Tuesday, February 25, 2014


That Saved A Wretch Like Me

Unconsciously swinging my little shiny shoes dangling off the pew, I drew on a scrap of paper or looked at "My Little Friend" children's magazine quietly waiting for church to be over. The adults assumed we weren't listening, and usually they were right. But I do remember my ears perking up when a speaker told a titillating comeback testimony of his enslavement to drugs, stealing and being "bad" with many women. The earnest story of losing job, home, family, friends and self-respect, having hit rock bottom, would always end with Jesus miraculously there to lift him out and turn his life around. 

These thrilling prodigal-son tales tempted us to live high drama sins so that one day we could stand in front of a spellbound audience reliving our exciting testimony for the Lord. In my preteens, when I began scrutinizing these testimonies, these entertaining come-to-Jesus experiences left me confused. I thought, “His rock and roll life is cool to listen to but his family is a mess." What I observed was a very wounded set of people around him: parents, wife, children. The truth was that the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wreck this man had left in his wake was a Pyrrhic victory. 

No one seemed to wonder how his witness (or others with his type of testimony) might have been more effective if he hadn't been sprawled and wasted in the underworld all those years. We don’t want to think about the souls this man had mortally wounded and drug into hell with him so we turn up the volume of rejoicing because he was rescued.

That Saved A Stupid Wretch Like Me

This led me, as a teenager, to resent these miracle stories. I had grown up with the John Wayne, do-it-yourself rallying cry bleeding over into our Protestant spirituality. It may be the hard way to learn everything by personal experience, but dogonnit that’s the American way. I began musing, “Are we really so dumb, obstinate and blind that we can’t learn from others mistakes?” I knew that would save us enormous tragic and unnecessary pain.

When I asked my teachers and pastors why humans seemed to have to wallow in the slime before becoming smart and loving Jesus, they would respond that I shouldn’t ponder the unknowables. “Let’s just look on the positive side and be thankful that in the end these men did hit rock bottom because it brought them to the Lord.”

I didn’t buy it. It frustrated me that no one else saw how selfish and illogical it was for us to exalt the fatalistic idea that God’s best design is to temporarily abandon humans to their own self-destructive choices so that after their health and energy is spent, His redemption will seem good. 

My fervent prayers were to have such a sensitive heart that I would learn from other people’s mistakes and I wouldn’t have to be blind before I could see. I stayed in a mild panic during those teenage years, scrutinizing everyone’s life to extract wisdom to prevent myself from making mistakes. Then I grieved as I watched my friends fall prey to peer pressure, obsessing over rock music, experimenting with drugs, then promiscuity.

Through Many Dangers Toils and Snares

But, it was the 1970’s and Adventists were not immune to the drug culture however hard they tried. In the metropolis of Dallas, the Seventh-day Adventist Church my family belonged to, had carved out a little idealistic Mayberry environment with nice Aunt Bee teachers and Sheriff Andy Taylor leadership. 

Imagine my confusion juxtapositioning this sweet black and white picture with the drug and sexual revolution. I vividly remember sitting outside on the school steps awaiting my ride home when another sixth-grader walked up to me and awkwardly offered me a Valentine’s box of chocolates. Then with a boyish smile, he handed me a little love note. Sweet memory, right? Except that he was high on marijuana. Confusing. Confusing as an adult, but super confusing and scary as an Adventist child.

Then to make matters a hundred times worse, when I courageously resolved to speak up and “rat” on my friends, telling the adults that these kids were experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the parents, teachers, principles and pastors deserted their posts and their responsibility to the kids. They did nothing or rather it seemed to me they did nothing, for it got worse. Most adults turned their eyes from seeing the problem because they didn’t want to see it. They were uncomfortable confronting drugs, sex abuse, promiscuity.

Stupid Dangers, Toils and Snares

Nothing made a bigger and more lasting impact on my psyche than watching the adults fail to act to rescue my friends from being torn to shreds by the Devil. I never was a rebellious teenager except when I encountered shrug-your-shoulders fatalistic leaders. It was then alone that I felt enraged rebelliousness; for how could I as a kid find the courage to be shunned by my friends for confronting their destructive behavior and these grown ups cave in to fear? I made a solemn oath to myself that when I grew up, I would do something--at least say something.  

As an adult, I have tried to give these SDA leaders grace for I realize they had no way of coping. American spirituality had given no easy solutions to the problem. So rather than relentlessly pursuing a solution, the parents, teachers and pastor maintained an American twisted optimism that all would turn out well if they did nothing. They believed if they just “gave it to Jesus” and continue teaching them about the Sabbath and last days that these youth would have a miraculous turn around one day and return to the truth.

That type of faith, based on inaction, failed miserably. Most of my SDA friends from childhood have grown up with very tragic lives. Some have spent time in jail, had multiple divorces and are still seeking drugs, rock and roll and promiscuity. We are still awaiting that big come-to-Jesus moment.

And what is particularly painful is when I talk to Adventists about what I witnessed, they will meekly smile at me attempting to cheer me up with, “Well, it isn’t so bad. Many of these people have survived it and are living happily.” To my shocked ears that is tantamount to saying, “We shouldn’t be so negative about the Holocaust. Lots of Jews in America are doing well today. See, it wasn’t so bad.” 

Is that what Christ wants for people, to survive their lives? I am continually dumbfounded at such low expectations set for Christians. I went to school daily with these kids for years, I love them still and their lives are not fodder for Christian fatalism. I still have those love notes and the Valentine’s chocolate box. These souls should have been important enough for someone to put up a courageously fight. 

Yes, they could still come to Jesus and turn their lives around, but can we be satisfied with such eleventh-hour conversions? Entire lives full of heartache? Is that the best for which we can hope?

The Grace That Led Me Home

Then I became Catholic.

And now my world and outlook has changed. It has been a heavenly awakening that we are not fatalistically doomed to unending cycles of temptation and collapsing into sin. God never meant for us to have to aggressively suffer to overcome addictions, to help children overcome the devastation of our divorce, to have to remake our reputation so that people will loan us money or trust us again. We should not be resigned to walking with the Devil for our earthly education so that we can appreciate the goodness of salvation from sin. That may be the American way--our way--but that is not God’s way. 

The Catholic Church for two thousand years has passed on from the mouth of Jesus that we are good, very good. Under the stain of original sin, each of us still shines with the image of the Father and Creator. Christ conquered sin, therefore we are made for an abundant life and we can find it now

Our testimonies of Christ should be full of Christ, not our failures. That is why the Catholics focus on the Blessed, sinless life of Mary instead of the wretched life of Mary Magdalene. You don’t have to sin! You can, with the grace of Christ, make wise choices that will make your life gloriously happy and free of regret.

The Lord has Promised Good to Me

So how do we not sin? How do we avoid a lifetime of making choices that hurt ourselves and others?

Jesus said His burden is light and it is! Our burden is to obey Him through following the seven sacraments. The seven sacraments are the easy path to grow in holiness and righteousness, for they impart in us grace that will give us the courage to fight temptation.

Protestants (and most Catholics) completely misunderstand the very nature and purpose of these seven wonderful, merciful disciplines on the journey to sainthood.

The first sacrament, baptism, indelibly seals you with the Holy Spirit, erases the scar of original sin as you walk into salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven. The sacraments that follow do not save you, for you have been born again through the water and His Word! You are now within Christ’s sheepfold safe and secure.

Now, as child of God, you continue in the sacraments, not to earn salvation, but to avoid falling into the Devil’s trap of sin. For bad choices were never God’s desire to be the refining fire of our lives. The sacraments are the refining fire.

Christ desires to prevent sin, not just forgive it! Through the spiritual disciplines of the sacraments we become holy and thus become a powerful force for Christ in the world. It is not simply for our own happiness that we should escape a life miserably enslaved in sin, but to avoid wounding others. The sacraments empower us with grace to make good choices that our lives may be without regret and richly satisfying.

I grieve for Protestants who reject the sacraments as “traditions of men.” Rather than ungodly, ritualistic works, they are miracles wrapped up in little disciplines that make us holy.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail

I am amply aware that some Catholics do hit rock bottom, even growing up in the church and participating in the sacraments, before they return to Christ. But that is not God’s preferred method of becoming holy. Perhaps that it is His back up plan. I am also aware that there are Catholics who partake of the sacraments and live like corrupt pagans and never seem to become holy.

However, I can assure you that the more sincerely and passionately you obey God’s sacraments, you will spend less of your life wounded and wounding those you love. You will spend less energy digging yourself and your family out of regretful choices. The burden of the sacraments are light compared to the unending failing struggles of dealing with selfishness, greed, lust, pornography addiction, promiscuity, abortion, divorce, rehab, loss of job, jail, etc. 

Do not misunderstand, the sacraments do not make you instantly perfect, but when you are following them daily and weekly and monthly they keep you close to God’s road and if you wander off, they will draw you back quickly. Those who disregard the sacraments often wander blindly for most of their life before they find the path God wants them on.
The prevention plan of the sacraments is far better than a rescue plan for sin. The life of the prodigal son is the Protestant way; the lives of Joseph and Samuel who grow up and remain faithful sons, are God’s way.

Do not think I am being too harsh on Protestants. For when I was a Protestant we had joyful, optimistic faith in God’s promise that one day He would dry every tear from our eyes. And that in Heaven after being there ten thousand years, we’d no less days to sing God’s praise for His amazing grace at saving a wretch like me. And as a saved Protestant I was eternally grateful for God’s forgiveness.

Now, as a Catholic, my Protestant confusion about the endless fatalistic cycle of sin is gone. My purpose in life is to be a holy saint in order that I may effectively be Christ to the world. And I am doing that through receiving the sacraments. 


veroniqueleffir said...

Fantastic story!!! I am an Adventist that has just started my journey into the Catholic faith and I feel all of the details of your story mirror my growing-up Adventist stories. Many of my friends have left the church all together and it is truly a tragedy. I had principals and teachers affirm exactly what your story said and I fear that many of my friends were victims of this. As I journey into the Catholic faith I am seeing that "Yes INDEED", Christ left a plan....a well laid out one at that.... the sacraments.
Thanks for writing your story. It is just what I needed to read today.
God Bless you!!!

Arthur Beem said...

Oh Veronique!

God bless you and keep you as you are finding your way back home! It is so hard for Adventists to become Catholic, but I have had so joy even amidst the sorrows of my family and friends not understanding, that it is so worth it!

The sacrament of confession and the Eucharist makes me feel I am in heaven already. Heaven is sitting quietly in Eucharistic Adoration. I pray you find the joy that I have. Blessings on you and thank you for your kind words.