Interview Zach O. on Monday January 11, 2016
My earthly circumstances and spiritual condition mirrored each other in that I started out very connected to my family and very connected to God. All my family went to church together: mom, dad, sister and me. I had two very critical turning points in my life. The first was when my dad passed away when I was in 7th grade. That was a HUGE turning point in my life. I remember the day clearly. I was full of anger, confusion and didn’t know what to do. I went to my room, sat on the floor, stared at the wall and just broke down. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there, cried and felt a rush of emotions. In just a few years before losing my dad, I had lost my aunt, great grandmother and my grandfather all on my dad’s side. Then my dad.
When I lost my earthly dad, I felt I couldn’t go to my Heavenly Father either. Even years later when my stepfather entered into my life, that’s how I felt about God. When my stepfather tried to love me, pour into my life and be a father figure, I didn’t want to hear a word he had to say. My reaction was that he wasn’t my father and he couldn’t tell me what to do. The same took place with my Heavenly Father, it seemed like a stepfather relationship and I didn’t want to hear anything He had to say. It was like “just don’t talk to me”. So, with that feeling of being alone, I stopped a lot of things in my earthly life and in my spiritual life.
I felt lonely, abandoned and a big void. I tried to do things on my own and stopped going to church. My family and I were all going through stuff and dealing with all the changes. As a student I coasted through school and I was okay with that. My mom could see me drifting off into the party scene. I had started drinking, hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble.
My mom kind of kick started my second turning point toward the end of my freshman year of high school. My mom didn’t come down hard on me, she had a loving conversation with me “it’s time to go back to church”. If my mom hadn’t talked to me about going back to church, I don’t know if it would have happened. When I first went back to church I did not stop partying. I tried to live a double life. I put on a face when I was at church, and I put on another face when I was out partying. I tried to walk the line with one foot in and one foot out. Partying was something I would do on the weekends, then I would go back to my week and it was awful, draining. I was getting filled, but it was temporary and didn’t last. I realized that didn’t work and I couldn’t live both lives, and it wasn’t worth it to continue to go partying. At first I wanted to break all ties with my party friends, but that’s not what it’s about. I did stop getting invited to parties. The temptation was always there; it was whether or not I gave into it. I messed up my fair share of times. Now, I can be around it but no longer tempted to party and go back. I still have the friendships.
After being back in church, I had the feeling again of this is where I need to be and use my faith to help others. I had been back at church just a couple months when I started to serve. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a marking moment for me was when our Student Pastor invited me to come serve in the middle school ministry and I accepted. It wasn’t a big official meeting, just a casual conversation. Later I learned God whispered to him that he should take me and work with me. That’s how it all started. It was never a big explosion invite, just a small ask.
When I reconnected with Christ and started building a relationship a lot of the anger left and it became much easier to deal with. I had a rededication in my mind and my heart. I started to be able to find the joy. I never really liked school, but I wound up being able to turn school into fun. Prior to losing my dad I never questioned being loved or having love. I had head knowledge of Christ, now I have heart knowledge to back it up and that continues to grow. I look back on all that God has done and my relationship with Him is restored and strong. My relation with my stepdad is restored and strong. Early on the earthly relationships directed the spiritual condition, now the spiritual condition directs the earthly relationships. My mom, sister and stepdad and I are on the same road walking this together. It’s the same with God. I’ve pressed in and continue to press in. No one is perfect, but I think it’s the fact that you are trying to get closer to God and trying to get closer with family so that you have a successful life as a family and as a child of God and everything in between.
Every year since has been a rollercoaster, there’s always ups and downs and hills and valleys. There’s always change that happens when you are down. The student retreats and the mission trips I went on were huge for me. There’s always a spiritual high coming back, but there’s also lasting change to something inside us with the things we’ve done and what we’ve learned. The mission trips really marked me by seeing the faith in a community of people living in poverty, in contrast to our material abundance.
The biggest piece of advice I have for someone who has stepped out of church is to find the joy in the pain. Know that God is constantly chasing after you. God did not turn his back on me, I turned my back on God. My turning point wasn’t just because I went back to church, but building my relationship with Christ. I think we can fall into ruts with God where we don’t want to hear what He has to say. Eventually, we get out of it and we start learning. I could see what I had missed out on and all that God has done.
I relate to being without Christ the same as running for miles and being without water and you’re so thirsty you are ill and just want to give up. Then finally getting that taste of victory when you finish. When we have God with us we have that drive to keep going.