God punched me in the face when I was 16. I can still look in the mirror and see the damage it caused to my tooth. But really, I don’t mind at all. I’m actually really glad that he did. But before I tell you why, let me back up a little and tell you my story.
I grew up in a wonderful, stable family where I felt loved and learned about God at a young age. But when adolescence hit, I forgot about faith and tried to find satisfaction without God. I felt a deep need to be accepted by my peers so I began to compromise the morals I’d been taught at home.
I got involved with friends who had a negative influence on me. It didn’t take long for me to start drinking, getting physical with my girlfriend and smoking a lot of pot. I wasn’t just out skateboarding like I told my parents. I became joyless and miserable. I remember feeling this profound emptiness – like I knew I was wasting my life and that I wasn’t meant to live like this. One evening when the house was empty, I curled up in a ball on the living room carpet and cried until my stomach hurt. I was looking for something to fill the void in my life.
A short time later I was in the van going to a movie with my dad. There was this thick, dead silence. My dad knew I was rebelling against everything our family stood for. He clearly wasn’t pleased. And I knew I was driving my mother crazy with worry. But instead of giving me a verbal lashing, my father looked over at me and said, “Michael, guess what?” I responded, “What?” knowing exactly what he’d say next: “I love you, son.”
It was the special way my dad had of telling us kids that he loved us. But I totally wasn’t expecting him to say that when I was busy deceiving my family. Experiencing my father’s unconditional love helped keep my heart from getting too calloused. In the back of my mind I felt God knocking on my heart: “Michael, guess what? I love you.”
But I continued to isolate myself from my family. I’d walk in the door and head straight to my room, hoping they wouldn’t smell the marijuana on me or see my eyes all blood-shot. I didn’t really talk to them anymore. This continued for about ten months until my brother came home from college. I was on the phone with my friend planning our next time to smoke up, but then I heard my brother yell across the house: “Michael is smoking pot!” I knew he’d been listening on the other phone.
I’d been ratted out, so I stormed off fuming, smoking a cigarette as I strutted through the park next to our house. My mom was watching through the window. That evening my dad came home and grounded me from my friends for a month.
I counted down the days till freedom and then went straight back to hang out with my friends. But by now someone new had asserted himself as the leader of the group. He’d been to juvenile prison and was tough as nails compared to me. Half an hour into my stay, this guy looked straight at me and said, “I don’t like you. I’m going to beat you up.” So we all went outside to the walkway between two houses. I put up my fists, ready for the fight. Wack! He walloped me right in the tooth. I’d never been in a real fight in my life. I knew I was no match for this guy, so I turned away and stormed back home. That was the last time I hung out with those so-called friends.
A Wake-up Call
I like to think it was God who punched me in the face that day. God knew I needed a wake-up call to question whether those friends were really good for me. I needed to realize they couldn’t give me the acceptance I was looking for. This was a huge turning point in my life. God used this experience to set me on the path to finding true acceptance in him.
It still took me a while to warm up to God and his love, but I was making steady progress in that direction. I found better friends and began participating in my church youth group. Eventually God worked his way into my heart, freeing me from the insecurities that drove me to go along with the crowd. I started to believe that God really did have wonderful plans for my life, and I discovered a sense of purpose helping out with music at my church.
My last few years of high school could have been very self-destructive, but they turned out to be some of the best years I’ve had. I was making Jesus my priority, and He was filling me with joy and peace. I stopped caring so much about what others thought of me. I felt his acceptance and that’s what mattered most. It still is to this day!