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John’s Story

By Tim Hartzell

I first met John when he walked into my office. I introduced myself as he collapsed into a chair across from my desk. He sat quietly, collecting his thoughts and his emotions before speaking. It was obvious that he had experienced some recent setbacks and the weight of life was bearing down on him. I asked him to tell me his story. He talked for an hour.
He had been abused by his parents — physically by his father and mentally by his mother. And sadly, he had witnessed them abusing each other. It got so bad that the state removed him from his home and placed him in foster care when he was just 11 years old. His foster parents provided a safe place and even introduced him to faith and church, but when he turned 18, he headed out on his own.
He married early and it didn’t go well. Within a year he was divorced. Several years later he met a woman with two young children. They married and he inherited an instant family — though he had no idea how to be a good husband or a good father.
But instinct told him he needed to provide for them, so he worked hard. In time, he became somewhat successful as a self-employed carpenter. A good income led to a house and a mortgage and two car payments — and the need to work very long hours. It was constant pressure. It seemed that all he did was work, eat and sleep. He just couldn’t get ahead. Distance grew between him and his wife. His step- kids were out of control. His calendar was out of control. His finances were out of control. He was frustrated and angry — his life was full of drama — nothing but tension.
But the worst part was that his wife had decided to divorce him. As hard as things were, he truly loved her and the kids. The thought of losing them cut him very deeply. He was worn out and at the end of his rope. He walked into my office just hours after his wife had handed him the divorce papers. The rejection hurt most of all.
John’s story is sad, but it’s not unusual. As a pastor, I hear similar stories — almost on a weekly basis. The details of each story are unique, but there is always a common denominator: a life filled with unending tension.
I shared the good news of Jesus Christ with John that day. At the end of our conversation, John prayed and surrendered the control of his life to God. The tension gave way to peace.
John’s immediate circumstances didn’t change after he prayed. His wife still pursued the divorce. He tried very hard to save his marriage, but in the end, the divorce was finalized.
And while the difficult circumstances of his life had not changed, John had. Prior to his prayer of surrender, every decision John made was guided by instinct as he reacted and responded to life - there wasn’t any rhyme, reason or direction. But since surrendering his life to God, John was living with purpose and intention. He built some deep and meaningful friendships in his new church family. He attended a Bible study on the Gospel of John and another on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. For the first time in his life, the Bible was making sense — and his understanding was resulting in healthier decisions.
John could sense the presence of God’s Spirit in his life. He found himself praying and listening throughout the day. It seemed that God was with him all the time — and instead of guilt and fear — God’s presence brought hope and peace and guidance. It was amazing to never be alone.
He began serving others and even started a small group for divorced men. He was gaining a sense of purpose, something far bigger and more important than the self-absorbed instincts that had guided most of his life. Wise financial decisions allowed him to get out of debt — and to even become generous! Work no longer defined his life. He had time to breathe and time for friends. He was feeling free and at peace for the first time in his life.
Twenty years have gone by since the day John walked into my office. He lives in God’s love - and he really enjoys living with a God-directed purpose. Like everyone else, John still faces difficult trials and setbacks — tension will always be a part of life. But in the midst of it all, he is sustained by an inner peace that fills him with hope. When I shared with him that I was writing this article, John said, “Make sure you share the good news of Jesus with them.”
Here are the five essential truths that I shared with John twenty years ago:
1. God loves you.
2. God designed you with a purpose.
3. Pride (sin) separates us from God’s love and purpose.
4. Through Jesus Christ, God extends forgiveness and reconciliation.
5. Through surrender (belief), we are reconciled to God’s love and purpose.
These statements are packed with meaning and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you about each one of them in the next five Faith Conversation articles.