My clearest memories of childhood are images of violence and fear. With my sisters, I watched helplessly as my father, in his drunken rages, beat and abused my mother. I remember when this became too much for me and, as an eight year old, I rushed at my father crying, ‘Stop it, stop it or I’ll kill you!’, beating my fists against his chest as he towered above me. Though he seemed ashamed and stopped, the old pattern soon resumed, until eventually my mother divorced him several years later.
I left school in my teens, before final exams, and took a job with the local council, thinking this would give me a level of personal freedom. I soon found that hard work was not the answer, and was even resented.
I ran foul of an older co-worker, who taunted me and grew nasty when my efforts threatened what he viewed as a ‘cosy little number’ for himself. I thought that by throwing myself into work I would be happy and rewarded. Instead, I was robbed of peace of mind by yet another bully. The constant abuse drove me to mental collapse.
God’s way of forgiveness
After a period of treatment and recovery I found my life painfully altered. My fiancée, herself a health worker, grew negative about the possibility of future mental illness and my dependence on medication. My employment was downgraded and I found myself clearing litter from the streets, under the eye and taunts of my old tormentor.
Deeply depressive mental breakdown followed. I lost the woman I had hoped to marry and was finally sectioned under the mental health act. I experienced growing shame at having become one of the very people I had always avoided and despised as ‘complete nutters’.
Then, unexpectedly, in my late twenties I enjoyed a longer period of rationality. During this time my mother, who had moved through many religious groups seeking peace, told me of the Campus Church, a local church in Welwyn Garden City, which taught the Bible, explaining God’s way of forgiveness, peace and wholeness through the life and work of Jesus Christ.
She claimed to have been given salvation and a new relationship to God through this message. In a way I was pleased for her, for she seemed happier than I had ever known her. But I had no desire to start looking into religion. I already had enough problems and all I wanted was my sanity, to earn a little money, and a chance to enjoy life.
Mum invited me to her baptismal service but I declined. On the day, though, I slipped in part way through the proceedings. To my surprise I stayed, being more and more drawn by what was being said. I felt strangely attracted to what I now know was the gospel of Christ, presented from the Bible.
What amazed me was the truth and clarity of it; no gimmicks and no mumbo-jumbo. Here was the living, powerful God providing forgiveness and a new life for ever, through Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of people who despised him. Here was love given freely, not because people were working hard to be worthy.
I felt a new presence with me, not the phantoms of mental illness, but the Spirit of God. I wanted to know Christ and experience God’s forgiveness. I sought to be baptised and profess faith in Christ, but felt no sense of change.
I spoke to one of the ministers and he asked me if I had confessed my sins to God and prayed for forgiveness. I had not, and so alone in my room that night I began to admit to God the greatness of my own wrongdoing.
I am not given to tears, but they were streaming down my face as I felt the great burden of all my hatred and acts of wickedness melt away in prayer. The reality of forgiveness in Christ came with a strong assurance.
I am still a ‘manic depressive’, and just as a person with diabetes must live with their disease, so I live with mine. But the quality of my life is greater than I have ever known, and the reality of eternal security is my anchor.
I now know when my illness is asserting itself and, for the past 10 years, have undergone treatment whenever necessary as a voluntary patient. The presence of God’s Spirit with me, bringing guidance and comfort from the Bible, means that I do not fear life’s uncertainty. God is in control of all things in his world.
I no longer fear what others think. What matters is God’s unchanging love and acceptance through Christ alone. I try not to look out just for ‘number one’ any more, but care for my brothers and sisters in God’s family, our local church. And they care for me, despite our mutual imperfections.
I now feel compassion, not hatred, for my father and others who harmed me, just as Christ forgave his tormentors. I only desire that they should know Christ’s forgiveness before that terrifying day of God’s judgement in eternity. I am not ashamed to share the gospel of Christ for (as the Bible says and I have found) it is ‘the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes’.