I went to a prep school that had three kinds of kids: rich kids, smart kids, and smart, rich kids. You had to be at least one kind to get in. It was the kind of school that prided itself on academic values, long and prideful school history, intellectual curiosity, yada yada. My parents divorced at age 2, so as I grew up, there was a lot of arguing over where I would go to school. My grandfather (my father’s father) was ardently pushing for me going to his alma mater. He owned some telecom company, so he was more than willing to pay the extra few zeros for my schooling there. My mother wasn’t sure she wanted me in a secular learning environment, and argued to the courts that she wouldn’t be able afford the extraordinary costs of schooling on her daily wage, if my father’s side reneged. It turns out, when one side of the family has many millions of dollars at their disposal and an army of lawyers, it’s pretty hard for them to lose.
And so in Kindergarten, I found myself in this school. And for half a decade, everything was pretty okay…that was until my grandfather lost his fortune. To this day, I am still not entirely sure what happened. I only saw the unpleasant aftermath. My father’s side of the family was in shambles; everyone pointing fingers and playing the blame game and such. All the money was gone. After the Gulfstream and the Rolls went, so did my trust fund. I had no idea what a trust fund was at the time, and so I really was pretty indifferent about whole ordeal. But that did mean no more school. And so in 5th grade I was asked by my mom (who had remarried) if I still wanted to go to this school. I was learning so much and had so many great friends. I told her that I really wanted to stay but I would understand if I couldn’t. I told her I could find happiness wherever I went.
Out of pure loving sacrifice, my mom and new step-dad fulfilled my wish. And so on I went.
10th grade rolled around. I was learning Latin, French, history, philosophy, physics, and all the rest, and I loved it. It was just as competitive as it was challenging. I was both simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by the competitive design of the school.
I always had great lunchtime conversations with friends, too. We frequented discussions about politics, philosophy, and science. Sometimes we would spend hours after school just sitting in the common areas, engaging in an endless spew of pensive conversation until the school closed. However, there was that “awkwardness” in the school that if you said something stupid, people would make it known to you.
And then there was always that niggling little issue of God. I thought that this would surely fall into that awkward category of discussion. Nevertheless, the topic had come up many times, but I mostly stayed quiet whenever it surfaced. I didn’t want my friends to know that I was still a believer. I didn’t want my friends to think that my faith was stupid, and therefore, that I was stupid. Being one of the few believers left in school, I was coming to question whether or not I actually was a believer? Did I actually believe in God? With everything that I have been taught and everything that I had read? I wasn’t so sure anymore. I put the troubling question out of my mind for the time being, hoping that one day I might return to it with new manifestations.
But nothing could prepare me for September 22, 2011. It was 1 PM, and I was getting through English class, one of the last classes of the day. We were reading some work of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, an atheist philosopher who notably claimed that “God is dead.” I don’t recall exactly what prompted the question, but I remember we went around the room asking whether or not we believed in God. I thought it was kind of probing, but I didn’t object. I began to mentally prepare my answer. I was still uncertain about my convictions, but I felt compelled to give an answer to the teacher. And in that split fraction of a second, I made up my mind just like that. “I don’t believe,” I said. My voice spoke before my mind. But my answer seemed to match everyone else’s answer. I had been asking the question of my true belief in God for 2 years before then, but hadn’t come to a definite conclusion. I left English class contemplating what I had said. Where was God? Why doesn’t he ever show himself? Why would a just, all-powerful God permit evil? If the Universe has a finite existence, how could God have an infinite existence? etc. I walked out of school thinking these questions. I came to firm conclusion, that a belief in God was no longer “logically tenable.” On September 22, 2011, I ceased to be a believer.
That evening, I had just walked in the door at home, and my mom told me to have a seat at the kitchen counter. She was making tea. It was never a good sign when my mom made tea. And she had that voice. That voice that I could only perceive as dooming uncertainty. I immediately knew something was up. I asked what was going on, but she paused for far too long. She was trying to find words, and I knew this was getting worse. Was grandma sick? Did we have to move? I began panicking. Maybe she found out I wasn’t a believer anymore? Did the teacher phone and tell her what I said in class? It didn’t seem likely, but I had no idea.
She gave me my tea, sat down, and sat in silence for a good minute. She looked up at me with glossy eyes.
“Your father was…in an accident,” she said. “He was going for a morning bike ride when a car…hit him head-on.”
“My son, your father is…gone.”
I was in an immediate state of shock. I could feel my legs shaking and my lips quivering. I began asking a fury of questions to try and mask whatever emotions were about to come pouring out in the next few moments. I learned that he was “alive,” but had no cerebral activity. After 6 hours of being in a vegetative state, his organs finally failed. He was gone from this Earth just like that.
After much sobbing and consoling, followed by more sobbing and more consoling, I eventually took hold of my emotions. I was incredibly confused. I just couldn’t understand how this could happen. I walked around for hours trying to put odds and ends together, but no matter how much I thought, it just didn’t make sense to me. It was so seemingly random that my father would be killed when he was just riding a bike. My initial shock began to pass, and soon I swelled into a balloon of hate. I remembered that I had renounced God in class. I knew then and there that God was up there, but I hated him. I said it out loud many times, in many expressive ways. I hated that he took away my father. I hated that he was punishing me for one stupid thing I said in class. I didn’t understand how it was fair to me or to my dad.
Like all healing wounds, the swelling went away after time. I felt my hate beginning to subside, almost like someone was there with me trying to make me feel better, without actually being there. It’s difficult to explain, but I really felt like there was someone or something trying to break into my heart. The best I can describe the feeling is as if your grandmother is giving you warm cookies just for you, and treating you with a wise, loving smile. In a month’s time, I had become strangely content with what had happened. I was finally at peace with God. I don’t think there has been a period in my life that I prayed more fervently than during that time. For hours each morning and night, I was on my knees begging to God for forgiveness, fortitude, kindness, and wisdom. I also prayed that he put my father in heaven.
I soon began reading the Bible again, just like my mom used to read to me. I remembered to turn to Psalm 16:1-4, but now with a newly found understanding. I later memorized this passage:
God, hear my cry;
pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.
Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.
I was a believer again. And now, God had a renewed faithful servant as long as I could breathe.
My father’s passing had brought on my renewed faith in The Lord. Had my father not passed-on then and there, in a manner that wouldn’t have been so perfectly timed, I cannot imagine what force would have been strong enough to guide me back to the shelter of His wings. It was at that moment, in that English class, that my faith in God could have been gone forever, and maybe nothing could have brought me back to Him. Maybe God knew something about my would-be future that I didn’t. It became more and more apparent to me that I wasn’t being punished, but saved…
I hope this story brings new perspective to those who may have been wrestling with the question of faith and reason as I was. Don’t let what you think to be “logical” or “reasonable” muddle you in your faith, even if some German tells you otherwise. Rather, take into your consideration these wise words I read somewhere:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.