When I was young, before I knew any theology or doctrine, before I had gone to a church or became a Christian - I prayed. I prayed simply as a child prays and I felt things. All I knew about God was the nativity play I was in at school, the one where I wore my mum's tea towel on my head with her aerobics sweat band. I remember feeling at times a sense of wonder and at other times deep yearning and even depression. I remember at play time, staring at horizons and feeling like there was something else going on that I was missing out on, or somewhere else I needed to be.
I remember writing a letter to God on the worst day of my life, that was being sent to my room in front of all my friends at my birthday party.
Fast forward a few years and I am 16 and had fallen into the drug and gang culture. I had previously made a decision to become a Christian at age 11 and was now not only smoking a lot of marijuana and drinking alcohol, but I was feeling pretty guilty and ashamed about it all. I would say that the deep sense of guilt and shame is probably how I became addicted rather than the high I would get. It was dark, tortured and lonely times that I needed to avoid. One of my great pleasures I had at this stage was when we had scored our weed, we would excitedly drive off to some secluded but beautiful view point to smoke it. I remember that these times with my friends we would talk. We would talk about life, girls, stories and really open up as best we could as messed up male pot smoking teenagers.
At 17 I had experienced a series of tumultuous events and brushes with the law and death and I had come back to church. I had encountered God in a powerful way but now I had to learn to live differently. None of my friends were Christians and I felt really on the outside of the church. I would faithfully attend but I felt alone most of the time. People in the church didn't really know how to handle me, except one faithful couple that took me under their wing. This period is where I really spend extended time in prayer. I would drive to hilltops or lookouts, as I previously done as a pot smoker, but I would bring my worship music and bible. I hungered after God's presence like a drug. It was probably only in these prayer times that I could fight off feelings of shame and loneliness, that still haunted me. I threw myself into the life of the church, I was at everything, every prayer meeting every youth group. I would set up and back down for youth group and pick up and drop kids off. I would throw myself into books and DVD about prayer (before YouTube, you had to pay for this lol). I could spend hours a day in prayer and bible reading but I still had inner demons. These demons of rejection, loneliness and shame would be waiting for me after my prayer times, or after I had worn myself out running around for everyone at church like a good 'servant'.
I guess I experienced a kind of a burn out and I backslid. These are terms I will address later and how there is an almost necessity to them. But at the time all I knew is no matter how much I prayed, or gave or did, I couldn't get beyond a certain stage. I couldn't get beyond. I was still somehow tied down and captive. This sense that I had hit the ceiling and couldn't breakthrough are things I recognise retrospectively. At the time things just felt wrong and hard and I felt worn out and empty. What do you do when the things like prayer, bible reading and church attendance actually wear you out instead of refresh you? Well in my case, my old life slowly crept back in. It happened so gradually that I honestly didn't notice. Before I knew it, I was back into drugs worse than ever and the need to stay high, to not face those old demons of rejection, loneliness and shame, was stronger than ever before. I was so obsessed with avoiding those dark places by using drugs that the pit became so deep that I somehow knew I could never get out. It was this period that led me to significant breakthrough, deliverance and transformation. These three things, to me, are very important in becoming a contemplative. A lifestyle of prayer, called contemplation, is primarily a response. It's a response to who God is and how he acts and reveals himself to us. We are not responsible to achieve this, it's a work of grace. To be continued...
Mark Flippance's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-flippance.html
Mark is a Press Service International young writer from Adelaide.
His previous articles can be read here: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-flippance.html