This has occurred to me on more than one occasion, but never more strongly than on a recent trip I took to Ridgecrest, N.C. There I knelt in front of a cross in the Prayer Garden, a cozy, tree-canopied garden at the Baptist camp. Twice in my life this spot has been a crucial place of meditation and prayer.
In the garden there is a small cross, maybe three-feet high, with wooden steps at the base from which to kneel and pray. This visit was Thanksgiving Day, 1995. Normally, Ridgecrest is chockfull of Christians spending time there for various seminars and worship-related events, but during this visit the camp did not appear to be in use. Not a soul was in the Prayer Garden. And I knelt before the small cross with my four-year-old son, James, and we prayed - or I prayed, and he listened.
I'm 36 now, and when I was 12 years old I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in that very garden, at that very spot, in that very position. Kneeling there 24 years later with my son, I felt a circle of sorts had been completed, or begun. I felt as though God was smiling on the image.
The premise that kneeling is a state of mind surrounded me as I reflected on the two-and-a-half decades I had spent walking away, even running, and sometimes attacking God and Christianity since that evening when I first humbly knelt in front of the little cross at Ridgecrest.
These days, I'm a newspaper editor at a daily newspaper company in Augusta, Georgia, and during the past 18 months or so, I have experienced what you might call a spiritual revitalization. I now have a renewed relationship with God, a resulting fresh and deeply enriched relationship with my wife and son and other family members, a wonderful church home and a healed heart - a heart now open to God's will in my life.
I'm beginning to arrive at a sense that I am making an important individualized journey, at the same time never alone, willfully wanting God to steer my ship of life. Now I've come to feel freed by allowing Him to hold me tightly.
This renewal started Dec. 17, 1994, when I was rushed to the local emergency room in the midst of a serious heart attack. Heart attacks will do that to you - make you start thinking about God in a favorable light, that is.
I don't meant to convey just another story about a person finding God in a hospital, although it does happen quite frequently and those are praiseworthy stories. But that night of being rushed into emergency angioplasty, and subsequent heart treatments of a similar nature, have been key reference points to my return to worship and obedience to our loving, living and gracious Lord. You see, the "emergencyness" of the situation made me realize, or re-realize, that my destiny was in God's hands.
Although I had led a life of absolute chaos, God never considered me a lesser child. But I had to make the choice to accept His love, and move onward, or not. While on the operating table I asked God to forgive me for my years of snide disobedience. I asked His mercy, and I was spared. And by the way, I did all of this very loudly, and in clear earshot of all the medical staff.
"I think your husband has gotten religion - he's been doing a lot of praying," said Dr. David Cundy, my cardiologist, as he spoke with my wife, Shirley, as she waited in the hospital lobby. But in truth, like The Prodigal Son, I was just hoping I could come home. At age 36, I thought a heart attack was rather unusual, and I suppose it is, but for years I had been asking for it. To summarize, I weighed 345 pounds at the time I was hospitalized (I'm down to about 280 now), and at one time had weighed as much as 450 pounds. I smoked an average of two packs of cigarettes a day. I drank very heavily, and almost always gulped hard liquor. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, with a particular penchant for lots of beef and pork.
What's more, stress was my middle name, and I pushed myself in my profession. Despite my grotesque personal habits, as well as a lack of a college journalism degree, by the age of 35 I had 15 solid years of newspaper experience writing and editing, as well as in newsroom management. I was something of a self-taught whiz at the newspaper biz, or so I used to enjoy thinking.
Tick...tick...tick. My heart attack shouldn't have surprised me one iota.
Spiritually, I was already dead, but thought of myself as a truly wise, insightful character. Basically, I was just a cynic (and of course, cynics know everything) with only slightly above-average intelligence. As it turns out, I had learned just enough philosophy, metaphysics, and religious dogma to qualify, by comparison, to a green or brown belt in karate ... I knew just enough to get myself killed.
As for Christianity, I thought it was for those with small minds ... wilted of will ... those who wanted packaged, simplistic answers to the critical questions relating to humanity ... those who could not comprehend the "higher" ruminations of the great philosophers ... those who wanted to first-and-foremost be a part of a group that had decided they were "right" by the strength of their numbers.
To me, to believe in Christianity was a sign of weakness, and an unwillingness to face the inevitable brutal truth that we all are simple biological units destined to procreate, consume and die. It wasn't a bright and cheerful point of view, but I thought it was truth, and truth most certainly had no obligation to human beings to have a bright and cheerful posture.
I believed humans created God, as well as the notion of an everlasting life, simply to alleviate the fear of death. I did not believe, and would sneer at those who did, that God created man, loves man, and loves individuals.
I had chosen to forget how I once knelt and prayed at Ridgecrest. I had forgotten that I had earnestly believed my prayer for salvation offered to the Lord many years ago. I chose not to recall that I once knew the simplicity and magnificent omniscience of grace.
All of my self-inflicted mental and physical anguish seems so idiotic now. I mean, if a kid flying a kite lets the string fly loose, it crashes. A kite flies by the force of being restrained and guided. It's just that simple, and this I forgot, disregarded and fought for nearly 25 years.
The willingness to be held, and yes, controlled to a degree, is what I am getting at when I say kneeling is a state of mind. It's good to actually do some physical kneeling too, so don't get me wrong on that point. I don't mean to minimize the act of submission kneeling represents ... quite the contrary.
But God has given us great freedom by setting up boundaries we are charged to respect, and I for one see those boundaries as facets of His remarkable grace.
Trying to arrange my life based on my will alone got me nowhere. Come to think of it, that's not entirely true. It got me in a hospital about to leave a wonderful woman widowed and a four-year-old boy fatherless. It got me dependent on alcohol and various other substances throughout my life. It caused me to choose the dangerous alternative whenever I was faced with alternatives: I've been in four automobile wrecks - four I remember anyway - after which I should have been buried. I'm 36 years old and have had three invasive cardiac procedures (my bill of health is quite good at the moment, thank God). I once had a size 60-inch waistline (now it's 44-inch; I'm still not a little fella.)
So now that God has given me yet another chance, is everything perfect? Do I now have all the answers to all my daily cares? Do I know the secrets of the universe?
Certainly, resoundingly, no, no, and no! But I do have a renewed measure of faith. God has never jerked His arms out from under me and let me fall completely into the mire. Of course, I am still pulled in ways contrary to my best interests, and contrary to God's will. In Romans, Chapter 7, Paul refers to the same tendency in himself. We all struggle with imperfection, doubts, and plain old sin. I'm pretty wary of those who would claim otherwise.
So these days - these wonderful days I have been blessed with - I am trying to approach life from a kneeling posture, actually a kneeling mindset. A thankful mindset.
As Paul wrote in Titus 3:3-5, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures ... But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us ... because of His mercy. (NIV)"
I know my son is very young, and he made not have a clue as to the significance I sensed at Ridgecrest as I prayed with him kneeling at the little Prayer Garden cross. But if I can teach him anything at all about his approach to life as his young spirit matures, my lesson of love would be, "Kneel, son. Kneel."
Greg Tyler is a newspaper editor in Augusta, Georgia, with "The Augusta Chronicle," and a free lance writer and poet.
Greg Tyler 102-A Meadowood Place Aiken, South Carolina, 29803 803-648-2199; firstname.lastname@example.org