finding God's presence in the dark
Have you ever smelled something that took you to another place? Or maybe heard a sound that turned your brain into a time machine? Doctors call it “involuntary recurrent memory”, more commonly referred to in TV and film as “flashbacks”. For some reason every time I catch the scent of yogurt covered raisins (which isn’t very often) I instantly flashback to second grade, grabbing a snack out of the pantry in my parents’ house, right before a wild pitch with a tennis ball took out a window pane in our garage.
One of the more meaningful involuntary recurrent memories I have is from a road trip, my Junior yr in college, to Charlotte, NC. I’m sitting in the back seat of an old Geo Metro. The kid on my right smells like alcohol and energy drinks; we’ve stopped on a side street and the other guy in the back seat steps out to purchase some of his “medicine” (marijuana) for the trip. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the car who was over twenty-one; so when the Charlotte metro officer pulled up behind us I was more than a little concerned about how the next few minutes of my life were going to unfold. In that moment I asked myself a question that is very important to ask yourself in these types of situations. “What am I doing with my life?!”
My first semester at Lee University had its share of hardships; with my car being stolen, losing a close friend to suicide, coming back from Europe quite ill, and fighting with depression, not to mention the normal frustrations with adjusting as a transfer student. My head and my heart were burnt out. I had been trying to cope emotionally, catch up academically, and stay alive spiritually. But I wasn’t doing any of those things well.
My social drinking started becoming more of a hobby. This will get you friends when you live on an alcohol free campus. I became known as the guy with the bottle of Jack Daniels stored in the drop ceiling above my closet. Occasionally I would come across complete strangers in my room, with a freshly mixed drink, a couple bucks on the table and low muttered “thanks bro” as he walked out. I’m not sure when my closet attained open bar status, but when you’re hooking the right people up, you don’t get in trouble.
A couple days before I left for Charlotte I was talking to my Sister; she was trying to pray some sense into me. She said, “J. You need to start Loving the Lord; I don’t think you love God very much these days”. And she was right.
Sure between drinks and classes I had tried to find God a few times that semester. I looked for God with my guitar, on my bed, in that prison cell of a dorm room, I checked a few churches in my town to see if He was there, even looked for him on a couple of dates with “good girls”. But I didn’t find Him. At least not the Him I was looking for at the time.
I don’t remember anything about the ride to Charlotte, only that I couldn’t wait to get away from the dorm rooms in Bowdle Hall. So there I am, in a back seat full of very incriminating evidence scrambling to hide the empty bottles of Smirnoff ice and 211 Steele reserve. Praying to a God I hadn’t kept in touch with, to keep me out of jail. Sometimes it takes those aha! moments of “what had to go wrong in my life to end up here?” to really clear up the brain fog.
The next few minutes seemed like an eternity, and I may not have been very close to God earlier that day but you better believe I remembered how to pray real quick. So somewhere between answered prayer and dumb luck that officer stayed in his a car and carried on with his business. The next morning, as a sign of good faith I decided to pay God a visit. I went to church with my friend Manny. Manny’s father was the pastor of a black church in Charlotte. After the service Pastor Threatt invited me over for lunch. That afternoon I opened up, I told him about my roommate’s death, my stolen car, my search for a God I had once loved so much. I explained how I had been feeling burnt out and how any attempt to find, love, or serve God was kind of empty and more out of habit than faith. Fully expecting him to commiserate with me and pat me on the back, imagine my surprise when he said, “The only time people get burned out is when they don’t spend enough alone time with GOD. Let me show you.” He then took me upstairs to a small finished attic space. It was there in that little room with its pink carpet, plush pillows, and unscented candles for the first time in a very long time I felt the presence of the LORD. Pastor Threatt told me that this was his prayer room, where he “hung out” with God. Usually I would say this was hokey but down deep I knew it to be true. I could tell this man had long talks with God, like they were friends or brothers or something.
Even though my ride to Charlotte wasn’t very memorable I’ll never forget the ride back. I was silent the whole time. I felt the darkness starting to lift and the words of my sister Lore’ and Pastor Threatt kept repeating in my head. Love God and spend alone time with Him. Could it really be that simple?
john 15 26 "When the Advocate is come whom I will send to you from the Father's presence--the Spirit of Truth who comes forth from the Father's presence--He will be a witness concerning me.
John 16 27 for the Father Himself holds you dear, because you have held me dear and have believed that I came from the Father's presence.