When I was two years old, my father died in an accident while working on an offshore oil rig off the coast of Fort Morgan, Alabama.
He was 31 years old. I have struggled my whole life to understand and deal with that loss. My family identified as Christian, but I really had no understanding of the Gospel. I was stuck in somewhat of an Old-Testament mindset where I was frustrated by a set of laws I did not understand and that I could not live up to. I grew up apart from Christ. I felt hurt by God and bitter towards Him. I questioned why God allowed my father to be taken from our family so abruptly and without explanation. I couldn't comprehend in my mind how a God who loved us could allow such heartbreak and pain to envelope us. I questioned God's love for me.
I spent my teenage years reveling in the brokenness all around me. I sought out other broken things to try to find the joy that I felt had been taken from me, but empty cannot fill empty. Friends often invited me to attend their church on several occasions and I would occasionally go, but the “false humility” I found in the small-town Baptist churches only reinforced my bitterness and made me feel like an outsider from what they were taking part in. Partially due to my hard heart towards God, I left feeling further separated from Him.
Then I had the blessing of meeting my wife when we were starting college.
She came from a similar background as I did, but she grew up knowing Jesus in a great church. I'll never forget on the day I met her father, he told me, “I don't mean it like it sounds (he did), but if you are going to hang around my daughter, you are going to go to church.” It was a funny (mildly threatening) joke, but I am so thankful that he said that to me.
The pastor at First Baptist Church of Denham Springs, Leo Miller, presented the Gospel in a way that I immediately identified with. It wasn't the story of laws, judgment, and anger that I thought I knew but a story of love, forgiveness, and grace that softened my heart as I learned more about God's love for me. Over the next year or so, I started to let go of my anger as I let Jesus into my heart and I gained an understanding that God wanted more for me than the heartache I had known. Instead, He wanted me to have a relationship with Him. I had never really been taught that before. I was studying astrophysics in college, so the idea that the Creator of the same universe I was studying wanted a personal relationship with me was powerful! It still is today.
There are still heartaches because we live in a broken world, but I am now able to find peace through forgiveness. Understanding how I have come short of the law but knowing that I have been forgiven by God through his son Jesus Christ has allowed me to extend that forgiveness to others. I no longer feel like I am on my own or that my joy is dependent on anything other than the love of our Father.
Remembering His sacrifice on my behalf and his grace in the face of my anger, I have been able to let go of my bitterness towards God and trust in His love for me.