TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF HELL IN HEAVEN
(My life as an evangelical Christian)
It was on a spring night in 1989 that I found myself sitting in a hall in the Scottish borders surrounded by crowds of enthusiastic Christian people. I sat there, my wife at my side, both of us felling totally out of place, I felt so uncomfortable, this was something really new for me. In all my 38 years I had never had any leaning towards anything spiritual, even in my hippy youth when every one was chanting, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna’, or reading Alan Watts, I was usually sitting in a room somewhere stoned on something. And as for Christianity, I never could see any sense in at all, it was just like a fairy tale, ‘God and angels sitting up in heaven watching the goings on and doing nothing’. To be honest I was very hostile towards Christianity, any chance I got I would take to voice my opinions upon how stupid it was to believe in something so plainly not true, and yet, there I sat. At about 7.00pm the lights dimmed and there on the stage, on a big screen, an image of the crowds that had gathered in London’s Wembley Stadium to see Billy Graham. A stir of excitement and anticipation went around the hall as the people around about me settled down for the proceedings. I was not completely unaware of what was to come, the day before I had watched a video that I had recorded from Channel 4 that had been shown because of Billy Graham’s forthcoming visit. ( I might say I did this totally without my wife’s knowledge, there was no way I wanted her to know that I was watching such things). And so the show got going, very American and over the top as I expected. The singing and praising I must say I found very hard to take, if I could have got out without much fuss I would have gladly gone, but out of politeness I sat there and watched. Then Billy Graham appeared and began to talk, I can not for the life of me remember what he said, the only thing I remember thinking was that he was talking directly to me about my specific problems. Then there came the big finale when he asked people to go forward to give their life to God. I sat there and watched the people in Wembley Stadium and also the people in the hall get up and walk forward to the stage. I could not say I was struck with belief, but as the minutes passed I remembering thinking “ I must give this a try”. So standing up I turned to my wife and said, “I am going to do some strange things in the weeks to come so please bear with me”, after that I made my way to the front of the hall and stood there in complete bewilderment. After I had gathered myself and calmed down some, I found that my wife was standing by my side, she too had came forward. (she later would admit that she came out of fear she might lose me to some cult or something, little did she know just how her fears would come true.)
And so, how did I end up in a little hall in a small Scottish border town watching Billy Graham ?
It’s a complicated story but not an uncommon one. I was an only child brought up in a typical north eastern working class family on a typical working class council estate, taught all of the 1950’s standards and manners, (something I am so pleased of in these current times of disrespect for anything or anyone). My life was run of the mill until I reached the age of 12 when my parents split up. After a horrible, messy and painful divorce I was brought up by my father in the same family council house, seeing my mother once a week for a visit to the cinema. In those days divorce was not your usual thing and I soon became known at school as the boy without a Mam, not a very nice badge to wear, and something that hurt me very much. But the one good thing to come out of this (as I thought to myself at the time), was with my dad out at work all day and his social drinking at night at the local pub, was that I had the house to myself to do as I wished, I virtually brought myself up from the age of 13. As I said, at the time it sounded wonderful, but looking back today I can see where all my troubles began. Of course I jumped into the deep end, drink came first, then drugs ,cannabis, amphetamines, LSD, sleeping pills, tranquillizers, it was wonderful, one long party. Work was a hindrance to this lifestyle so after I left school I signed on as unemployed, a position I held for the next 5 years until I was told by the DHSS never to sign on again.
At about this time the novelty was beginning to wear off , my father had remarried and moved into his partner’s house. She had a large very family, so much so, that I had to share a bedroom with a much younger boy, I had nowhere to call my own, not even a safe place to keep my treasured LP collection. So from having a house to myself I now had nothing, this is where things began to go seriously wrong. I spent very little time there, I slept on any bed or floor I could find, food was a pure luxury, I ate only when got the chance, making the most of it when I could.
By this time I was drinking more alcohol and taking a lot more pills, a concoction that does not go together too well. About this time I gained the title of “the boy that should not be here any more”, how I woke up the next morning every day, I will never know, ( later on in my Christian days I was convinced that God had kept me alive until the day he would save me). Then I became a pain to all of my friends, my girl friend left me and I found myself not as welcome as I had once had been. After a very heavy night of drink and tranquillizers I bumped into a girl I vaguely knew who lived at the other end of the housing estate, amazingly she let me speak to her and agreed to go out with me the next night. We began seeing each other most every night and I found I spent more time with her than I did with my old friends and drugs. It was not something she forced me to do, I quite willingly made the move myself. It was as if I had had enough of the old life, I was so willing to let everything go, just to be normal felt so good ,I even got a job and within a year we got married ( again in my Christian days I truly believed God had sent her to me to save me from myself).
At first married life was great,we rented an old terraced house and just enjoyed ourselves. We lived there a year then with the help of my mother, we bought a modern flat on a private estate. We both had good jobs and at first lived very comfortably. To me this was everything I had ever wanted, a roof over my head and someone to look after me. I have to be honest, when I got married this was what I was really after, love was not really top of the list. Like I said, at first we were happy, but I was still drinking, not so much drugs, the odd smoke of cannabis, but nothing much, but drink was becoming a problem. I have always been an extremist when it came to getting drunk or high, I always took more drugs than any one else, and now I was drinking more than any one else, I always had to have one more drink at last orders. Looking back now I can see I was not really happy with my new life, I was missing the old days, the friends, the drugs, the freedom and so I was trying to lose it all in drink. And then money became a problem, quite simply we were living beyond our means. We had a mortgage, we bought a new car on H P, we were having holidays abroad plus the money for drink every weekend. The shine had gone off the new life. Then one summer night on a local beach we were out for a walk and we came up with the idea to sell everything and go to Australia. A few days previously we had watched an adaptation of A Town Like Alice on TV, hence Australia. The idea hit the spot, we could pay off all of our debts and jump off the treadmill we both felt ourselves to be on.
We wasted no time, we put our flat up for sale, sold our car and all of our possessions, the only thing that broke our hearts was parting with our pet cat. By the end of the year we were in Sydney and at the start of the Australian summer. We bought a second hand Hillman Hunter Estate car, put a mattress in the back and headed north for Queensland. From there we headed back down south and travelled through Victoria and South Australia, life was just unbelievable. After a long time on the road we headed back for Sydney and took casual jobs to build up our money again, but not for long. After a few months we packed the Hillman and headed west for Perth. It had been our intention to spend the rest of our time in Australia on the west coast, as we only had a visa for two years, but things did not turn out like that. We both loved Sydney so much so it that we packed the car up again and crossed the Nullabor Plain once again, not something you want to do twice in a old worn out car. But we did it, just! We eventually sold the old Hillman for a $100 To someone for spare parts, it broke our hearts to see it go. Just some thing aside, I want to say, I don’t drive, my wife drove the whole or the 26,000 miles, I just have to thank my lucky stars for such a find on that drunken, stoned night back on that north eastern housing estate.
We took a flat in Sydney just a stones throw from the beach, got some more work and spent the last remaining months of our time in paradise. As the time drew near to leave Australia we planned our next trip, this time by coach .We first travelled back up to north to Queensland, then into the centre to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, then Darwin where we flew out of Australia with very heavy hearts .But it was not straight back to England, we had planned two stopovers, two weeks in Singapore and three weeks in Sri Lanka,what a way to finish off a trip of a lifetime .
We arrived back in Britain just in time for Xmas, it was nice to see family and friends but really our hearts were not in it “we still called Australia home”.The next trip we planned was to travel around Europe, but first we needed some money. So we took a flat and worked and bided our time until we could get away again. We had not been there long when an offer we could not really refuse came up out of the blue. All the years since my parents broke up I had had a very off and on relationship with them both, my father especially. My relationship with my mother had been a bit better but nothing special. Since her beak up with my father she had remarried twice, the present husband had turned out very good for her. Together they had bought a road side cafe in North Northumberland and turned it into a very profitable business. So much so that they had bought a flat in Spain and now wanted to spend the winter there and so they came up with the idea to put my wife in as the manager and myself as the handy man. What could we say, North Northumberland is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of Britain, we took their hands off. Within a few months we had rented a house in the hills a short drive from the cafe and settled in to a life of peace and quiet, or so we thought.
The house we lived in was on the top of a hill with magnificent views, always windy, very cold and snowy in winter, but I loved it. To be able to move from the town into the heart of the country was just unthinkable for someone like me, and yet here I was. For the first year things went well, I decorated the house and tidied the garden up and my wife got to know the ropes of managing a cafe But after two years we both realised that we had made the worst move of our lives. Living so close to my mother was a big mistake for me, and my mother’s husband turned out to be the worst boss you could hope for. We were both very disappointed about the situation, but what could we do? We could not bear the thought of moving back to the town after having a taste of the country, and jobs and places to rent in the area were not that easy to pick up, we felt trapped. My wife managed to cope with it better than me, I just got lower and lower. Every time I saw my mother we ended up arguing, and many a time I had ‘run in’s’ with her partner. How could such a great thing turn into a nightmare? And then real depression set in. Sometimes I would not come out the house for days, locking myself in with the music as loud as I could play it just trying to lose myself in pure noise. In these times I would not speak to anyone for days, especially my wife, if I did it would only be to shout abuse at her. This went on for some time until my wife gave me an ultimatum, either seek help or she would have to leave me. This brought me to my senses, I knew she was right, I could not go on living like this any more. So I made an appointment to see my local GP who after hearing my case referred me on to see a psychologist. I was at first a bit apprehensive but I knew I had to go through with it, I had to try and get my self sorted out at least for my marriages sake. From the very first time I went to see my GP I was convinced that my problem stemmed from my drug and alcohol abuse of my youth, thinking that I had damaged my brain, especially with the LSD as I did take a lot of it. I was shocked to hear my problem stemmed back to my mother and fathers break up when I was 12. To be honest, I did not believe it, it could not be something so trivial, it had to physical not physiological. But after a few visits to see the psychologist she convinced me it was true. So after this I put my heart into the therapy, doing all the programs she gave me with great enthusiasm, she even commented that she had never treated someone who worked so hard . I felt good, my spirits lifted and now I could see where the problem lay I made an effort to get on better with my mother. She was not aware that I was seeing a psychologist and was shocked to hear that my problem went back to her break up with my father. For years she had punished herself for leaving me all those years ago and now to have her worst fears come true was not easy for her to take, but it turned out for the good. We both unburdened our hearts and cleared out a lot of the old skeletons. For six months I continued to see the psychologist with my appointments getting wider apart each time, until the day came when she informed me that she did not think I needed to come back as she felt she had gone as far as she could. Then she told me that because I was not her patient any more she could tell me what she really thought of my situation. She told me that if I did not find God I would be back here with the same problems within two years. Now this did not really come as a surprise, I knew after my first visit that she was a born again Christian that was the first thing I told my wife about her when I got home. You know the dress, the style, she just had that look about her, but I wanted to get well so I overlooked that. Strangely enough I found myself listening to her and being interested in what she was saying, she said she would send me some books to read on Christianity and so I looked for the postman each day in expectation. It was at this time that I recorded and watched the program on Billy Graham and then within the next few days found myself sitting in that hall in a small Scottish borders town.
After that night my head was spinning for days, I could not sleep, my mind was racing, I wanted to know everything there was to know about God, the Bible, the church. When the books came through the post I read them straight off and went out to buy more, I just could not satisfy my curiosity, I read the bible right through in weeks. I did ring my psychologist up to tell her what had happened, she was as surprised as I was that things had moved so quick. To give her her dues, she did resign from her position when I told her that I picked up that she was a born again Christian from the start, she then realised that she could not continue in that line of work. Yet while all this was happening with me, it was not the same with my wife even though she had gone forward that night just as I had, she was not feeling the joy and excitement as I was. I eventually convinced her that it was all real and she did relax some and go with the flow, but through it all she never really embraced Christianity in the complete way I did. Again looking back now the warning bells were ringing, things moved too quickly, and then there was my wife’s reluctance, her fear that she was going to lose me, was I just so desperate to escape from the depression cycle that I threw myself into Christianity? In hindsight it is easy to look back and see now but at the time I was just so full of it I don’t think anyone or anything would have stopped me. All my life I have been a very all out person, if I did something I did it to the full (hence the drugs and drink in my youth ) any hobby I took up I embraced it completely, I bought all the books on it, watched every TV program on it, it was all out or nothing. Of course my wife had to go along with whatever I was into at the time, she had to put up with all my fads and phases, only this time I was asking her to go along with something much bigger something life changing. As it it happens in the Billy Graham missions, if you go forward your name and address is taken and passed on to your nearest evangelical church so it was not long before a minister came looking for us. He was very nice as you would expect, and invited us to come along to the church service the following Sunday.
It was very strange to stand in a church, the last time I had done that was when we were married, and even then it was as a total non-believer, it was done out of pure tradition. The whole thing of being among people was strange for both of us, we have always been very close and preferred our own company we never really did the social thing, we were not stand-offish, it was just the way we had always been. Then there was the class thing, we were both very working class and this church congregation was very middle class, and it showed. However, we went along with it, putting our names to all the up and coming events, services, fellowship and prayer meetings. I especially threw myself in at the deep end making a point to meet as many people as I could, sharing my new found faith and learning as much as I could from them.
The first few months were just non-stop, we went to peoples homes, had them to ours, we were never in. The TV papers were thrown out never even opened. I even agreed to give a testimony of my conversion to a crowd in the hall that I had gone to see Billy Graham in, a meeting had been called to celebrate the people that had given their lives to God at the mission. I was no public speaker, I had never stood up before a crowd in my life, what with my broad north eastern accent, my jeans and long hair tied back in a pony tail, I must have looked and sounded something. I was asked to do so by my pastor because my conversion had been so dramatic and also he convinced me that it would be good for my faith, nail my colours to the mast so to speak and with that thought of advancing in the faith I agreed. From then on I was asked to do many things in the church to which I willingly agreed. It was as if everyone was using my experience to feed off and me not seeing it went along with it.
This continued for about 6 months and then crash, I hit the wall, I could just not do it any more, my strength gave out. Trying to be that someone that every one wanted me to be for them, and me really trying to be that the person for them, was just too much, I withdrew into the first depression I had had for a long time. I gave up going to church, I gave up on my bible reading, I was convinced it was all over, it had just been another one of my fads and phases, it had run its course just like all my other hobbies. But after a visit from my pastor I was persuaded to give it another try, he also brought along a book for me to read called Spiritual Depression by a preacher called Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. I must say that book blew my mind, it opened me up to a Christianity I had never heard of, certainly the people in the fellowship had never spoken of anything like this to me, not even the pastor. The teaching of the book was basically, spiritual depression came from not fully understanding the theology of the bible, your understanding of the bible was wrong and so you were depressed unnecessarily, and that true understanding would free you from depression. The logic of this blew my mind, the possibilities of this understanding were endless, (I later found out that Martyn Lloyd Jones’ teaching had been called “logic on fire”, how true of a title that was). I wasted no time, I went out and looked for more of his books, I was so pleased to find that he had many out, his books are basically transcripts of his many sermons that he has preached over many years in the ministry. To buy all of his books that were available I sold a great portion of my treasured LP collection that I had lovingly stored and carried all over with me, but to me I was getting rid of something that was worthless that belonged to my old life, these books were real treasure that would enable me find a happier life and eventually everlasting life. From then on reading became my main thought in life, I read for more and more hours each week until I was getting up every morning at 5.00 am to enable me to read more and more books. Martyn Lloyd Jones also opened my mind up to church history and Christian biography, so out I went and bought as many of these books I could find. Martyn Lloyd Jones was a man whose Christian roots were firmly set in the days of the Puritans, a Christianity that has long been forgotten or labelled as ‘old fashioned’ . The evangelical church these days are miles away from the Puritans, today’s Christianity is so shallow no one reads any more, not even their bible, a text a day, maybe. The idea is to listen to the preachers half hour sermon each week, to attend the hour long bible study mid week and that is all the teaching you need. The fact that the preacher could be saying something that is not true does not enter their minds, if he is a pastor he must be telling the truth, not true! Believe me, I was amazed when I first became a Christian, the different groups and factions are endless and they are all teaching something different, it really is a mine field. Even the church I joined was split in two, you had half the church who agreed with the evangelical teaching and the other half who believed that all you had to do to be a Christian was to go to church each Sunday and that was it, there was a war going on in the place, not the kind of thing a new believer like me expected to find. Then you had the charismatic teaching, all singing and clapping, speaking in tongues, folks being healed and having demons cast out of them, you really had to have your wits about you. I suppose all this confusion was what drew me to the teaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, he was so solid, everything was accounted for, all laid out so neat and clear. So you would think every one was pleased for me that I had found such truth and teaching? No way! All I got was negativity, the pastor did not like me reading so much because I was reading things that he would rather me not know of, basically Martyn Lloyd Jones was a reformed teacher and the pastor was more of a liberal. Then there were the other believers in the fellowship, when I shared the things I had been reading, things that had thrilled my soul, all they would say is “ does the pastor agree with that? if he doesn’t we don’t either”, there was no enthusiasm for any learning, all they want to do was stay in their comfortable little fellowship all the way until heaven.
There was one believer who did see things the same way as myself, who shared my love of the Puritan Christianity, he also ran up against the same negativity as I had to face. (I must say my wife also shared my views, my forceful nature had seen to that). Many a hour we spent sharing the wonderful teaching we were discovering. But in the midst of all the joy I was finding in my hours of reading little did I know the pain and heartache it would bring me in the years to come. It seemed that every book I read took me further away from the fellowship, I tried to keep in touch but it was just too stressful and quite frankly I did not need it, I was still very fragile from from my breakdown. The real test of my new thinking came when Billy Graham arrived on the scene again, this time he was holding a mission in Edinburgh and the church had decided to participate in the event. This entailed taking groups of people up to the venue, believers and unbelievers, and hoping that souls would be saved. Not surprisingly I was asked to be part of the group of organizers. Up until now I had tried to avoid any confrontation but at this point it was unavoidable I had to say no, this did not go down too well.
By now I had come to see how far the modern evangelical church was away from the old reformed theology, souls were saved by a preacher preaching the gospel and allowing the Holly Spirit to open minds and hearts to the truth, not some celebrity putting on a show and encouraging people to come forward to a stage, (the celebrity in this case was Cliff Richard), this only creates nominal believers and people who will have disappeared from the fellowship after a few months. (By the way this is exactly what happened to the suposingly saved souls that came out of that mission). But like I said, my decision did not go down too well. I was ostracised and made to feel very uncomfortable, especially by be the pastor. The whole Billy Graham thing would last for about 6 months, that being from the early days of organization right up to the mission itself. The modern evangelicals love anything like this and make a real meal out of it. So the uncomfortable situation was not going to go away overnight. I was told by my pastor that I could not sit on the fence as a Christian, that the church was a body and must stay together for the sake of unity, but how could I put my beliefs to one side and forget them just for the duration of the mission? I could not see a way that I could possibly do that, the situation looked hopeless to me, remember I was still just a young Christian, about a year and a half old. I had a bit of learning from the books I had read, but they never told me how to deal with problems like this, quite frankly I was torn in two, full of guilt on one side for going against the fellowship yet sure of what I had come to believe in. I had to stay away from meetings and services simply because I just could not listen to the things that were being said, this was not something I had ever done before, I had always attended everything that went on in the fellowship, so this filled me with great guilt. The 6 months or so were pure hell for me, I had never known anything like it, even in my darkest days of depression nothing had been like this, I was torn apart mentally and physically. But to my shock, after the mission was all over things did not just go back to the way they had been, in my naivety I had thought it would be all over after the mission was over, I even counted down the days to it ending, what a fool I was, this was only the beginning, there much worse to come.
And yes to my horror things did get worse, the next few years were a mixture of ups and downs, one minute I would be at logger-heads with the fellowship the next I would be trying to find some middle ground with them. I lost track of how many times I stood up in the church and said I was sorry for my actions, not that I was going back on the things I believed in but I was just trying to find some peace in the situation. You are probably asking yourself why I did just not just leave and find another church? But I was a firm believer in staying where you were until God gave you a definite sign that it was time to move and I had had nothing like that, also there was nowhere to go this was the only evangelical church in the area. So I stuck it out but my mental health got worse and worse, I tried my best to go along with as much as I could, but mostly I kept myself to myself, spending more and more time with my reading. Around about now my wife’s and my own employment changed, my mother sold the cafe and moved away. In some ways it was a relief to be free from living so near to her but then there was the problem of what to do for a job, like I have said they are not that easy to find in a rural area. My wife took on care work in the nearby residential care home and steadily worked her way up to assistant manger and then finally manager. Finding work for myself was not that easy, I had no trade or experience, so we came to an arrangement that I would stay at home and look after the house while she brought in the money. It worked out very well, I had always been good around the house, cooking and cleaning was nothing new to me, after all I had kept house for my father since I was 12, plus the extra bonus was that I could find more time to read.
By now I was getting up a 5.00 am reading and praying until 10.00 am, then doing some work in the house until dinner time then taking up my reading again for as long as I could spend. Reading became my spiritual life line, all the learning about the faith I was getting from my books, I was relying less and less on the teaching of the pastor. And these hours did pay off, many a time I was blessed with wonderful insight into spiritual things. The books would come alive to me and filled me with great joy and peace, I was convinced that God was opening my eyes and heart to these great truths, after all before I became a Christian I was a very mediocre reader, sci-fi paperbacks and exploration books were my choice, I enjoyed reading but it was not my life as it was now. And the books I was reading were not easy books to read, way beyond my level of education. Even my wife commented on how she could not understand how I could read such books, she found them difficult to grasp but for me, the thicker the book the better. I would not just read them through once, no, I would read them over and over until the teaching was completely understood, one book that particularly interested me I read 7 times. So what with my situation of staying at home and with all the hours to read and the ability to read them I was convinced that this is what God would have me do. But there was still the problem of the church, how did this fit into my thinking. Was God going to use me in some way, was he teaching me for some reason? It did not make sense, here I was with all this teaching and understanding yet no one agreed with me except my wife and one person in the fellowship. I racked my brains and cried out in prayer for some understanding of what was going on, what was I to do leave or stay? but no answer came, the sky was as brass. I really did struggle through these years, the stress and anxiety really wore me down, I was a bundle of nerves. Sleeping was impossible, my mind was always working over time, if it was not some theological problem it was what to do with the church problem, my mind never stopped. Then the pastor announced that he thought it was time for the evangelicals to come out of the church and start up another fellowship in the town, a fellowship that was purely evangelical. For a long time now the nominal faction of the church had been complaining about the preaching and the likes, you have to bear in mind that this church had been established for many many years and they did not like this group of newcomers come in and changing traditions of a life time. For me I thought it was good news, maybe there was a chance that things may be better. But then he announced that he would not be staying to becoming the pastor of the new evangelical church because of the bad feelings towards him in the town for upsetting the old traditions. If you have never lived in a little country town you have no idea how folk react to things like this, even people that never set foot in a church go mad because someone has dared to change the age old ways, things did become very nasty, looking back now I don’t blame him for not staying. The shock of the news absolutely crushed me, he may have not been my first choice of a pastor, but he was a buffer zone between me and the rest of the fellowship. I knew without him keeping the fellowship on some kind of track they would go haywire, and they did just that. We gathered in the local community hall for Sunday services and midweek fellowship but it was like a free for all. Different speakers would be asked to come each week who in my opinion were not really worth listening to. Again I continued to attend but now the pressure was greater than I had ever known, I really hit rock bottom, so much so that I had to seek medical help, something I was very reluctant to do, really believing that God would give me the strength to get through. But he didn’t, the doctor put me on Prothieden antidepressants to help me, of course I could not tell the doctor truthfully what was really wrong with me, what was really upsetting me, he would have thought I was a religious nut case, so the truth was avoided. They did help some, they really spaced me out, they helped me calm down and sleep. I also stayed away from the fellowship for a few weeks which helped a lot. After the course of tablets was over and then with my return to the fellowship, things were as bad ever, I was right back to square one. After one particularly bad night at a fellowship meeting I announced that I was not coming back and left, my wife had to literally help me from the room, I was shattered. But after a few weeks I was persuaded to return.
The time I had been away had given me time to think, I came up with the thought that all that mattered was the unity of the fellowship. I came back with this thought that I would forget all my opinions on doctrine, put them all to one side, and do any thing that the church had in mind, I would go along with them for the sake of unity. For a few weeks it worked but after a while it got harder and harder until the inevitable happened, I lost it, exploded, then crumbled, I failed. This was always the way with me I would have words with someone, lose my temper and then feel terrible about it, this would then be followed by three or four days of deep depression. Regret and remorse was a constant state of mind to me, in my heart and soul I longed to be Holy like the Lord Jesus and every time I failed like this it broke my heart. I read books on on Holiness, I poured my heart out to God to change my heart, to take away this badness and coldness from me, but it never happened. The end came when the fellowship finally chose a new pastor, a choice I could not go along with. I withdrew my membership, my wife and my good friend likewise.
At last it was over with the fellowship but I knew from past experience that it would not end here, one door of pain closed and another one opened. Guilt and fear that I had done the wrong thing in leaving the church hounded me night and day, I could never find any peace. I tried to convince myself I had done the right thing, then I would read in the bible “that you should not give up meeting together”, and down I would go. It got so bad that there was some books that I could just not read as they touched upon raw nerves so much. And then in the middle of this time my wife’s mother died, she had been a nominal member of the fellowship who had continued to remain with them after our departure. Now there arose a situation that would really put my beliefs to the ultimate test, did my wife and myself allow the fellowship to bury her as a born again believer as they claimed her to be by their theology? Or did we bury her as a nominal Christian with a nominal church funeral as we believed her to be? This situation was completely beyond me, way more than I had ever had to deal with. I could not back down, my beliefs were to strong, I had stood upon them all trough the terrible years and I could not back down now. The words stress and anxiety are not enough to explain how I felt. On the day of the funeral I was beyond myself, how I got through that day I will never know. A compromise had been made with the evangelical church, we allowed the pastor to take the service at the crematorium but he was not to claim her as a born again Christian and that none of the fellowship was allowed attend, he ignored our request and claimed her anyway. This should have been the end of my life as an evangelical Christian, looking back I should have walked away from the faith then. My heart was crushed, I was not reading like I had done, prayer was practically none existent. In my mind I had terrible doubts about what I had done, was God now withdrawing his grace from me, had I gone beyond the point of forgiveness?
I now entered into a new and darker phase of Christianity, I began to retreat from the world, I stopped going out. To be honest it was mainly because I had such a fear of bumping into anyone from the church. I was not reading or praying, spiritually I had completely dried up, but I pressed on in the faith believing that regardless of my lack of spirituality I was still saved “once saved always saved,” as the Calvinistic theology goes. I had also retuned to seek medical help, again very reluctantly as I still believed that turning to the world for help was wrong, that it was God who would heal if only you had faith in him. Again my GP prescribed antidepressants first Seroxat, and then later Venlafaxine, they did help a lot. I really don’t know how I would have got through this dark time without them, I was just so flat and empty, my whole Christian world had just disappeared, a life I had lived so long had just vanished. Also around about this time I had to say goodbye to the good friend I had made in the fellowship, I felt it was not right to take him with me into this time of confusion. I am so glad I did as he would have never understood some of the things I had to do to survive. So for two years I locked myself away in the house only going out to take the dogs for a walk and my visits to the doctors.
Then we got the chance of a cottage on its own, the two neighbours next door to us had moved and the place was not the same. It was an old listed gate house on the edge of an old private estate, it was idyllic, like something out of a fairy tale. Plus the rent was so cheap mainly because it was such a small little peculiar place with two of the bedrooms being over the little road that ran between the gate (we never used it as bedrooms only a place to store things as the main cottage was tiny). It was down on the flood plain of the river Till at the foot of the Cheviot Hills, the view from our front window was breathtaking. Then at the back there was great woods and lakes with endless places to walk without seeing a soul. We were a mile and a half from the main road but it may as well have been 30 miles, you just never saw any one. However, in the winter we were snowed in for weeks sometimes but I loved it. I really thought it would be perfect for me, I could just spend the rest of my days in a sort of limbo Christianity with no one to bother me.
Around about this time I made contact with my mother again as I had not spoken to her for about 7 years after a fallout, my dad had died by now without me ever seeing him again. My mother was in poor health so for her sake I made the effort to get in touch. I could easily have not done so but I knew she was desperate to see me. By now I was much more stable, not happy but coping so I thought I could maybe face her much better. She still did not have any idea of what was really wrong with me, I made an excuse that my mother-in-law’s death had had a bad affect upon me (it had but not in the way she thought). I did not see a great deal of her as we were a good few miles away, she not long after that died of cancer. I did not attend her funeral as by now I had become a total recluse and the thought of seeing relatives was just something I could not cope with.
To give me something to do in these times I took to collecting fire wood from the woods around about us, it was wonderful. Out in all weathers, lots of exercise and fresh air and lots of hard work to work off all my stress and depression. I loved it, not a person to be seen except for the odd farmer or game keeper and the amount of money we saved on fuel was amazing. Of course you remember me telling you about how I never did anything by half? it’s either all out or nothing with me. Before long I had ruined my body with the hard work. I was not a manual worker, I was a pen pusher really, an office worker, I had never done any kind of hard work like this before. I cut down trees with a small bow saw and carried logs bigger than myself on the cross bar of an old bike, then cut them into size still with a bow saw and then split them with an axe. I ended up with arthritis in my shoulder, a trapped nerve in my hip and a really bad back, I ended upon on Amitriptilyne, then Codeine for the pain, it broke my heart to have to call it a day but in the end I had no choice. This routine of living the life of a recluse, working in the woods, bouts of depression on average 3 to 4 time a year, my wife going out to work to keep us carried on for a good 7 years and then my spirituality came back out of the blue. It was while my wife was away on holiday, she had taken to having 2 holidays a year in Spain just to get a break from me and her very stressful job, when one day I had the desire to pick up my old books on Christianity. Spirituality returned to me once more, I could read again with the same insight that I once had but now even more so, and prayer, it was amazing. To pray for 2 hours was nothing to me, it felt like the Lord Jesus was standing right there before me and I was speaking to him face to face, words just poured from my heart. I returned to reading the old Puritan writers again especially modern versions of John Owen’s works, it was mind blowing, the insight, the truth, the experiences, parts of the Bible spoke so loudly to my heart and thrilled my soul I felt like I was having so much grace poured down upon me day after day. When I told my wife she was a bit suspicious and found it hard to join in with my enthusiasm, by now my mental health was at an all time low and she feared for the fallout from the situation. But I could not be deterred, the thrill of it all was just too much and I ran into it with all my heart. But I could not understand why I was being blessed like this, what was going to happen? Was everything going to work out, was I going to go back to the church after all these years, had I served my time of punishment, was it all over, was I going to die and go to be with the Lord? At times I felt like I was already with him.
One day while reading the book of Revelation it all became so clear to me, I could understand it, I could see what it all meant. I quickly took down notes and later on wrote it up as a book, my wife could not believe it when I showed her, she asked me where I had got the information from, I could only answer from God. Was this what all this grace and blessings were about, was I to tell others of this wonderful truth. I was convinced the Lord Jesus was returning soon, everything I saw on TV or read in the news convinced me even more, my wife feared that I was getting beyond myself but there was no persuading me otherwise.This heightened spirituality continued for about a year and then the intensity began to fade, at first I did not fear too much although I was a bit disappointed, I expected after a few weeks it would return. But I didn’t, I got drier and drier until I was back to where I had been before the spirituality had returned, the disappointment was heart breaking and led to a deep bout of depression.
By now I was on large doses of Venlafaxine antidepressants which were not really helping me any more. I had been on them for 12 years and to be honest I felt worse, I felt numb, I had no emotions, I did not care if I lived or died, my wife either. Death became very inviting but I was still trying to hang onto Christianity so suicide was out of the question. Then around about this time I heard that my good friend from the church fellowship that I had not seen for about 10 years had taken his own life by hanging himself, I could not believe it. Seemingly he had developed Bi-Polar Disorder and had had years of pain and suffering in and out of hospital. I was really shaken to my very core and filled with regret that I had cut him adrift all those years ago. Could I have helped him if I had stayed in touch, was it me abandoning him that had led him to this? I never really got to the bottom of it, why he had done it and for what reason. I did write to his wife and ask her about what had happened but I never really found out other than he would not take any medication for his condition. I suspect like me he thought it was not right for a Christian to take antidepressants. So what with my dying spirituality and this tragic news, I sank deeper into the pit of depression, now I began to think about suicide, if one Christian can do it why not me?
But just when I thought things could not get any worse they did, at a point of total weakness I lost my temper with the local farmer over a trivial issue and down to the bottom I went. I could not believe I had let God and myself down by doing such a stupid thing, and in public, I could not forgive myself. Of course any remaining spirituality that remained disappeared in a flash, deep depression, remorse and regret took over. Even in this rock-bottom state I still hung on to the hope that my spirituality would return after my depression lifted, but it didn’t. Even when I knocked on the farmer’s door and apologised for for my outburst, my heart was still empty of any spirituality at all. I thought for sure God would forgive me now I had made my peace with the farmer but no, nothing, dry as a bone. This state of mind and hope continued for two months but after many prayers and of cries for mercy my heart began to lose hope and within another month it was over, I had given up on the faith and returned to the world. I now began to hate God with all my heart and cursed him day and night. I ranted and raved as I I poured out curses and obscenities at him. How could he just cast me aside after 25 years of devoting my life to him. I had given him everything, my body, my mind, my entire life. Then as the weeks passed I began to realize what I fool I had been to believe in something so stupid as the gospel, it was just a big fairy tale. There was no God, there was no Jesus, there was no heaven, it was all just a crutch to enable weak minded people to get through this world, I even stopped addressing him as God because I did not believe he existed. This realization did bring me some kind of peace, I did feel better now that it was all over and I didn’t have to worry about sinning, I was free from the regret and remorse. But oh the sense of a wasted life hung over me so heavy, 25 years of my life wasted, gone, never to be able to go back and take a different road. Then there was my mind, I could not think in the ways of the world any more, it was like I had been brain-washed and I had to learn to think differently all over again. I tried to rid my mind of as much Christian junk that I could, all of my bibles went on the fire, the rest of my books I sold on-line or gave to charity shops, I didn’t want all that rubbish lying around reminding me of that stupid mistake I had made all those years ago. But my heart and body was broken I found it so hard to just get through a day and this was when I really began to think of suicide. In my weak state of mind suicide seemed so logical to me, my life was ruined, I was in my 60’s, I could never pick up the pieces and start again, I was too old and too weak, to me it was so obvious, suicide was the answer. I tried time and time again to make my wife understand that if she really loved me she would help me take my life. I did not want her to kill me, no just leave me alone for some time until I took an overdose then come home when it was over, in this way I thought she would be prepared then it would not be such a shock. And I was absolutely sure of this, to me it really made sense, my wife would tell me that I was not thinking right, that I was ill and needed to seek help, but no I would not change my mind, anyway who could help me? In all the years of seeing my GP I had never told him that Christianity was at the bottom of all my problems and I felt that it was not someone to talk to that I needed it was my brain I needed wiped, and that was never going to happen.
At first I tried starving myself to death, I just stopped eating but it broke my wife’s heart so much when it came to meal times that I had to give up on that after a week. I also took to looking on the internet for ways to kill myself, pills was my first choice. After hearing about how my good friend had hanged himself and of the sheer horror he must have went through, there was no way I could ever contemplate that. No, pills were for me, but what pills and how many? I did not want to fail, I did not want to come around half brain dead, that would be a worse situation than I was in now. Maybe my antidepressants that I took each day would do the job, I had loads of them, boxes and boxes in the cupboard, but then I read they would not kill you only make you very ill. So what could I get my hands on, because remember I did not go out, in fact I had never been out for 12 years, I knew and saw no one but my wife. Then I found the Amitriptilyne that the GP had given me for pain relief for my arthritis. I had not taken them for some time as they had started to disagree with me, he had since prescribed Codeine instead. To my great joy I found out from the internet that Amitriptilyne could kill if taken in large doses, 800 mg was said to be sufficient. Great I had my way out, I stashed them away in one of the spare rooms over the road and waited for the right time. Along with all the stress that my wife was having to endure with my problems she was now having to cope with a take over of the care home she had managed for 10 years. The owners had sold to a business man who was more interested in making money out of the place than offering good quality care, something my wife had strived to provide. So what with our home life upside down and now her place of work unsettled she suggested we move away from the area and find pastures new. Her thoughts were to move down to the south coast, miles away from Northumberland and miles away from the cold northern winters. The prospect of getting away from the place that had only brought me heartache and living by the sea sounded so good. We were both in our 60s now, so why not, if we did not do it now it may be too late in another couple of years. But could I really do it, was I strong enough? It was a massive move, the packing alone would be horrendous, but the thought of getting away lifted my heart some and gave me the encouragement I needed to make the effort. My wife put her CV on the care home manager sites on the internet and within days she had offers of interviews all over the country. She accepted two interviews in Devon and began to look at ways to travel there. It was going to be expensive but as we said, you have to speculate to accumulate, but what if she did not get it and then had to travel down again and again until she had spent all of our savings on travel and still did not have a job? I began to doubt, was it worth it? The day before she was ready to travel I crumbled and told her I was not sure, I did not think it was a good idea, the worry of it all was making me ill. So reluctantly she cancelled the interviews and decided to put up with her job and new boss. At first it was a great a relief to me I did not have to worry about the move any more, but then my heart sank. I was just a weight around her neck, she had a chance to get out and I was holding her back and always would, she had no hope as long as I was around.
This was the time I had been stashing those pills away for. It was a Monday morning my wife went out to work, I was extremely calm, my mind was as clear as a bell, I was not afraid, today was the day to put an end to it all, it was as simple as that. I went over the road to the to collect something from the store rooms and when I was there it came to my mind “I might as well take the Amitriptilyne with me for later”, it was just like that, no drama, my mind was made up. I returned to the main part of the cottage and began to make plans for the day. I cleaned the house so as not to leave any mess for my wife coming in later on, she would have enough to do when she found me dead. I took a large dose of Codeine just to get high so as to make things more easier, then I sat down at the computer and wrote my wife a farewell note. I must admit I did break down at the thought of leaving her with the heartache of finding me and having to do all the organizing of the funeral and the likes but I never thought once of calling it off. Come 2.00pm I banked the fire up so it would last until she came in, opened the back door out into the garden so as the dogs could come and go, sat down in my reclining chair, put some music on, brought the farewell note up on the computer screen and took the 800 mgs of Amitriptilyne. My main worry was my three dogs, would they be OK until my wife came in from work? I did not want them left on their own for too long so this was the reason I did not take the Amitriptilyne too soon, in my estimation by 5.00 pm I would be gone with such a high dose. After a hour or so I could not keep my eyes open so I put my chair in the reclining position and went to sleep listening to the music. I had no fear, I never for one moment thought twice about what I was doing it was simply just going to sleep forever,and then I woke up the next morning in hospital.
I was so disappointed, the first thing I thought was why did I not take a strip of Temazepam that my GP had given me to help me sleep. I had thought of taking them with the Amitriptilyne but I had fears of making my self sick so I went with the information I had found, it just goes to show, you can’t believe every thing you read on the internet. Then my disappointment turned to anger towards my wife, why did she not just leave me alone when she found me, go out and come back later when I was gone? The next few days were a bit of a fog, I was still groggy with the pills, the ward was full of people, doctors and nurses coming and asking me question, pushing food in my mouth, moving me from bed to bed and me never having seen so many people for years, it was overwhelming. Then the metal health team came in to see me and to my disappointment told me I could go home. This was the last place I wanted to go, I would have rather gone to a mental hospital than return to that place of nightmares, but home it was to be with an appointment in the next few days to see a psychiatrist. Well after a slow start and with her help and medication, I began to make progress, the biggest help I found was eventually telling someone that my problems were all related to Christianity. For years I had carried that around with me never daring to tell any one, suffering extreme stress and anxiety, I rue the day I ever heard the gospel.
Seven months later we did move down to the south coast where we live a quiet life with our 2 dogs, I haven’t drank or taken drugs for 30 years or so. My only regret is that we did not do it earlier, if only we had moved down here instead of moving just a few miles down the road I could have saved myself 10 years of more hell, but that’s how it goes ,if only!
So what was it all about, was I ever a born again Christian, or was it all my mental health condition, did I run to Christianity out of desperation, is there really a God, if so why did he let me suffer so much, what were the spiritual experiences I had, real blessings or just enthusiasm ????????? These questions and many more I ask myself day after day. It is my hope that in writing this work that I may be able to come up with some answers and empty my heart of the nagging questions and maybe help someone avoid or find their way out of a similar situation. I think it goes without saying that I don’t believe in a God any more, my eyes are wide open to the myth of Christianity or any other form of spiritually, it all just a mind game, an escape from reality, (and lets face it the reality of this world is a frightening place, who wouldn’t want to escape from it). When I first became a evangelical Christian I was told that the world is not as you think it is, it is an evil place over ran by the devil. Every one who is not born again is a child of the devil so you must come out of the world and stay close to born again believers. I was told not to trust feelings or thoughts, that the flesh was sinful and used by the devil to lead you into sin. I was told that faith in God and his promises in the bible was what you had to trust in, not what you saw with your own eyes around about you but words in the bible. Now as you can expect, that’s a tall order to ask of anyone. For x number of years you have lived your life one way now you are asked to see things a completely different way, is it any wonder you get depressed when you fail? I remember saying just after I had been converted that I could not wait to be 3 or 4 years old in the faith so that I would would have forgoten all the worldly things.
The evangelical church is run like a cult, if you go along with everything in the fellowship everything is fine, but step out of line and you will suffer. You will be told you are going against the word of God and he will punish you to bring you back into line, it scares the living daylights out of you, for sure you get back into line. Then there is the constant encouragement by the pastor to come out of yourself and be more outgoing. You are told that all you have to do is get up and make the effort and the Holy Spirit will give you the power to succeed. But it does not always work like that, it’s OK if you are outgoing by nature. I have seen the quieter members of the fellowship crushed by the fear of not stepping up, they are made to doubt their own faith, it comes down to little more than a self help program, nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.
When I was recovering from my suicide attempt and coming to realise that evangelical Christianity was a con, I realized and was amazed at the things I had done in my own strength and ability, yet told myself it was the Holy Spirit who had given me the power to do so. I endured great pain and heartache for many many years, way beyond anything I had have ever experienced. I read books way beyond my educational ability, or so I thought. I wrote 5 or 6 works on the Christian faith, one being a harmony of the 4 gospels that I wrote out in longhand, it took me 2 years to complete, it was this realization that gave me the strength to start to get my life together again saying to myself “if I did all that in my own strength I can do anything” and so I did it, got myself together. And then there is that great word “faith”, it covers a multitude of problems, every question you come up with about born again Christianity can be answered by “you must have faith”, you never really get a straight answer, you come away as puzzled as you were before you asked the question. Then there is prayer, prayer solves all your problems, no matter what is on your mind and heart a good prayer will sort it all out, especially if you do it in a prayer meeting with all your brothers and sisters there, it will make you feel much better. I prayed my heart out for 25 years and I can honestly say I never saw one answered prayer, I kidded myself I did, but I am here writing this work, still the same person I was before I became a Christian, nothing has changed, more mentally ill, but fundamentally exactly the same. As I said the evangelical church is run like a cult, look into any of the many cults these days and the similarity is very clear.
What kind of God is it that watches someone in my situation for 25 years and does not reach out to help them, I was suposingly putting myself through hell for him after all, could he not have told me that I was not one of the chosen few and let me find some peace or did he just enjoy watching me suffer?OK, other evangelicals will tell me “well you were never really saved that is why you went out from among us”. So God watched me give my life to him, sacrifice my mind, my body, my entire being for 25 years but still not save me? Did he just sit back and watch me down all those pills that day? What kind of God is that, what have you got to do to be one of the chosen few? And what about my good friend? For the 10 years or so that I kept in touch with him he was as enthusiastic about the faith as I was, I heard that on the Sunday before he took his life he had went to church so he was still keeping the faith. So where was God when he put that rope around his neck and stepped out into nothing? The bible says “that underneath are His everlasting arms” where were they that day when he hung on that rope and choked to death, probably hanging there for some time before he expired? Christianity does not add up, so many times you come across situations that do not make Christian sense or even worldly sense. It would appear to me that a Christian fellowship is a wonderful place if you are looking for friendship and good company, they are very nice and kind people, go along with the crowd and you will be happy ever after. But if you are looking for deep spirituality then you are in the wrong place, you will not find it. The churches and the pastors don’t want folk to rock the boat, no they want a peaceful life “it’s nice and cosy in our little clique, we don’t want any one coming in and spoiling it all”. Oh yes preach the gospel and have new folk come in but we must get them in line as soon as possible, we must not let them upset the happy throng. Religion is nothing more than a morality game, since the beginning of time it has been used to keep man in line, to keep the group in order. What works better than to hang the threat of an angry God above your head to make you tow the line, with the promise of heaven when its all over. And it works, religion is a good teacher of morality. History has shown that in times when religion has been at a low point the country has suffered (today is a perfect example of that). But that is all it is, there really is no God in heaven, there really is no salvation, there really is no paradise waiting for you if you keep all the rules, no it just keeps this world running smoothly. Look, I don’t know all the answers, I can’t tell you what the meaning of life is. I am definitely not a Christian any more, but still I don’t know what the big answer is to the big question. I live my life from day to day now and I really believe that there is nothing after this life, you make your own way in the world and do your best and learn from your mistakes, you close your eyes and it is over. I can see why people would disagree with me and not want to live their life like that, they must have some hope in something, and that’s fine with me. For their sake, I hope I am wrong. I hope they will find something in the end, but I am afraid that my 25 years as an evangelical Christian has destroyed any hope for me, I have been to the other side, I have looked into the face of God and I found nothing there, it was all a mind game.