For years now, I get a bitter-sweet feeling in the fall that I haven’t been able to place. I see clear blue skies and breathe in the clean fragrance of crunchy leaves. I delight in squatty pumpkins, scarecrows (that scare no one), and trick-or-treaters lost in make-believe. But there’s always that feeling – somewhere on the tip of my subconscious, sometimes fleeting, but always there. It’s funny how certain things remind us of something else, but we may not know exactly what.
This year, I figured it out.
As a teenager, I wrestled with typical teen issues. I asked, “Who I am I?” “What am I good at?” “What will I do with my life?” I explored interests and hobbies. Like many teens, I felt inferior to my peers. I wanted male attention, but feared it. I longed to be myself, even though I didn’t know who that was! I had many thoughts and feelings to sort out. In the processing, I developed rebellious behaviors and attitudes. I was careful to be a subtle rebel though. I didn’t draw too much attention, but instead ran a quiet, mostly internal, rebellion.
I brought my confusion and bad attitudes with me when I attended a youth retreat at Fort Bluff Camp in the fall of 1983. There we wrapped ourselves in sleeping bags for breakfast and shed layers in the afternoons. We played “Capture the Flag” and other games, but always had time to sit by a fireplace and laugh with friends. Unencumbered with adult responsibilities, I felt happy and free.
In the evenings, we crunched through the leaves to the dining hall for dinner and a spiritual challenge. One night, God used a special speaker to work on my heart. Although my heart was hard at that time, God had given me a hunger for Himself. He had called me to salvation when I was a child. But this was something different. He drew me into a deeper level of commitment – a deeper level of intimacy - and it would be all or nothing. The speaker challenged me to put Jesus first even if I had to stand alone. (That’s a hard thing for teenagers.) My rebelliousness and lying had to end. His Spirit insisted I submit to my parents’ authority and do right when I got home. God’s hand of conviction sat heavy on my heart, and I tried to resist. But when I finally submitted, He forgave my sin and set me free. I think of that every time I sing, “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free.”
I went back to my cabin that night with a sweet peace I hadn’t enjoyed in months. I experienced the bitterness of sin and God’s disapproval, but also the sweetness of a restored relationship with Him.
Bitter-sweet. And it all happened one fall day.
From Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,