you to ask him to come fully into your mind and heart.

And, in this case, “asking” really amounts to begging. And that’s fair, because you do want irrefutable, permanent knowledge of God. That is, by so far and away there is no second place, the most valuable thing any human being can have. It is the difference between peace and misery, between healing and deterioration, between darkness and light, between joy and sadness, between doubt and surety.

Trust that you do want God as an ally in your life. Just ask for that. Ask for real.

He’s waiting for you to ask that. He’s been waiting for it all your life.

Right after posting that response, I wanted to say one more thing to Sarah. So I wrote:

By the way, Sarah — just to be clear — the idea of being a Christian is not that it’s supposed to make you perfect. Hardly. We’ll worry about perfect in the afterlife, when we’re happily with God forever. For now, down here, it’s understood that we can no longer be perfect — morally pure — than we can be unicorns. Not going to happen.

The idea of being Christian is that (unlike sooooo many people) you admit that (in this life) you’re never going to be perfect. You acknowledge that. You … accept that, finally.

Christianity gives you a way to effectively deal with the grinding reality of your constant moral failing.

We confess to God! We ask his forgiveness for our sins!

And — and this is the sure, indescribable, interior truth Christians possess and live with and renew all the time — He graces us with his full, unmitigated forgiveness.

God — as he proved by sacrificing himself on the cross for this exact reason –forgives us.

Unless you’ve experienced it, you just can’t imagine what a joyous relief that is.

Find out. Bring the totality of your craven, rotten, selfish, destructive thoughts and behaviors — bring your knowledge and conviction of all of your negative side — to God, and humbly lay it down before him, and ask him to forgive you for it all.

And then prepare to meet Jesus Christ.

I have not yet heard back from Sarah. I hope to, of course.

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  • MillieNeon

    I read yr response to her, John, and from where I stand, your information is limited in scope. As an ex-addict and punk-rocker, I can truly witness that my life has dramatically changed. My heart is at peace, I’ve made my amends, and I work for a sweet non-profit that does good in the world. I’ve been drug-free for 21 years and anger-free for 5 (free of old anger, grudges, and other emotional modes that didn’t work any more, if they ever did). Which is not to say that I don’t get upset, just that I cope better and don’t let an incident live in my head long past it’s time, and that the petty stuff doesn’t bother me anymore. Like I won’t blow yr head off if you step in line in front of me. However, I may start making obnoxious bodily noises that sound like they are spreading contagious diseases, because I have a “wicked” sense of humor.

    Unlike you, I don’t believe people come into the world as greedy and selfish. I believe more in nurture than nature. How sad to see your fellow humans that way.

    I have met plenty of beautiful people in my life who have never been gossipy, lazy, snarky, greedy, self-promoting, etc. My mother is one of them. Okay, so my father didn’t make the cut. But still, I have some excellent friends and family who have never fit the “sinner” description. To me, teaching children that they are born into sin sets them up to be pulled that way in the first place. Much better to teach them they are born into grace, in my opinion. Why fill their heads with horror stories about how bad they are and how the devil is always after them? To me that is child abuse. Psychology discovered a while back that constantly telling a kid they are ugly, stupid, crazy, etc., sets them up for low self-esteem, while giving children positive messages about who they are make them fare better.

    Often kids hearing racist slurs all their youth, and then they grow up to be angry and unable to function normally in society and get high blood pressure from the stress of being constantly judged. I have taught many of these youngsters, and it breaks my heart to see those so young feel so embattled by the society in which they live.

    One of the women where I work has recently taken in her young 14-year-old cousin from the ghettos of L.A., where he was a gang-leader and truant. She now has him enrolled in a suburban school in Colorado. His L.A. school sent a report that he was out-of-control and angry and a troublemaker — in that school he was placed in Special Ed. Here, he is getting nothing but high marks, and is excited to get up and go to school and is in a great circle of friends already. In a few short months, this child has totally turned around. This kid just jumped at the opportunity placed before him, and never looked back. And they aren’t a religious family. Part of the reason for his change is his own hunger for and appreciation of being given a shot at life, and another part is because he’s receiving love and nurturing, and he’s been made to feel that he really belongs somewhere and IS somebody. I know Jesus does that for some, and that’s great. But it’s not the only way.

    I had a riches to rags story materially, but emotionally and spiritually, it’s been a rags to riches story. I do believe spirituality is major on my path, but my spirituality has nothing to do with Jesus. I do believe that Jesus can take you there, if that’s your chosen way, but Jesus isn’t the only way. I went through some dark nights of the soul, very dark . . . and the golden lifelines I was tossed that helped me re-make my life are just as sacred and holy to me as Jesus is for you. I wish Christians weren’t so blind to everyone else.

    One of the many times I went to church with my brother, the pastor gave a sermon about people who couldn’t hear Jesus’ message had their ears closed to anyone’s message but their own. Yet most Christians I know are exactly the same way . . . their ears are closed to anyone’s message but their own. In fact, many of them consider it a sin to even listen to or read about anyone else’s spirituality. My brother believes that listening to my spiritual story is a sin, but feels he’s duty bound to pummel me with his. He even thought that naming his dog after a mythological diety was a sin.

    By the way, my brother (only a few years older than me) is plagued with many illnesses and psychological fears. He’s got prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, skin cancer, anxiety attacks. He’s on a ton of medications. While I, except for bad teeth from my drug days, only take a few herbs, vitamins and minerals.

    He does have a lot of money, which is good because he needs it to pay for his health insurance and medication. I live on a modest income and have no health insurance, and thankfully have no need for medications. But he still has a “wicked” sense of humor like me, thankfully.

    A truly omnipotent Creator who creates so many various beings surely does not offer only one path to Truth. (I use the word “Truth” here, where you might use “Salvation” and others might say “Nirvana”, etc. Our language doesn’t really have a word for the experience I’m talking about, so I just chose “Truth”.) There are as many paths to spiritual wholeness as there are beings in the Cosmos. And, in fact, the way things look to me, EVERY path is capable of leading one to Truth. There is no path that does not lead there if one is willing to make the trip (which one always does, eventually). Some paths are more winding and full of thorns than others. Some people get halted on their paths and stand rigidly in place thinking they are at the end, others take lengthy detours, but every path is capable of leading one to “spiritual wholeness”.

    The thing about paths is, there is no end. The only thing that matters is the experience of each step. Because “Truth” is not something waiting for us at the end of some thorny path, it is always already right here. What you and others experience as your “aha! Jesus experience” comes to many other people in a different costume from the one Jesus wears. But because you are so impressed by your “aha! Jesus experiences”, you can’t believe anyone else could have an aha! experience that is valid.

    To me that looks like a fear that if you accept someone else’s “aha experience” as valid, yours will be somehow less meaningful. Don’t be so stingy!

    For those who fear misfortune is because of an evil nature from which they are helpless to save themselves, there is Jesus.

    For those who fear misfortune is because of their ignorance and attachment to illusions, there is Buddha.

    For those who view insanity as coming from not understanding the flow of nature and living therein, there is the Tao.

    For those who fear misfortune is because of assimilation and not following strict social codes, there is Judaism and Islam.

    For those who fear misfortune is because of eating too much, there is Weight Watchers.

    Etc., etc., etc.

    The spiritual paths which are carved out of awe and smiles and are not created out of fear . . . Those are my personal faves.

    That’s my experience on this splendid planet.

    I know you disagree, and I know Christians are bound to the idea that only Jesus brings peace, and that in order to keep up their beliefs, they must deny everyone else’s spiritual life and experience, claiming all else is illusion or fantasy or spawned by something evil. But those arguments don’t hold up in the court of life and experience for me (and for many others), and as long as you are sending me e-mails asking me to read your opinions, I feel it’s okay to offer you my opinions as well. It IS okay, isn’t it?

    And I know what yr thinking. “If she’s got such peace of mind, how come she needs to come on a Christian website and get quarrelsome?” Well, just because I have peace in my heart and mind (most of the time), doesn’t mean I can’t amuse myself by emitting a preponderance of pontifications. Besides, John keeps sending me these email to read his blog, and we all know what a blog is, right? TWO-way interaction.

    Have a gorgeous day and a dish of ice cream, unless yr diabetic. Then maybe get a massage instead.

  • John, I found this whole article very interesting, this part particularly caught my attention.

    "You know that nagging — or, better, that acute — sense of morality you always feel … saying stuff to you about everything you do and think and feel and say? That mechanism inside of you that is always very busy determining and discerning what is morally right and what is morally wrong?

    If you don’t believe anything else in this life, believe that that is God. That voice is God inside of you. That’s the Holy Spirit, trying to get your attention.

    You become a Christian by finally giving that voice your full attention.

    I think this is very interesting, as you seem to be equating your conscience with God (I could be misunderstanding). This is something I've never heard before. Perhaps it's because I was raised Catholic, but I always thought that God was something external. I say this not to debate the nature of God, but to explain what I found was so novel in this article.

    The other point I thought to make was one in the comparison with Buddhism. One of central tenets of Buddhism (as I understand it) is mindfulness. This essentially means focusing on what is happening and how you should react. Knowing your mind. What I think is so interesting about what you have to say is that it seems to say that knowing you conscience, your mind, is knowing God.

    I thought this was very interesting, as your version of Christianity seems to essentially preach the same basic idea about living life as Buddhism. That one should be aware of their mind and their conscience, and through that can live a better life.

    I'd love to know your thoughts on this.

  • Millie: You've said a lot of wonderful, true things here. But you've also assumed that I personally, and Christians generally, believe a whole BUNCH of stuff that I know I don't, and that I don't think Christians generally do. And there's just so much of that sort of stuff here that I find it a bit too …. tangly to untangle. But in the main I do hear your very legitimate claims against Christianity (well…certainly against some Christians), and am grateful to you for having taken the time to express them.

    David: As you know, Christians do believe that God, via the Holy Spirit, is fully inside them. So yes, in the way of the Buddhist methodology, it DOES pay for anyone–Christian or not–to spend as much time getting to KNOW their mind and inner spirit as possible.

    The difference between the way a Buddhist and a Christian would go about experiencing the pheneomena of discovering the nature of their own mind begins with their assumptions about that going in. A (Zen) Buddhist believes that in coming to understand his own mind, he will (eventually) come to understand and be joined with THE mind: the universal, ONE mind/spirit/reality. The Christian, on the other hand, believes that the more he gets to know his mind, the more he'll realize what a tweaky, shallow, vain thing it really is–how limited its intentions, how selfish its desires. And he will then of course have every reason to in effect choose to get his mind out of the WAY, and to let God's mind take its place.

    You know the Christian saying: Let go, and let God. That's what that means: Release your mind, and let the mind of God take its place.

    Same as Buddhists do, really: You let The Big, Absolute Mind superceed (sp?) the little, relative mind. The difference, of course, is that we Christians put a NAME on our Big Mind. And, in Jesus, we also give it human, living form. It's a beautiful thing.

    Oh, right: What's NOT limited and small and shallow in the human mind is that part of it which naturally senses, understands, and calibrates morality. I believe that it's through the functioning of a person's conscience that God most generally tries to get that person's attention.

  • MillieNeon

    Hi John, well I did try to not include all Christians, as I don't know all Christians, and I also know many people who were raised Christian, and now subscribe to the Christ Consciousness idea, which encompasses a lot more spiritualities. And I apologize if it seemed too tangled for you. This is just how I'm used to discussing things with my friends. Probably didn't help that my philosophy teacher was my boyfriend for many years.

    My studies in Buddhism suggest that it's not so much A Big Absolute Mind superceeds the little mind, but that the little mind is attached to illusion, and can't see that all illusion (form) is really emptiness. The Idea of a "big, absolute mind" is itself an attachment to the Western notions about God.

    The western mind has a lot of trouble with emptiness and absence. I think it's a basic difference between Eastern and Western philosophical underpinnings. The Void/Absence is death and nothingness to the West, while in the East it's an active Void that is the creator and destroyer of everything, yet not really a personality or mind in the Western sense. How can emptiness be active a Westerner would say?

    In the West, God is something separate from everything (including us), and in the East everything is an emanation of the only play of consciousness there is, so there is no way anything, not even a Hitler or a Paris Hilton can be separate . . . that doesn't make sense to Westerners who view evil as a dualistic force against good. Since we are "separate from God", then there must be dualism. Even in Heaven, we get to live with God, but we are not of him. In Hell our separation from Him means not being in His presence. It's all about presence and absence in the West.

    And to many Westerners, anything that doesn't mirror themselves and their beliefs back to them is evil or "other".

    It's not as simple as just putting a name on "the big mind". Because it's more than a name. Under the idea of Jesus is the idea that humans are born sinners, not-worthy, etc, and that only Jesus can save them from themselves. We aren't good enough to be totally responsible, so we need to beg our God(s) for forgiveness and to save us from ourselves.

    In the East, especially a philosophy like Taoism, we all go back to the same place regardless, and what happens here on earth is about personal responsibility and accountability. Only we can "save" ourselves, which really means be responsible for our actions and thoughts. That's one of the major reasons for this life, to learn how to do that.

    But it's interesting to me that you see God as manifesting through a person's conscious, as that brings Christianity closer to the Eastern way of thinking.

    And by the way, I'm just talking about differences in the basic philosophies of these spiritualities (Buddhism, Hinduism Taoism, Christianity). In this life, there are the "monks" and "devoted practitioners" of all of the above who try to bring peace and love to the world, and there are others who twist the spiritual message into reasons for war and slaughter and bigoty.

  • Yeah, you know, it's interesting. My entire philosophical and religious background, before (at 38) becoming a Christian, was utterly immersed in Eastern philosophy. I studied and practiced Zen basically my whole life until I became Chrstian. (I was also, and remain, a huge fan of Vedic Hinduism.) And being a Christian has not, I've found, eradicated in any substantive way my core, Eastern-informed understanding of the relationship between The Big Everything and the individual self. The figure and story of Christ have just … extremely enhanced it.

    I don't find the Eastern … paradigm in any troubling way incompatible with Christianity. I think the West has missed a lot by not more purposefully embracing the Christian mystism of the Eastern Orthodox traditions, for instance.

    God is God. God is a mystery. God is known. God is far. God is near.

    All in all, and all that.

    Believe me: I'm there.

    Anyway, for what it's worth, trust that when you talk about the differences between Easter and Western spiritual paradigms and mindsets, I really, REALLY understand what you're saying.

  • Dude, this is some really interesting stuff. Thanks for the discussion, you guys.

  • Robyn

    John, I originally intended to comment just on your article, but now I want to begin by commenting on your dialogue with "Millie". I am an extremely VERBAL person, sometimes to my/others' benefit, but more often than not, to my/others' detriment. I am still learning how to train my tongue and, more importantly, how to instinctively tap into the Lord's view of other people (especially those in opposition to His truth) — I know that I have the mind of Christ, but too often, I disregard His thoughts and pay attention to the thoughts of the Enemy. Consequently, when I am confronted with unbelievers' rhetoric, I usually respond in my mind — and inevitably, in words — with anger/bitterness/criticism. You, however, engaged Millie in a respectful and empathic conversation, while remaining true to our faith. I need to re-read your comments OFTEN, so that I have a clear model of thinking and responding with the "mind of Christ." I am impressed and convicted by your example.

    Regarding your article, I was surprised that your words rang true for not only my experience in coming humbly to Christ (after years of believing Catholic doctrine but not living life as a Christian), but also for my current experience as an eager — and yet woefully imperfect — Christian disciple. I struggle with some deep-seated fears (mostly about rejection), and those fears almost always play themselves out in thought patterns and behaviors that are driving a spiritual and emotional wedge between my husband and me. I know that this division is Satan's will, and that spiritual unity and emotional peace and joy is the Lord's will for my marriage. But I have spent the past three years TRYING to both cling desperately to my husband AND change myself into some vague version of whom I think he wants me to be. In short, I have been a man-pleaser, not a God-pleaser. Note that I said that I have been trying to change myself. It is truly (embarrassing as it is to admit) only within the past few DAYS that I have surrendered my struggle, my personality, my fears, my behavior, my thoughts, all that I am and all that I want to be (and all that I want my marriage to be) to Him. I've already failed several times, but what is different from every other time I've *tried* to change is that I finally understand that it is God who will perfect this whole situation — and far better than I could ever "ask or imagine." I did get to the end of my rope, on Friday. But now I am filled with the hope of the Holy Spirit. Your article quite accurately explains WHY we need God — and HOW we often come to Him (as a last resort, which is just so backward). I pray that Sarah will hear the Lord calling to her, and that He will put all of the mentors in her life she will need to grow up in Him according to His perfect will. I believe your words were indeed TRUE. Thank You for clarifying my own very-recent epiphany. And thank you for the work you are doing for His Kingdom. God willing, He will reveal His beautiful and perfect Truth to Millie as well… God bless you.

  • Ross

    I would like to respond to Millie. One thing I believe Christianity has going for it, and it is a big thing, is truth. Before you dismiss that idea out of hand consider a few points (none of which are originally from me, they're actually commonly known among Christians perhaps even yourself…nothing new here).

    1. Empty tomb. What better way to squash this nascent sect than to parade around his dead body after he had predicted his resurrection. The Jewish leaders could have had this done, it certainly behooved them to do so, yet it didn't happen.

    2. Eleven out of the original twelve apostles were martyred for their faith in Christ. Why would they go to painful deaths knowing Jesus was a fraud?

    There are many good apologetic books you can read that can give many more. "The case for Christ" by Lee Strobel is a good one. He was a reporter for the Chicago Sun and investigated the claims of Christ after his wife became a believer. He to became a believer after much research and seeing how his wife had changed.

    There's also CS Lewis' book "Mere Christianity" that lays out many logical arguments for Christianity. You've probably heard his "liar, lunatic or God" argument which comes from that book.

    Your not believing in people coming into the world greedy and selfish shows that either you don't have children or haven't spent much time around them. I have a two and four year old. Let me confirm that indeed they are born sinful and greedy. I have to instruct/discipline/beat (wait scratch the last one) them to get them to not be those things. And it's not just my little wicked kids. Our secular neighbors with kids the same age, who are more enlighted than my wife and I, and barely tell their kids no let alone discipline them, have kids that make my kids look like perfect angels. Kids don't have to be taught to lie, cheat, be selfish, cruel, rude, etc. they all do it naturally…no instruction needed. It's the noble things they have no natural inclination for that we as parents have to instill in them.

    There are people in my life that I used to think were saints. If anybody was going to Heaven they were. But my view of them has changed since then. I became a Christian 15 years ago and through much trial and tribulation can say that God continues to change me into the person he wants me to become. Often times I'm kicking and screaming but I have tried to obey the Holy Spirits prompting. Anyway on this path of sanctification I as all Christians see things through Gods eyes more and more. As God has opened my eyed I can now see people more as God sees them with love on the one hand, but sinful and needing a savior on the other. What I'm trying to say is that just because you see somebody as good and righteous, don't assume others or God see them or you as you do. The people I used to think were pretty good I know see as most definately needing a savior. The good I saw in them I still see, but I see sinfulness I didn't see before. That's not to say I've become someone who is always criticizing or judging others I just don't see them as I once did.

    Unless you know someone very closely, you may not ever see they're sinful side of who they are as we as humans naturally do our best to hide and supress it. That's why marriage can be so hard – each spouse gets to see the other one for exactly who they are.

    Finally, I would just say ask God to show you the truth and he will.

    God Bless.

  • Now, far be it from ME to interject anything self-serving into such a rich and open exchange–but how in the world could I NOT say that ANOTHER exceptional Christian apologetic is my very own, "Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do the Things I do, by God (as told to John Shore)."

    Strobel and Lewis' books are fabo, for sure. I of course knew them both before I wrote Penguins. And I was still deeply pleased to write Penguins, because … because I knew Penguins was still necessary. I knew something more … succinct/shorter would be a very good thing. As would something that I felt was more logically rigorous than are those two books. As would something a LOT funnier. As would something more clearly generated from a place of sincere understanding of where a nonbeliever lives and is coming from. (Lewis' book is good like that, though. But it can be awfully dense for a modern nonbeliever to get into.)

    Anyway, had to say it. Cuz … well, cuz it's true. Even if, obnoxiously enough, I say so myself. (Luckily, lots of others have said the same thing. So I'm kinda … safe like that.)

  • MA

    John – I read the conversation between you and Sarah. I wanted to comment, but felt like it was a kind of beautiful and sacred conversation between the two of you and didn't want to invade it…

    You described our human nature and Truth in such vivid and plain terms – and to me it was a great "summary" of the Good (or as I prefer to think of it, Greatest) News of Jesus…and His loving and redeeming us from, well, basically – ourselves! He did/does for me what I can't even do for myself no matter how I desire or try. Thanks for listening to the Holy Spirit and being so obviously guided by Him in your response to Sarah.

    Now I see some other people's comments, and am just hoping that Sarah and others' minds don't get all convoluted… It's just like life when you hear the simple message of Christ, then the world and its message bombard you at such speed that the simplicity of Jesus can be forgotten or something. Hmmm…seems to me that God is onto all this stuff that happens to His message cuz He brought up the sower and the seed a long time ago.

    I am also touched by the interchange between you (John) and Ross… It's a ponderous thing what pains (and joys too) God allows us to "access personally" so that we identify with Christ and one another. I am always amazed at the practical grace God works out in our lives – and grace isn't always pain free. It wasn't for Jesus.

  • Ross

    All true, which for me is a conundrum. My wife and I are raising our kids in a devoted, loving Christian way. Of course we're not perfect, but the parenting my kids are getting is far superior than what my wife and I received, mainly due to the fact that we serve the Lord whereas our parents did not…makes all the difference in the world.

    But, I'm aware that the person I am today is because of the pain I've experienced along the way, (and much of it self induced by the way) including a fairly messed up childhood. I pray that my kids don't have the hangups and dysfunction I had/have as they have been a source of much pain. Yet, I see the fruit it has produced ie. compassion for others suffering. I want nothing more than the best for my kids including little to no pain in their lives, but in the long run Gods plan probably includes some suffering.

    How painful it must have been for our Father to see Jesus suffer as he did.

  • Ross

    Sorry John I didn’t mention your (I’m sure) fine piece of work (Penguins) but I have yet to read it (but plan on doing so for sure). And I didn’t know it was apologetic in nature which now knowing, makes me eager to read.

    As you might recall, I’m reading “I’m ok…”. And I should be done with it already especially after taking it on a week vacation. But I found that vacations with a 2 and 4 year old are a whole lot less relaxing than the ones I had before kids. Enjoyable, just not what you would call relaxing. I brought three books and not one was read during the whole vacation.

    Anyway, I started to read it again last night. Your childhood confirms the fact that no matter how bad anybody has had it, someone else has had it worse. Let me just say you got street cred with that childhood. I thought I had it (adopted, both parents divorced numerous times, etc. etc.) but after reading about yours I realized I don’t. I’ve told my wife about a time when my mom left at night on a date and didn’t come home until the next morning. At like 3 in the morning I called my dad to come pick me up as I thought something bad had happened to mom and I was just a wreck. But your mom skipping out for two years puts my story to shame. I’ll never bring up my tale of woe again.

  • Well, that’s kind of you to say–but … I mean … “adopted, both parents divorced numerous times…” doesn’t exactly sound like a Major Picnic.

    The truth is (as you know; as we all know) a LOT of people’s childhood was just … deeply trashed. It seems to me that there’s just … Really, Really Bad–and once your life is in that category, after that it’s just a difference in details. You know? You can be in so much pain, and … then that’s kind of it. Now you’re in The Bad Zone with all the OTHER trillion people out there who, for whatever reason, ended up in the same sad, desperate place.

    And to be honest, I’m not sure it’s best NOT to start out life seriously dinked. If there’s one thing you can say about suffering a lot of pain when you’re young, it’s that it allows you a mechanism to, for the rest of your life, be REALLY sympathetic to, and sensitive about, suffering in others. I don’t know a lot of things about a lot of things, but I’m VERY … what’s the word … AWARE of when someone else is suffering. And immediately they have my heart.

    Which is why I would make a terrible judge. But that’s another (stupid) story.

    But you know what I mean. A child who suffers has, maybe, a better chance of growing up into someone aware of and moved by the suffering of others, than does a child who never had any real reason to establish within themselves the fundamental paradigm and TRUTH of the reality of human suffering. If that made sense.

    Like, I had a pastor friend. Very respected; head of huge church. Grew up in a loving, Christian home. He once told me that low self esteem was essentially an emotinally selfish, egotistical indulgence. And I thought, “That, right there, is the difference between someone who was raised KNOWING they were loved and god and honorable, and someone who was raised to feel like trash.”

    He just didn’t … get how REAL the “issue” of low self-esteem is for people. He couldn’t. He’d never accessed it personally–so, for him, it didn’t really exist. And I think his pastoring suffered for that blind spot.

    The bottom line is that the degree to which you have suffered is the degree to which you can identify with Christ’s suffering. Which makes all of our pain very precious indeed.

  • Yeah, that’s the best thing, isn’t it–to be the one who finally breaks with their kids the awful legacy that they inherited from their parents. The best thing is to be that generational pivot person; the one who RECOVERED from the pain, and so can TEACH their kid about pain, without their kids having to learn about it … well, the hard way.

    It’s awesome you get to be that guy. Your kids are lucky they have you. It sounds like you’re really sensitive to that fine line between protecting and … smothering.

    And yeah, MOST of the pain we cause is to ourselves. We do as we’re taught. If my parents didn’t like me, it must be because I’m unlikeable. And because (no matter what) I DO love my parents, I WILL spend my life (or at the very least much too much of it) proving that they were, after all, right: That, in fact, I’m not likeable.


  • From MA above: “I am always amazed at the practical grace God works out in our lives – and grace isn’t always pain free. It wasn’t for Jesus.”

    What a fantastic little … piece of writing. The whole piece was outstanding. Thanks for sharing it. Wonderful.

    Man. I’ve got some SERIOUSLY nice, thoughtful, smart, soulful people on this blog. What a blessing.

  • MA

    Well, we sure have a blessing of a blogger/writer in you, John!

  • Rosi

    I just wanted to say that your post, John, really resonated with me and my experience with Christ. To put it very simply , because it really is just that simple, the moment that Christ became a part of my life is the moment where I took a chance to believe in Him. The very moment where I decided with conscious intention to believe that Christ was who he said he was, God was who he said he was, and that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to reside in me. I just had to ask for His presence….and there it was.

    For many many years I studied and practiced Eastern paths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Vedic tradition. I did find God in those as well, but what was missing for me was Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As soon as I chose to believe, everything changed….I changed. I was transformed from the inside out. It took time, but each time I went back to that conscious intention to believe in Him, I was renewed over and over again. Like you said, it doesn’t make me perfect now…in fact this just proves my imperfection because my spirit needs renewal everyday but everyday I continue to believe, everyday I’m healed.

    Many people think that Christians are rigid in our beliefs and whatnot and I don’t feel rigid at all. I still embrace truths that I find out there, wherever the source. I do not condemn or deny other religions. I just say that for me, when I accepted Christ was who he said he was and I accepted the residence of the Holy Spirit, everything changed. Whereas before, I would try to follow practices and beliefs from other religions but was not changed on the inside. I needed the magic of who God was, the three in one, to really do the changing in me. That’s all…. It’s just that simple.