One Little Candle

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heave.

I was nineteen when I committed my life fully to the pursuit of the Jesus; twenty-one when I finished the nursing program at the Walla Walla Community College and headed for Bethel, Alaska, to work in Phillip’s Alcohol Treatment Center.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my life by this time, for my passion was to help people know Jesus through music and teaching—or just simply help them if they refused Him.  I didn’t know how exactly to reach the goal or what steps to take to become the musician/minister I dreamed of being, but I knew I needed a job where I could touch those who struggled with life.  One of my older brothers offered me a job as a detox attendant at this small town’s treatment center, which was PATC.

Now I had no desire to work in a place like this, for me it was a step in the right direction but not a passion.  The pay was good and the opportunity to affect people off the charts—or so I thought at the time.  Reality set in within three months of working there, which means I began giving into despair about any positive influence I might have dreamed about.  Not only were the clients almost impervious to my ministrations of love, counsel and spiritual insight, the staff were almost as bad, though a bit smarter about being drunk or high in public.  The situation became more and more hopeless for me because, at 21, my idealism was being shattered by real life and the sense that people without hope or any chance of change without Jesus would leap at the opportunity I represented disappeared in a puff of logic.

At the time, being raised in a pacifistic denomination and trained to non-violence all my life (despite my older brothers’ bad influence), I began to see the need for situational violence and became quite adept at demonstrating said ethos when confronted with a particularly difficult person.  The warning shot across my bow that I was slip/sliding away from being a pacifist came in the shape of a skinny alcoholic named Andrew who decided he would try to put his knee where my nose was and proceeded to grab me by the hair in an attempt to yank my face in range of it.  Since I hate bloody noses and saw no reason to comply, I grabbed his wrist, yanked out a handful of hair from my own head his hand was firmly attached to, and proceeded to twist his arm in a police hold where the arm is firmly behind the participant, the wrist bent at a right angle by my right hand and my left hand slammed down on his elbow, which was facing the ceiling at this point.  I put enough pressure to make sure the pain cut through his inebriated state and asked him if it hurt.  He slurred a “yes” and I told him if he ever touched me again I would break his arm.

Shaking from anger and horror at how easily I had gone to the “dark side” I escaped from the main room to the office where fell on my knees in frustration and tears.  A while later I came out to check on Andrew and saw respect and not a little fear from him and the rest of the clients in the room.  It made me sad.  I had misrepresented my Master—again!  Would I never learn?!?  I still have no idea how Jesus would have dealt with the problem, yet at the time I thought I should have acted differently.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later where we find me in a discussion about the validity of Scripture and accuracy of the historical Jesus.  Believe me, my education in the SDA church prepared me somewhat for such arguments (this one was friendly by the way) but nothing prepared me for the sheer volume of information my two opponents and fellow workers joyfully threw at me.  It was like every piece of information knocked me a step backward till I finally stood with my back literally against the wall.  They spoke of the disparities in the gospels like theologians (which they were of sorts, both theology students from BYU), discussed the finer points of the rejected “gospel” of Thomas and generally shook my faith in my own grasp of the historical authenticity of Scripture I grew up with as a child.

I hung my head in frustration, shame and completely defeated, since I couldn’t answer their questions or reply to their doubts knowledgeably enough to make any dent in their position.  My determination to follow Jesus, however, remained firm for the reason I gave them as a reply.  This is roughly what I said:  “I can’t answer most of your questions and I have absolutely no idea what the “Q” gospel is, but I know one thing for certain:  the teachings of Jesus have made a difference in my life and I’m a better man because of them.”

Both their mouths dropped open and they looked at each other.  Both said,  “You’re right.  Of all the arguments you could have used, that’s one that is the most true, because you’re the most different person we’ve ever run across.  You’re kind to the clients, caring about the staff and generally more cheerful than anyone we know.”  I was a fairly new follow of Jesus and, as I’ve said, I know I didn’t display the most godly attitudes to the folks in the detox center, yet these men told me I lived in complete contrast to the norm of the others in the workplace.  These men knew my history at the place, since one was the director it and the other a fellow supervisor, yet they saw a difference in me despite my failures—and there were plenty of times I came to work not very cheerful, by the way.

I didn’t see it but they did.  I thought I was a complete washout as a Christian example; they saw me as an honest one.  I saw my struggles with morals and attitudes as a complete failure; they saw my efforts as a testimony to the power of God in my life.

I learned a valuable lesson that day:  It might serve a good purpose to be theologically sound, to be the best apologist possible and be able to take on the world as to the historical validity of Christ, but, the most important thing in following Jesus is to be like Him.  His teachings have to make a difference in us enough to be even a small (like I am) light to contrast the darkness.  I’m still not very bright, not influential or powerful in the gospel like some are, but the scope of my influence has nothing whatsoever to do with my efforts.  One little candle may not be enough to light the whole room, but it shines in the darkness and shows up the shadows in it.  One little light might not seem significant enough to make a difference, yet it is enough to keep us from barking our shins on the furniture and other obstacles  in the room.

I was told by my brother, Tom, years later that one of the clients went on to become a nun and helped many women out of their bad lifestyles and habits.  She told Tom that Tracy (brother) and I influenced her with our hugs and kindness.  To this day, though I remember the hugs and her wiping her alcohol soaked face on my flannel, I’m not sure what she meant by “kindness” because I don’t remember all the much in the way of interaction with her besides trying to keep her hands off my zipper.  She was always ribbing Tracy and I by saying,  “White boy better than Eskimo, eh?”

The truth is my spiritual taste was more like “salt-lite” than real salt at that time.  Religion still dominated my horizon more than a relationship and connection to God.  I still thought my efforts to obey the Law were somehow part of the changing process, instead of the real means to obedience which is being in touch with the mind of Christ.

I didn’t win the argument about the historical Jesus, know a fig about the “Q” gospel (though I’m more familiar with the idea now), or understand any of the philosophical conundrums brought on by the stories in the Bible—like the Ark holding all those animals, etc.  What won the day, however, and turned out to be a great lesson for me in the process, was the basic fact that I was different from the world in both attitude and expression, even though it was a small difference.  Strange as it may seem, I handled things in a kinder, gentler, and wholly more compassionate manner than anyone of my fellows, and they noticed.  I didn’t.  All I could see were my failings.  They could see my distress and genuine desire for godliness, and appreciated the realness of my relationship with Jesus.  Nothing else convinced them more effectively than the daily grind Christian life I lived in front of them—completely unaware as I seemed to be of it being as effective as it turned out to be.

So the lesson for today is:  Even a little Jesus in the heart makes a big difference in the world.  Let it grow to fill the heart with nothing else and the effect becomes downright amazing.  I’m still on the journey to this goal, but I get to see glimpses of what His presence in my life does in the world around me every now and then, which simply astounding.

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2 Responses to “One Little Candle”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    I loved your story of struggle because we all have them. Walking out the Christian life and stumbling a time and two as we make our way. I love how through this journey you not only grew deeper in relationship with God but the seeds you planted reaped great harvest.

  2. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    You know I still don’t know what happened to Hal and his buddy (can’t remember the other guy’s name) but something changed in me that day. It dawned on me that point/counterpoint in the debate style won very little in the way of hearts and minds to Christ. What wins the day is a consistent life full of grace, love and truth in Him. Doctrine is only important when the foundation is right. A great building structured on sand—even if much of the materials are excellent for it—lacks any ability to stand the storms that wash out the dirt under our feet in flash floods.

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