Every Christmas we make a huge fuss commemorating the birth of a Baby who lived about 2000 years ago. We say this Baby is the “reason for the season”. But why? What has this Baby ever done for us?
Each week millions around the world take time out of their busy schedules to attend church and worship this Baby. But why? What has this Baby ever done for us?
Some people find God at the bottom of a bottle; I found God at the bottom of a bed.
Around the world, people claim to live their lives for this Baby. But why? What has this Baby ever done for us?
I’ll answer that question simply by telling my story.
By all accounts I started out as a pretty happy kid: friendly, laid back and curious about life. Yet 20 years later I was 40 kilograms overweight, depressed and my life was a mess. That once happy kid sat at a railway station contemplating whether to step in front of the next train. Somehow a kid who’d been content just being alive ended up thinking life itself was intolerable.
Something had gone wrong. Somehow I ended up broken—broken not by a single traumatic event but by the accumulative weight of a broken way of thinking, reinforced by 20 years of experience.
As a kid, I grew up thinking that I was the problem. I blamed myself whenever something went wrong. I believed there was something I’d done, some ideal that I’d failed to live up to or something that I’d not accomplished that made me unworthy. Everyone else was smarter, more athletic and more talented. But I was a failure—just never enough. Never intelligent enough, never talented enough, never attractive enough. It was the story that I told myself. A story reinforced by enough experience that I came to believe it as one of life’s unquestionable truths.
I felt a pervasive sense of shame about myself. At some point I built a facade to ensure the real me—that broken, shameful failure—was never seen. I fitted in but didn’t really belong. I was alive but not really living.
That facade meant that mine was a life without real connection. Without meaningful connection life hurt and it hurt a lot. The only thing I really knew how to do was to numb the pain and I numbed just to survive. I numbed how I felt with food and got 40 kilograms overweight. I numbed with video games and over the better part of a decade spent more than 5000 hours immersed in other worlds.
Over time life became dark, heavy and suffocating. It was like being trapped under a rock; a rock I was powerless to move. After too long living under that rock I came to believe that there was no way out. I was stuck. Today was lousy and tomorrow was going to be exactly the same. That pervasive sense of powerlessness led to despair. In the midst of that despair I lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.
In that moment, temporary numbing just wasn’t enough and my mind turned to a more permanent solution. And there I sat at the railway station waiting for the next train. I was lost, alone and hurting.
I didn’t like myself and I didn’t like my life.
Fortunately, that crisis passed and my life returned to its normal routine. Life was to be endured, not enjoyed. The best that I could hope for was to numb how I felt enough to survive. And that’s how life continued until a perfect storm of events plunged my life into a new chaos.
In 2011, Dad came out as gay. None of us wanted this, but the truth of Dad’s sexuality meant that my family crumbled and fell apart. I was already barely coping with life and suddenly a key support structure was collapsing around me. I was ill-equipped to handle my own emotions and suddenly I was desperately trying to support others in whose eyes I daily saw a deep and abiding sadness.
Three weeks after Dad came out, I started a law degree at university.
Compounding my family situation and the academic challenge of law was the personal identity crisis triggered in me when Dad came out.
Dad had always been one of the most stable, consistent people I knew. He was patient, kind and generous. He was hardworking, accepting and an all-round good bloke. He represented (and still does) so many of the qualities that I wanted to be.
Dad’s coming out was something I didn’t see coming and it blew my mind. With time I wondered, If I had not seen this coming, what else might I have misunderstood about Dad? What had I misunderstood about the rest of my family, my friends or the world and my role in it? It began subconsciously but with time that thought—what else had I misunderstood?—broke my understanding of everything.
We all have a schema through which we understand life—the things about life we know to be true, our understanding of the world and our place in it. And suddenly mine was shattered.
My life had hurt before but this was something new. As my thoughts waged war and the chaos in my head worsened, I found a new way to numb the pain and turmoil.
One night at the end of a particularly stressful semester a friend from uni and I caught up for a drink. One thing led to another and that night I had sex for the first time.
As an experience it felt great and for a brief moment the storm that raged inside my head was calmed. In that moment I had escaped the chaotic reality of ordinary life.
But I also knew that the experience was an anomaly—a once off, not to be repeated. A relationship was never going to work. In that drunken moment I’d gotten carried away and let someone in far more than I’d expected. But I’d gotten lucky and she hadn’t seen that dark part of me. Sustaining a relationship meant the risk of repeatedly letting someone in. Remaining socially isolated hurt, but the risk of being rejected by someone close to me was more than I could bear.
A relationship wasn’t an option but neither was something more casual. I was 40 kilograms overweight, with terrible self-esteem and I had none of my life together. No-one was going to find me attractive.
In the months that followed, pressure continued to mount. Mum was struggling more than ever and needed all the support I could muster. The content at uni was getting harder and I was still no closer to figuring my way through my identity crisis.
As the pressure built, I craved that numbing more and more. I no longer had the spare time that gaming required. Food, while it helped, just didn’t numb enough.
But now I’d experienced a new way to numb and it had worked better than anything before. I desperately wanted the brief reprieve from the chaos that sex had brought. But this time, that reprieve was going to be harder to find. So, with limited other options, I paid for it. And it worked. For a relatively small amount of money I could once again numb the pain. And I kept going back for more.
Each time it gave me a brief reprieve but afterwards it made me feel worse. I’d become someone I didn’t want to be. But it hurt so much and as hard as I tried I couldn’t stop.
That cycle wore me down until I had no fight left. Eventually I got to the point where all I could do was look towards heaven and whisper “help”.
Some people find God at the bottom of a bottle; I found God at the bottom of a bed. I was the rawest I’d ever been. I was lost, confused and desperate. I had nothing left and in that moment I found the only thing I’d really ever needed. At my weakest I found God at His strongest. I was lost and broken but this Baby took me as He found me and made me His own. This Baby saw the mistakes of my past and worked with me in my present to make a reality His vision of my future. It wasn’t overnight but over time He rebuilt me from the inside out. Beneath this skin, a new creation.
Today, it’s not like it was. After many years lost in the dark, I now live in the light of His love, mercy and grace.
Today, I’m forgiven and free. Gone are the chains of the past. Gone is the shame, doubt, fear, guilt and pain that crippled me.
Today, I simply know there is no sin, no shame, no past and no pain that can separate me from His unending love.
These hands are unquestionably dirty and there’s no excuse, no rationalisation, no justification I can offer to make myself clean. There were reasons why I did what I did but there is no excuse that makes it OK.
Nothing so broke my pride and ego as confronting how far from His glory I had fallen. But nothing so filled me with confidence as to know that despite all that I’d done He still loved me.
I had to let go of who I thought I needed to be in order to be who I am. So who am I? I’m the beloved child of God. That simple fact means that despite what I once thought, my worth has never depended on anything I can do or achieve. Rather, it simply rests upon this Baby’s unending love.
I tell this story because there are things more important than my comfort, reputation or dignity. This Baby has done infinitely more for me than ever I could do for Him. But one thing I can do for this Baby is to point others in His direction.
I tell this story in the hope that I might shorten someone else’s journey to find this Baby; to send up a flare to any others lost and alone in the dark, and say that there is hope and a better way. But the life and death of this Baby means that despite anything you might have done, you too can end up clean. This Baby means that though your past will always be a chapter in your book, it need not be the end of your story.
*Aaron Grader is a pseudonym. He is an Adventist lawyer and entrepreneur.