From an outsider’s perspective, I am much different than I used to be. When I moved back to Oklahoma in 2008 I was scared. It was not a place I wanted to be. The memories of who I was were haunting. I left for seminary late in 1998. I lived in the Dallas area until 2007. It was just two years before I moved that I was finishing my stint at all the bars in town and tapering off my sleeping around. I married Kristie in 1997 and had finally made the turn that was such a struggle to make. I was a new man, but I was happy to “get out of Dodge” and start my new life in a new place.
There has been so much shame associated with those days. It is difficult for me to live them down, even nearly 20 years later. Living in Texas was great. No one knew me. Well, no one knew who I used to be. WELL, no one knew it from experience. To them, it was some hypothetical Michael that used to exist in theory. I often tell the story of how I used to come home at 3 or 4 in the morning and fall on my face in my still-altered state of consciousness and pray to God that he would help me overcome these sins. I was a Christian. I knew better. I wanted better. Why wouldn’t the Lord change me? I had no strength to do it myself. Every time I would muster up the resolve, rise up with wings like eagles, and proclaim to all my friends the new me, I would find this resolve strangely absent each Friday night. This cycle went on for at least five years. Five years! I would get angry with the Lord . . . often very angry. Why? Because I wanted to do good. Somewhere deep down inside I really wanted to change. But there were so many mes. I was two different people from one day to the next. The “good” me could not strangle out the “bad” me, even with the help of the Lord. I was mad at the Lord for not giving me the strength to change, even though I really wanted to. And then, on top of that, I was accountable to him for not undergoing the change I was not even able to make (and I was not even a Calvinist at this point!).
Yes, I did change. I don’t really know how or why it finally “took,” but it did. I was able to leave that life behind. But the Lord took so long. So much carnage was left in Oklahoma. To come back to it has been hard. To see the faces and people that I hurt has been an adjustment. I would have rather just stayed in Texas and kept the Oklahoma Michael hypothetical.
But this is not really a victory story. As a matter of fact, I suppose it is quit the opposite. It is a chronicle of my continued struggle with that other me. Sure, I don’t go out and get wasted, sleep around, do some drugs from time to time, and get into bar fights. But I don’t really feel much better now than I did then. The other me has just changed his habits and temptations…so much so that I am beginning to feel a bit of nostalgia about the “old me”!! What I mean by this is that while this new, other me does not have the same carnage trailing in his wake that the old one did, my life is every bit as much of a struggle as it was before. And I suppose that is my main thesis (hense the italics).
What are the gory details? Well, they are not so evident. This new other me is characterized by pessimism, impatience, selfishness, lack of discipline, and diminishing resolve when it comes to being a good husband and father. When the “bad” me is in charge, I can let life get me down so much. Discouragement, bitterness, and self-pity take the place of the alcohol, women, and drugs of old. And I don’t know which is worse. My wife and I were talking about Frisco, TX the other day (where I used to live and pastor in North Dallas) and she said something that kicked me in the butt: “I wish we could go back there.” “Why?” I responded with much surprise (she was so excited to get back to our hometown in Oklahoma). “Because you were so much more emotionally stable.” She is right. While I still have a great degree of excitement and hope, more and more that me is spending its time warming the bench, not able to forecast when the coach is going to put it in the game.
I thought this old nature was supposed to be nailed to the cross? Paul says, “How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” I don’t know, Paul. But I do still live in it. Last night I cried out to God. Then I switched Persons in desperation. I turned to the Holy Spirit directly (theologically justified or not) and said, “What do you want from me? You know that I can’t change. You say that you have to change me. How much more do I have to beg? Do I need to fast, stay up all night wrestling with you, or what? What do I need to do to twist your arm to give the the strength to change? Is this not a good thing I ask for?” I got no answer.
Old man/new man, eh? I suppose that if God were to completely sanctify us right when we become Christians, we would not have anything to long for. But this I know . . . this is a common testimony among Christians. Having “reformed” our previous life, our new life comes with sinful problems which feel just as significant as the previous ones. I do thank God that I am not where I was. I ask his forgiveness for the nostalgia. But I long to rid myself completely of this body of death. And I don’t know why the Lord doesn’t allow more decisive victories, especially when we really want to do good. But I know he knows what he is doing, even if I would do things differently.