Imagine a healthy seventeen year old boy, heading for three good A-levels. He helps out at the local scout group. He’s got county level medals in Judo, and has plans to do physics at university. That was me. On the surface, I was the model teenager, with everything going for me.
Inside was another matter. I had been bullied at school, and felt extremely insecure. I had a bad temper which flared up at the most inappropriate moments, sometimes into violence. I was a bit of a bully to younger kids. I knew what I was really like, and I didn’t feel good about it.
My parents had taken me to church as a young child, but religion was boring stuff on Sundays. We stopped going when I was under ten, and by the time I was thirteen I was an atheist. At school I loved to argue with kids who claimed to be Christians, often winning the arguments about whether God could exist, evolution and the Bible.
One of the guys I used to argue with invited me to a rock concert at their church. I was too nervous to go on my own, so got a group of like-minded friends to come with me. We arrived in our scruffy denim and heavy metal t-shirts. Every one else was smart. Even the teenagers had trousers and shirts. I don’t know how my friends felt, but I tried to hide.
When we went upstairs, there was a banner in huge letters saying ‘Jesus said, come just as you are’. My immediate thoughts were of my clothes, but it also made me think about who I was. The concert was great, even though the only spare seats were on the front row, so we had to walk past everyone to get there.
Afterwards, people came and chatted to us. Even the adults were friendly. They applied what the banner said. My friend from school invited me to their youth club, and I continued going for some time. I remained an atheist, but enjoyed the people.
So why did I change? Once I got to know some of the people there, I saw they were just like me. Full of insecurities, making mistakes and failing to live up to what they wanted to be. If God wanted them, maybe he wanted me. I was reluctant, but eventually told him he could have me.
Things have changed since then. I learned to deal with my temper, though that took some time. I’ve gone through severe depression and times of ecstasy. I’ve had some great adventures helping people overseas and in this country. I feel good about who I am.
I’m expecting more. Even though I’m now in my mid-forties, I still feel like life is just beginning. I expect to have more adventures (and more heartache), but I don’t get to do it alone. I’m part of a community of people who want to serve God by serving others.