Saturday, August 16, 2014
A Letter to Everyone...
I feel as if, for a long, long time, I had been staring from a high belfry window into a dense, enveloping fog. I felt sure there was something there, beyond the mist. I could only guess at what it was but it both attracted me…and troubled me. Whatever was there would not be, at first, altogether pleasant. But it would be real. And it would be, at last, truly seeing.
My name is Wayne Thomas Batson. And I want to apologize for…well, I’m honestly not even certain on the whole list yet. I guess I start with a little background. I was born into an unchurched, very moral but basically nonChristian family. And by that, I mean we didn’t go to church, didn’t read the bible, didn’t talk about God much except for grace at dinner or a little around Easter and Christmas. We weren’t atheists. My parents believed in God and I knew that, and so, I believed in God too. But it was a very distant view of God. He was real…and that was about it.
Even as a kid, I had a real curiosity about God and a real sense that I “ought” to be looking for more. As a teenager, I made my first profession of faith in Jesus at an all-nighter tennis tournament. Played some of the best tennis of my life that night, and I went home and wrote in a journal that “I now belong to Jesus Christ.” Then, I went my merry way, leaving that journal and God in a closet.
A few years later, in 1991, between graduating from college, a disastrous relationship, and my very first teaching job, I ran into Jesus again. And this time, I couldn’t get away.
Not that I didn’t try. I remember praying for salvation, giving my life to Jesus, trusting in Him alone for forgiveness of my sins and eternal life. And then, a few hours later, in a fit of anxiety, I called my pastor on the phone to basically tell him that I didn’t think I’d meant it…that it “hadn’t worked.”
But…it had. Or rather, God had worked. Maybe He had worked at the tennis tournament too, but in 1991, everything changed. I started going to a bible-believing, nondenominational church that emphasized teaching and discipleship and worship. It was a great place to be a new believer and to grow.
That first year, I became a legalist. If you don’t know what a legalist is, such a person can be defined as “a doofus, jerk-face with just enough truth to be dangerous who comes to believe that everyone else needs to believe and do everything just as he does—or, burn in hell.”
I quit drinking. I quit dating. I quit cursing. I tossed all of my Iron Maiden and heavy metal records in one of the black trashcans in my parents’ carport. In fact, all the story ideas I’d been working on then, I tossed those in the garbage also. It was, after all, heathen Stephen King-esque garbage.
Looking back, I think I really needed that time. I needed to distance myself from a lot of things so that I could dive into the Bible and learn. It’s not that all those things were bad, but I needed to be distraction free for a while. And let me tell you, leaving those things behind—that was a real work of God. You don’t just vow to change, and it happens. Not with the habits and history I had built. God really did change me. That’s not the problem. What God did then was beautiful. I dove into the scriptures and devotionals, commentaries, classes, church—anything I could get my hands on.
I had a good friend who was getting ready to move away from the area for a new job, but he had been leading a decent-sized bible study. He knew I had a teaching background and challenged me to lead it. It was like Morpheus holding out the red and blue pills. I still don’t know why I said yes. I was terrified. But I took the challenge. I led the study for years. In fact, I’ve been leading studies for 24 years now.
To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker: “And…here…we…go.”
What God did was beautiful, but what I did…not so much. As a new Christian, I probably sinned in judgment alone more than I ever did before becoming a Christian. And, in 24 years as a Christian, in spite of any good that God has done through me, I have a lot to confess.
See, the legalism, was just part of the problem. I confess that I started looking at people as projects—salvation targets—rather than loving them. I thought I had to save the world, so I tried and probably hurt a lot of people along the way. To some, I was just a little pushy. To others, I drove them away by trying to remake them in my image. I’m sorry for all of that. Part of my behavior, I think, was due to feeling guilty because of the disparity in what I believed and what I was. I thought becoming a Christian would eliminate all my sin. Instant cure. Instant holiness. Didn’t happen. It is one of the most troubling aspects of my Christian life.
Maybe I meant well. Hard to remember from all that time, but I know that for many, I just wanted to make them MY converts. And I’m sorry.
I confess that, from time to time, I have delivered very mixed messages about Jesus. I have told you that He loves you, but I have failed to love you. I have told you that He is the only way to heaven but not always because I really cared about you. I wanted another proof that, “Yes, Virginia, you are actually saved.” People are not tick marks. People are not conquests or projects or targets. For my insincere attitudes and behaviors, I am sorry.
Over the many years, God has worked some amazing things into my life: family, teaching, books, friends, etc. But still, I know I’ve let all of the above down, repeatedly. For those times, I am sorry.
I’ve engaged in religious debates, political debates, social debates and heaps of other arguments. And I’ve cared more about being right, about winning the argument or saving face, than I did about the person on the other side. For that, I am sorry.
I’ve also found myself withdrawing from a lot of the world. I don’t want to face the conflict of different belief systems and the potential for rejection…so I hide. For that, I am sorry.
At times, in my speech, my writing, or in my thoughts, I have let on like I have all the answers. That I have it all figured out. But I don’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t question my beliefs, my motives, the reality of God even. In reality, I’m just a broken beggar telling other broken beggars where to find food. And daily, I need other broken beggars to tell me where to find food. For ever acting like I was more, I am sorry.
More than anything else, I have to confess that I have been extraordinarily selfish. I have often refused to look at other people’s points of view because I figured I had the best idea—always. I have put my own interests first far more often than serving. And for that, I am sorry.
I am a Christian, but I am far, far away from perfect. I’m holding onto Jesus for dear life, but I don’t have it all figured out. I have not loved as I should have, but I hope to love more each day. And, at last, the fog has lifted and I’ve caught a glimpse of that beautiful and disturbing far off country…