By Preacher Chris Rathbone
Several years ago, I received a call that a near tragedy had taken place in the life of a family I knew. The family wasn’t directly connected to the church of which I was pastor, but I felt a heavy burden to reach out and offer to help, if by nothing else, just praying with them.
A couple of days passed before I had a chance to make the trip to the hospital. My heart was broken as I stepped into the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. A teenage boy in the family had overdosed and almost died. Though the family hardly knew me, they began to open up when I told them I was a pastor and had heard of their situation and had come to pray with them. Tears streamed down the faces of the family members as they shared what had happened that seemed to lead up to the events of the last few days. To be honest, I struggled greatly to even know what to say or do to help them. Somehow just being there with them seemed to bring comfort. Maybe it was because they just felt that someone cared. Doctors had told the family that they felt the young man would pull through but would likely have permanent effects from the overdose.
Time passed slowly as I witnessed family and friends enter and exit the room. They would walk in, look at their loved one, speak a few brief words, and look at me and then exit. Many young people were there that day coming in and out of the room. Each one entered and if they were not already crying, they would start as soon as they saw their friend. Some would try to speak but could not, and would leave weeping. Many looked at the family and at me. What I saw in their eyes pierced my heart. To this day, I remember the look in their eyes. One could tell that inside their hearts there was hopelessness and emptiness just by looking in their eyes.
After I left the hospital, I too cried, most of the way home that evening. Questions rolled over and over in my mind. As I remember him there in the ICU room, just struggling to hold on to life, I asked myself, “What was he looking for?” Surely lying there in that bed connected to life support wasn’t what he was hoping to find, was it? Did he think that somehow the drugs would help him find something or escape from something? What was he expecting to find at the bottom of that pill bottle? Was it hope? Was it meaning? Was it simply an escape to try and forget something in his life? I wondered what he thought he would find as my heart took me back several years.
Many people seem to search throughout life for that one thing that is going to fill up that emptiness in their heart. My search came through alcohol. My friends and I would usually go every weekend somewhere to drink. We didn’t drink to be sociable with each other, we didn’t drink because it tasted good, we drank to get drunk. The cycle repeated itself over and over again. We would sober up long enough to recover from the previous weekend and by Wednesday or Thursday we were planning for the next. For the most part, I did a pretty good job of hiding what was going on in my life. Some people knew, but most didn’t realize the struggle I was having inside me. You see, during this whole time I was attending church services with my girlfriend on Sunday mornings. Some services I felt miserable. Mostly I went to keep Michelle (now my wife of 22 years) off my case!
During this time of struggle, a faithful preacher, Buster Yelton, would preach the gospel every service I attended. He shared of how much God loved me, yes me! He talked of just what Christ went through on the cross to forgive my sin and change my life. He taught of God’s great plan for my life and that by faith and repentance I could be a new person in Christ. It seemed as if every time he preached, I was the only one in the building! Have you ever felt that way?
One particularly weekend, the whole direction of my life changed. We had drunk until about 2 a.m. Sunday morning. This was one of only a couple of times that I had drunk until I physically passed out. The last thing I remember was asking my buddies to help me get turned around in the bed of my truck because I was about to be sick. After that, I remember nothing. The next morning I woke up in the same position, hanging over the tailgate. Rolling over in the bed of the truck I felt as if I had been hit by a car. There was no way I could make it to church that morning.
Something different happened that morning though as I lay there looking up through those Hemlock trees with the sun shining through the limbs. For the first time, I knew that no matter how many times I did this, it would always be the same. All that was ever at the bottom of those cans and bottles was nothing. There never had been anything there and there never would be! That emptiness inside me would never be filled by alcohol, or anything else, just by Jesus. Now friends, you can say it was the alcohol or my imagination, but I know what it was. That morning I heard clearly, for the first time in my soul, the God of all creation speak to me. He spoke louder than any audible voice ever could. He said, “Chris, this is not why I created you, this is not my plan for your life. What you are searching for can only be found in Me! I’m waiting for you.” That weekend was the last time alcohol would ever control me. Shortly after that experience, I gave my life and heart to Jesus. He gave me forgiveness, hope, direction, peace with God, and a foundation that I can stand on no matter what happens around me.
This is difficult to share knowing that so many who never knew will now know. But I want those who are struggling with alcohol, drugs, ungodly relationships, or whatever it may be, to know that you will never fill up that emptiness inside no matter how hard or how many times you try. All you will ever find is emptiness. Let Christ fill that longing and emptiness in your soul with Himself. Know that what you are in right now is not why God created you. Come to Jesus and find what you have been searching for all along. Years from now, you will be able to look back over your life and see where God has brought you and what He has brought you out of. You don’t have to stay where you are at now. God has so much more for you than this. Then one day, together we can lift our hands to the Lord, and give Him praise and honor for changing our lives.
I often remember as I reflect on what God has done for me that my life wasn’t always this way!
John 10:9-10 – I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (KJV)