I grew up in a small fishing village on the East Coast of Scotland called Pittenweem surrounded by ghost stories, tales from the deep, gawking tourists, and horror stories from the witch trials that swept 17th and 18th century Britain – the scorch marks of two burned witches still cling to the cemetery wall! My father was a fishing boat owner and captain. His father was the same, his father the same, and so on. I left school at 16 and followed in their footsteps.
Although Scotland has a rich religious heritage, Christianity was largely alien to me. I considered the church a waste of time. All I wanted to do was work, earn money, and go to the pub with my friends. But as I got into my late teens, I recognized that there was something wrong with my life. Despite the money I was earning, the loving family I was part of, my friends, and my great career prospects, it was like I was living in a vacuum that sucked all the goodness out of life into it.
Self-harm and suicide
Desperately I searched for something new in the hope that it would ease the hollowness I was experiencing. Leaving the fishing industry, I moved to Aberdeen to go to university. I expected the change to fix things, but instead, the vacuum on the inside developed into a pit of hopelessness and blackness. I felt constrained and oppressed by the invisible chains that bound me.
The night turned to-day and day-to-night. During the lonely nights, I thought of imaginative ways to kill myself. It was the only way I could think of to find relief. However, I lacked the courage to go through with the devices of my imagination. The only way I could make the pain go away was by slicing my skin open with a razor. This worked, but the razor’s edge eased the mental turmoil only momentarily.
Then one night I found the strength. Very early on a cold December morning, after a day of heavy drinking, I walked out into the sea at Aberdeen beach. I remember the full-moon reflecting clearly upon the sea’s tranquil surface. Everything seemed welcoming, like nature itself approved of what I was doing. In response, all I had to do was walk out until I got beyond the point of no return.
I cannot accurately remember the unfolding events because of my drunkenness, but at some point, I came to my senses and realized that I needed help. I vaguely remember walking back to my apartment freezing and soaking wet. Along the way, I had to buy cigarettes at the 24-hour service station because of the sea-water soaking mine. Heaven knows what the attendant thought when I came to his window looking like a drowned rat.
Shortly after I went to the doctors, “You’re suffering from depression, ” he said. “A chemical imbalance in your brain is causing it. Here, take these pills, and… stop drinking.” He said a little more than that, but that was the gist of it.
I did not listen to his advice. I took the pills but increased my alcohol intake. As I did so, the doctor increased my dosage. One good point from the medication was that I did not try to commit suicide again, but I did continue to self-harm. Overall, I felt the medicine did not work. The pills were like putting a fresh coat of plaster over a crumbling wall or whitewashing rotten wood. The only thing that eased the mental anguish for a few seconds was the razor’s edge.
One day during summer break I went with my mother to Peterhead for the summer. My cousin lived there, and she invited me to church to hear a guest speaker. I did not want to go, but the invite of free food after the service compelled me. I arrived at the church deliberately late and went to where I knew they were going to serve the food. While I was there waiting for the service to end, a teenage girl began speaking to me. It did not take her long to start talking about God and Jesus.
“God sent his son to earth,” she said. “To free humanity from the clutches of evil, so that we can live our life with God in this life and into the next. But we must accept his act of liberation. We have to apologize to him for the way we’ve lived our life and accept him as our savior.”
The conversation ended amicably, but I remember thinking, “How dare you tell me about a god, who probably doesn’t exist, and suggest I must apologize to him for the way I’ve lived my life! It should be the other way around. If there is a god, he should apologize to me for the way my life is!
Despite my resentment at what the girl said, something inside of me would not let it drop. I heard other people speak about Jesus before, but what they said fell on deaf ears. I do not know what it was about the conversation that struck me. Perhaps at this point in my life, my desperation made me more responsive, or maybe she spoke in a way that demanded my response. I honestly do not know. However, spoke as if Jesus was real and that she knew Jesus.
My salvation moment
I got home late that night and fell to my knees on the kitchen floor. “God, if you’re real, then I want to meet you, and if you’re real, then I want to know you the same way that girl at that church seems to.”
I knelt there for hours in the silence of the empty room. I resolved not to move until I either received a response or knew for certain that there was no god. As time passed, I heard a voice come out of the silence. It seemed to call out from the depths of my soul and say, “Robert, if you stick with me, then I’ll stick with you.”
A colossal barrier broke inside me, and I began to sob. My tears did not flow from a stream of self-pity at the hopelessness of my situation. They rushed from the realization that up to that point I was living my life in total defiance to a good God who wanted what was best for me. Under the weight of conviction, I apologized to God for the way I lived my life. I got on my knees a hell-deserving man who was experiencing hell in his life, and I stood up with my heart renewed in God’s sight through Jesus Christ.
I went to bed that night, and everything was different when I woke up in the morning. The grass was greener. The sky was brighter. I knew that I met God the night before. I felt free and liberated. Immediately I stopped smoking and drinking. The need was no longer there. The depression left, and I stopped taking the antidepressants immediately. Later I went to the doctors. I told him that I had met God in Jesus Christ and that I did not need the depression medication anymore. The doctor replied, “Well, you certainly look happier.”
Since that day, I have experienced a freshness and newness of life that I could never have imagined. I met Jesus, hence the dramatic change in my life. And I am sharing my experience with you, to tell you that he can meet you too. He changed my life, and he can change yours also.
Many years later I went to Aberdeen beach with my wife and Joshua. Hannah-Rose and Adalyn were not born then. At nearly the same spot where I tried to commit suicide, I played on the seashore making sand castles with my son. My heart rejoices as I consider this, and I triumphantly think, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15.55, KJV).
This is my salvation story. What is yours?
I invite you to say this prayer if you have never met Jesus and allowed him to transform your life.
“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.”
It is not about the prayer. It is about the desperation of the heart who longs after God. I did not say a long-winded elaborate prayer. I just got on my knees desperate for an answer, and that answer revealed itself through Jesus Christ. With that revelation, I realized my need for a savior. A theologian did not have to explain to me any theological terms for me to meet Jesus. All I had to do was be desperate and willing to let him in.
For the next chapter of my story read this blog – A Leader’s Discouragement.