by David J. Goss
My father's work took our family to a new state every three years or so. Moving so often, I had to get used to leaving friends and making new ones, which was not always an easy thing for a little kid. I worked from an early age to get along with my peers. Being disagreeable about anything usually meant you weren't invited to the next birthday party. It wasn't as if I didn't have a personality, just that I knew the value of not rocking the boat. So when my friends wanted to go steal some gum or get in trouble, I was certainly the last person to tell them that was wrong. Heck, I wanted friends.
I really had not gotten into too much trouble by the time my freshman year in high school came around. During my freshman year in high school, I got involved in Young Life (a Christian youth organization) because a lot of my friends were going. It was on Tuesday nights and everyone would get together for some kind of activity, and then one of the leaders would talk about Jesus Christ and what he did. This was where I would fall asleep. I had gone to church with my parents, and believed in God, but never gave it much attention. In the Spring, the leaders were building up this summer camp called Woodleaf and calling it "the best week of your life". They had all sorts of sports and games and fun things to do and there were a lot of cute girls going, (even if they tried to talk more about Jesus, I could just tune out like I always did), so my best buddy and I decided to sign up.
Every day at the camp, we would play sports or go swimming or ride four-wheelers; then in the evening we would get together for singing and praying and a little Bible study. I really liked when the leaders spoke about Jesus and that he died for me on the cross. They told me that to become a Christian and to go to Heaven, I only needed to invite him into my heart and ask him to be my Lord and Savior. I looked around and saw that all the leaders and many of the campers were genuinely happy. They were crying tears of joy and I knew they weren't faking it. I decided at the end of the week to invite Jesus into my heart. I will never forget the feelings I immediately felt. I was truly overcome with the love of Jesus and I will never forget that moment or that week.
My joyful walk with the Lord did not last, however. I would try to tell my friends about Jesus, but they weren't interested. I would even tell them that they shouldn't be drinking, or doing drugs, or sleeping with their girlfriends, but they didn't like that. My friends started to not include me when they did things, and I couldn't handle the rejection. In the next year, I succumbed to the peer pressure I felt to drink alcohol and do drugs. I thought that this would get me my friends back, and to a great extent it did. But in ignoring the call of Jesus in my heart, I lost the happiness, security, and joy which came with that relationship. I became convinced that to get that happiness back I would have to be well-liked and cool in everything I did.
In the following years, I began showing less and less interest in school and more interest in partying. My parents noticed this and went for the typical disciplining measures which I naturally rebelled against. Our relationship got pretty tense and when it was time for me to head off to college, they were probably more excited than I was to see me leave. In my freshman year, I discovered the joys of sex, and I realized that sexual conquests made me even more cool to my peer group. I joined a fraternity and was focused on increasing my popularity through extra rowdy and crazy drunken affairs involving drugs, alcohol, girls, and danger. All this time, I was increasingly aware of an emptiness growing in my heart. I had completely lost the ability to cry or show my inner feelings. I was hardened towards any feelings of love which are meant to accompany a sexual encounter. And where I may have been disillusioned enough to believe that my coolness was at an all time high, I was at a spiritual low.
During my fraternity years, the Lord never stopped loving me or looking out for me. Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons I joined the fraternity that I did was because of a young man named Tony. Tony was a star football player, had a beautiful girlfriend, and was in a popular fraternity. From all outward appearances, Tony was a real stud, but there was something different about him. He was a Christian. He didn't get drunk or screw around. He was fun to be with and carried the love of Jesus with him. And even as lost as I was, I was drawn to Jesus living in Tony and I wanted his influence on me.
My first year in the fraternity, Tony introduced me to some other Christians he knew in the community. I was attracted to them and to what they had to say, but I realized that they would not approve of my hedonistic lifestyle, so I decided to separate myself from them. This was during my first year in the fraternity, and I had a long list of sexual conquests left to get through. Fortunately for me, these friends never stopped praying for me and during my last year at Stanford it paid off.
Throughout college, I played volleyball and it brought me all sorts of attention from guys and girls alike. I developed a huge ego concerning my abilities to win a volleyball match and show a girl a good time. The fact that I was playing athletics at the college level taught me many positive things, but for the most part, my volleyball experience was very selfishly motivated. One of the good things to happen to me from my volleyball experience was that it showed me that drinking alcohol and doing drugs did not lead to good athletic performances. So, after my sophomore season, I decided to give those up during the season. My motivation was not all pure, however, for I sensed that being a good volleyball player probably got me more girls than being a drunk, but it was a good realization all the same. This was helpful, because it allowed me to clear my mind and think straight-a complete novelty to me at the time. I had deluded myself into thinking that volleyball, girls, and good-times were the keys to life. By not drinking, I was able to see through the fog concerning my spiritual well-being, for I was living a fantasy.
This enlightenment happened during my senior season on the volleyball team. I was able to see that the path I was on was in the opposite direction of true happiness and joy. I realized that what I was missing was Jesus. I immediately called up one of Tony's Christian friends named Skip. Skip and I started spending time with each other and with the Bible, studying God's Word. My priorities began to get realigned. Then one day on a trip to Sacramento with Skip, we told each other the stories of our lives. I found out that Skip had been involved in much worse things than I had. I discovered through Skip that Jesus loves us no matter what we do, and that he is ready to forgive all of our evil deeds and sins. I decided to rededicate my life to Jesus and ask him to be my Lord and Savior. I immediately felt filled with his love for me and I lost all the guilt that I had been carrying around. My life following that decision has been filled with happiness and the realization that I am living life the way God intended us to live. This last spring, I decided to take some time off from a promising volleyball career to gain Bible knowledge and confidence. I had already strayed from the Lord once, and do not wish to again. I can't say that life is without it's potholes and tripwires. I face challenges and doubts every day, just as all Christians do. But I am 100% sure of my salvation and the presence of Jesus in my life and it's incredible. I also realize that what the world views as keys to success and happiness are usually opposite of the things which the Bible teaches. This is why I chose to take time off from volleyball. I was playing for myself and not for my creator. For as the Bible says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Col. 3:17) I have direction, motivation, and joy where there was previously none, and I pray every day that I can glorify the Lord with my words and deeds. And as Philippians 3: 13-14 says,"...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
If you can identify with any of the fears, insecurities, or delusions which I was beset with then I urge you to ask Jesus into your life. And even if you don't identify with any of this, I would ask you to consider this step anyway. The quality of my life and the real, thoughtful, heart-felt things I deal with on a daily basis overshadow the years where I may have been cool or had a lot of beer-buddies. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee material wealth or success or more friends, but it does guarantee you eternal life and the joy that comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ-I have lost a number of friends as I've gained some others, and I can tell you, the difference between the quality of those friendships is astounding. All one needs to do to enter the kingdom of God is bow his head in prayer, tell Jesus that you believe in him and who he said he was, and ask him to be your Lord and Savior. As it says in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God gave us the gift of free will, so please use that free will to make the right choice.
September 13, 1993