The most important lesson
Have you ever tried making something work in a way it wasn’t designed to?
Perhaps you’ve accidentally filled a petrol engine with diesel, or inserted a DVD into a CD player. If you have, you’ll know that things go wrong when we ignore the designer’s plan. And this principle isn’t just true for technology, it applies to life itself. This is the most important lesson I have ever learned.
I was born in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1970, and spent the first 19 years of my life trying to find happiness without God. Although I had a nominal Roman Catholic upbringing, as a teenager there wasn’t much to distinguish me from the average non-religious young person.
Intellectually I believed in God; experientially I wanted him to keep his distance – except in times of trouble, of course. All this changed when I left school and started work.
My first job, at 17, was as a restaurant waiter. There was much that was positive about this period, yet it was also a troubling time. The more I entered the adult world, joining its social scene, doing the things you’re supposed to do to be fulfilled, the emptier life seemed.
I sensed how lost people were, going about their routines without knowing the purpose of life. And, as I reflected, I realised this was true of me too.
About this time, I also became conscious of personal moral hypocrisy. For example, if I saw someone doing something wrong, I would condemn that person in my thoughts. Yet, when I did the same, I would proudly justify my behaviour.
I tried to change. But pride and hypocrisy would always return. For the first time I became aware of an inner evil which I was powerless to tame. My conscience was in turmoil.
To make matters worse, I also became nearly paranoid about dying. I kept thinking about how life might suddenly end, perhaps by a freak accident or terminal disease. Initially I tried to suppress this fear by ‘living for the moment’. But thoughts of mortality wouldn’t go away.
What’s more, I felt sure there was an afterlife; something inside me seemed built for eternity. What would that afterlife be like? Where would I spend it?
Now approaching my nineteenth year, I tried desperately to improve my situation. Taking up transcendental meditation, I travelled to Europe for two months, in pursuit of enlightenment and fulfilment abroad.
Of course these things didn’t work. For one thing, the meditation was only a sophisticated relaxation technique. It couldn’t provide answers to questions about the meaning of life, a guilty conscience or eternal certainty.
Neither did travelling abroad solve anything. All it left me with were happy memories and a suntan. Essentially I came back the same person I was when I left. In fact I was more miserable now, convinced I’d exhausted all hope of finding rescue from my troubles. Where, or who, could I turn to next?
It wasn’t long after returning from my travels that I met an old school friend. He’d started attending Chessington Evangelical Church in Surrey and invited me to go too. Feeling I had nothing to lose, I agreed.
This was to be the turning point I had been looking for. The first thing that struck me about the church was the love, joy and peace that characterised its members. They seemed to have that elusive happiness I desperately wanted.
Where did they get it? Time and again the same answer was given – Jesus Christ. So, over the following months, I started to listen to the sermons and began reading the New Testament for myself.
I now saw that the gospel of Christ offered clear solutions to the problems I’d been encountering – the emptiness of life, a guilty conscience, fear of death. I understood that God’s Son, who declared himself to be ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6),could give lasting peace through his death, resurrection and life-giving Spirit.
And so, one evening in 1990, I reversed a decision I’d made several years previously. I stopped trying to find happiness without God. Instead I turned to Jesus for forgiveness and life with God.
I’d finally learned my lesson. Have you?