I grew up and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I never took it seriously, and by age 15, I was a confirmed atheist -- of the Ayn Rand variety. She preached about these supermen whose only goal in life was their own pleasure. I believed I qualified as a superman -- intellectually, that is -- and I sure liked the thought that the pursuit of my own desires was my only responsibility in life.
Everything fit well. I did well scholastically and musically. I smoked pot to get pleasure and chased girls. The girl chasing didn't work out so well. It's hard for a girl to feel comfortable with a self-centered superman. I thought that, if I could just fill this one void in my life, I would be completely satisfied.
Next came college, Princeton University. A few arrests and a run-in with my Dad had cured me of the drug habit. Now it was beer and "babes", but "superman" was still unsuccessful with the latter. My brother Paul had begun to talk to me about Jesus, but I was convinced I knew better than him. New found athletic success, at crew, further convinced me of my superman-hood.
At the end of my sophomore year -- spring 1976 -- I got mono and had to take a break from crew. While recovering, I began rowing a single skull. One day I was caught alone out on Princeton's Lake Carnegie in a violent lightening storm. I thought to myself: "The lightening could hit me; I would die." My next thought was this: "Then I'll have to stand before God and Jesus and answer for how I've lived my life." (Actually, it was more a conviction than a thought.) I was terrified, not of death but of the judgement that would surely follow. I deserved hell; I was sure of it -- at that point in my life I had already been involved in heavy marijuana use, minor drug dealing, and even adultery. Right there in that boat, I started praying, "God have mercy on me!" I knew I needed mercy if I was to stay out of hell. I didn't know anything else. I didn't even want to stop doing wrong. All I knew was that I was in desperate need, and I was not ashamed to ask for what I needed.
The lightening storm passed, and I was still alive. God had been merciful!
Ever since then, I have believed that Jesus is exactly who he said he is: the Son of God, that he is really alive again, and that I will some day face him as my judge. From that point on I knew I needed mercy from him for judgement day, but I had no assurance that he would give it to me. I felt more like someone who had been granted a stay of execution than like someone who had been pardoned. This went on for 5 years.
I started reading the Bible, especially the Gospels, and I started talking with born-again Christians. I wanted to find out how to get on Jesus' good side so that he would grant me mercy. I wondered at the Jesus I read about in the gospels. I loved him, I cried while reading, but I did not turn away from my wrongs. I learned that he wanted us to follow him. I knew I should -- both to get on his good side and because it was right -- but I didn't want to, not just yet.
Someday, I figured, I would be done doing all the wrong things I wanted to do. Then I would follow Jesus. That would put me on his good side, and he would forgive me on judgement day. That day of repentance, however, never seemed to get any closer. All the while, I was terrified of dying before it should come. Why would Jesus want to forgive me?
In the mean time, I graduated, got a job, met Mary Reed, and got married. While we were moving into a new apartment in Princeton, we had some trouble. I had threatened some boys because of their wild use of fireworks. They came back at night and vandalized a van that my Dad had loaned to us. As a result, we were late returning it; so, we had to run an errand for my Dad in Philadelphia with it. We had to pick up some machines he had rented to a conference of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship.
I got into a conversation with some of the conference organizers. It turned to spiritual things. They told me that I had to begin with trusting Jesus, and that left to myself, I was never going to follow Jesus. They told me that Jesus was someone real who I could talk to, that I could ask him to straighten out my life, and that he would take responsibility for changing me.
All of this made a lot of sense to me, but I wanted like crazy to get out of there and collect my thoughts, to avoid any sort of commitment. Then, a voice inside me said, "They're right. Do what they say," but that voice was not mine. Left to myself, I never would have responded as I did: I followed as they led me in prayer, and I gave Jesus my life; I trusted in him to save me. Mary was there with me, praying for me. She had trusted in Jesus about a year before that.
After this Jesus led us to get involved in a church, etc...etc. In church I found out that Jesus didn't save me grudgingly. In fact, his whole reason for coming to live and to die and to rise from the dead was to save the lost -- people like me.
So, why am I writing all of this down? Well, I've told it to a lot of people already -- even in public church meetings. I tell it so as to encourage people about God's mercy; we can have it by trusting in Jesus. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21) It would be thoughtless of me not to share this story with my friends -- the story of my greatest hope. God offers hope to you regardless of your circumstances.
Go to top of page
Go to Psiaki personal page
Last updated: 12 April 2011