“You idiot! You are so stupid! What is the matter with you? I’m sick and tired of you!” My father’s words, repeated countless times during my childhood, crushed me to the core of my identity.
His verbal blows hurt much more than the beatings he gave me, but they were pretty bad. I learned to sit at my school desk on the side of my thighs rather than on my buttocks. I had to sleep on my stomach. I never looked at my wounds. I did once and it made me feel worse.
Welts on my backside or bruises on my head would heal, but Dad’s biting words would reverberate through my spirit over and over until they overpowered my childish self-defense. Of course, I believed everything Dad said was true.
A child naturally believes his parents. They are like God to him. Their words are authoritative and their judgments final.
Believing Dad’s criticism is what allowed the pain to enter. This pain broke my heart and seemed more than I could bear. My own father hated me, was disgusted with me, and thought I was of no benefit or worth. I must not be of value, then. I must be worthless, stupid, ugly, and an idiot. Dad said so and Mom didn’t disagree. It must be true, I thought to myself. Earlier than I can remember, I believed the lie.
The pain dramatically affected my self-worth and emotional stability. My peer group rejected me so severely that, by seventh grade, I had not one friend who wanted to talk to me at school or eat lunch with me.
This became clear one Friday night at a high school football game. As the big guys played, we seventh grader boys stood in a rough circle, trying to look “cool”. That night I was late and the group had already formed. As I “came into range”, one of the biggest guys in the group, Tom, yelled loudly for all to hear, “Oh, no, here comes Liston!” Ignoring the dig, I shuffled up to the group’s edge. Tom looked me in the eyes and sneered, “Why don’t you get lost?”
I was ready to take him on until I noticed the responses of the other guys. Either they scowled similarly or they looked away, pretending not to be aware of what was happening. I then understood: This was the shared opinion of the group. They had discussed this among themselves, tried and condemned me to exile. Tom was simply the executioner.
So, I “got lost”. I stayed “lost”, too, for a long time. During that year, my only friend was Depression. He never left me and became increasingly familiar and dominant to me. In the second semester, I became listless and withdrawn. I avoided my parents and stayed away from the house as much as possible.
My mood plunged so low that I literally could not put food in my mouth. The thought of food made me so nauseous that I didn’t eat for weeks. This happened during my ‘growth spurt’ in which I grew 5 inches in three months. During early spring, I became ill for the first time in my life and was out of school for two full weeks.
During the last six weeks of school, the only clothes I had to wear were two shirts, one pair of pants, and one pair of socks with holes to match my only pair of shoes. Previously, I had bought all my own clothes with the money I earned from my paper route. I started that job when I was 11 but had quit in order to play basketball. That now seemed like a very bad idea.
My father worked hard in the midst of terrible physical pain. He passed between 2-3,000 kidney stones in his adult life. A woman he knew who had passed one stone said that she would go through pregnancy and childbirth again if she didn’t have to have another kidney stone. Dad tried to provide for us but medicine took over a third of his paycheck. He became addicted to the pain medicine the doctor prescribed.
I do remember Dad taking us to a discount shoe outlet that sold defective shoes called “factory seconds”. As I examined the options, one pair looked particularly nice. Since the size was usually listed on the soles, I flipped over the pair. There, stamped in block letters, was the word, “REJECT”. Instantly the thought came to me, “Isn’t that the story of my life! That’s exactly what I am: A great, big REJECT!”
My parents, to their credit, knew I needed help but were clueless regarding any options and had no money. My mother went to work for a Christian school so my sister and I, could attend. Mom and Dad hoped that might help me.
It didn’t at first. But over Christmas break I went on a Christian retreat and met a cheerleader, Ruth Fisher. Despite the fact that I seemed to have “Loser” stamped on my forehead, she treated me with kindness. The second day, she said to me, “Mark, you aren’t as bad as you think you are. If you will give your heart to Jesus and ask Him to show you what He wants to change in you each day, He will transform your life.” Pretty good counsel from an eighth grade blonde!
I decided to follow Ruth’s advice. At the meeting that night, the preacher told of Jesus’ great love for us that never changed, even when we messed up. He promised that, if we trusted Jesus with our hearts and lives, He would make us new people. He quoted from the New Testament book by Paul called 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If therefore anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
That sounded like what I needed, a fresh start in life as a new person. Then he invited us to come to the front and someone would pray for us. Out of desperation, I moved out of my seat and walked to the front of that auditorium despite my fears and doubts. Following his instructions, I prayed, inviting Jesus to take my worthless life if He really wanted it and to make me the person He wanted me to be.
Suddenly, warmth flooded my mind and heart. Joy bubbled up inside me like a spring of water, refreshing my soul. I experienced Jesus’ comforting presence in my heart for the first time.
What happened next seemed almost like an out-of-body experience. For the first time in my life, I felt loved a little. Peace washed my troubled soul, cleansing me from anger, depression, fear, and guilt. I felt better than I had ever felt emotionally.
But would it last? Would this be the help I needed to change my life? The preacher said I would be new, but the same ugly face was looking back at me in the mirror the next morning. Was I really different?
The next year I returned to the same school where I had been so rejected earlier. The difference was dramatic because of the difference in me. No longer was I obsessed with fears of what others thought of me. Jesus was in charge of changing me, and I trusted Him. Because I wasn’t chasing people and seeking their approval, they moved toward me. I made many friends and found that people enjoyed telling me their problems. They knew I had hurt and felt my compassion for their pain. That was my introduction to the work of counseling.
After being a Christian for over 30 years, a seminary graduate who studied Greek and Hebrew, an ordained minister and a licensed professional counselor, I thought I was pretty far down “the path of righteousness”. Yet something was missing. My heart felt restless and incomplete.
Early one morning as I knelt to pray, I thought, I have known that Jesus loved me and even felt His love on occasion. Yet my experience of God’s love seemed inadequate and tenuous, almost like I was faking it. How could I share with others what I wasn’t experiencing myself?
I felt a little resentful, like God was holding out on me. Yet I also knew that I had never really asked to experience this love, either. So I prayed, “Lord, I ask You now, please let me know and experience your love.”
You know what happened? Absolutely nothing happened, at least in those few minutes of prayer. Later, as I was pulling out of my driveway for work, I sensed the Lord say, “My son, I love you.” I replied softly, “Well, thank You, Father, I love You, too.” I thought that was a little unusual, but then He did it again that morning when I was in the men’s room, then again on my way to lunch and later while in a meeting. That night as I laid my head on the pillow, I realized that day He had said it eight or ten times!
Then He did the same the next day, and the next, and the following day, and the next. This continued every day, week after week, and month after month, for 10 months! I figured I must be a slow learner! By that time, though, His words of love had changed my life. Their truth had penetrated from my mind to my heart in such a way that I experienced His love.
Everyone experiences God’s love different ways. What is most important isn’t how we experience love, but that we experience love. It seems that most of us settle for an inferior faith, insufficient love, and an inadequate experience. We hear others tell of their incredible experiences and we think we must be bad or we would have the same experience.
The truth is, we aren’t bad; but we believe a lie. We believe God will help everyone else, but somehow we don’t qualify. Of course, as long as we believe this, the Deceiver has us just where he wants us: Confused and apart from the love of God, both the receiving end and the giving end. Rather than God’s love being “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), it is dammed up in a little corner of our souls by our own unbelief and fear.
The Savior of our souls is also the Healer of our hearts. Jesus wants us free from the pain of the past. Our challenge is to trust Him enough to allow Him access to our pain. We must believe that, if we let Him take us back there and deal with it, we won’t go crazy. He will give us the strength to face the pain. When we do, He will be with us to speak the truth to us to displace the lies. He will restore our soul, renew our mind, and remove the pain from our heart.
What we must do is ASK for His help, CHOOSE to deal with our past pain, and LET Him do this work.
“He is faithful, and He will do it.”