My Year away from Jesus: Part 1
The boxes were packed and stacked around my bedroom, waiting to be loaded into my '99 Ford Taurus. Looking around my room, I ensured that everything was neatly put away in the boxes, ready to move to Phoenix, Arizona. You see, for the last ten years or so I've lived in Flagstaff, Arizona. In that time I graduated from Northern Arizona University with an elementary education degree. After I graduated from NAU, I began working with students at a local Elementary school for about five years. I loved the job, but my hope was to get my own classroom.
The time finally came where I felt God moving in my heart to move me to Phoenix to teach. I was excited to gather my courage (along with my stuff) and move my life to Phoenix. I landed a teaching job in the center of Phoenix, where I would be teaching 5th grade.
Before I was able to leave for Phoenix, I needed to tell all of my church family in Flagstaff that God was moving me to Phoenix to be apart of this amazing ministry opportunity. Before I knew it, the head pastor at my church asked me to go stand on the stage of the church so that the church members could pray for me. The prayer felt empowering and encouraging as I prepared for my life change.
So, I left for Phoenix.
This was the start of a time period where I would walk away from Jesus, the God-man that had freed me from so much over the last ten years. The same God that I promised I would never turn from and abandon. similarly to so many, my descent started small. It started with small decisions and choices that I would make that would snowball into bigger issues, leaving life-long memories that I will have to deal with and tackle as I fight for my relationship with the Almighty LORD.
As the months went by and I started working in fifth grade, my faith slowly deteriorated through difficult times and bad decisions. As I struggled with my new job, I lost focus on God though this time. For example, I would come home from a difficult time at work and stress would be layered over my chest, weighing down my heart and my mind. At the end of the night I would read through some scripture and pray, then I would go to bed; hoping to have a better day the next day.
When my days would continuously go bad and sometimes even get worse; I realized that I grew more tired at the end of the day. Slowly I read less scripture and prayed will less expectation. It seemed like my only solace was Sundays, when I would go to church. Often I found myself wiping tears of joy from my eye as the worship band played; I still had hope. although I was loosing it quickly.
As I write these words, nearly two years after I moved to Phoenix, Arizona I have to reflect and discover what were some of the causes that lead me down this path. I also am being forced to consider what I could have done to prevent this descent down the mountain of faith.
1. Community- The Bible is very clear about the need for community for the Christian . Building a firm and reliable Christian community could keep you focused on your mission. The community will also be there to pray for you and guide you through the trial and tribulations of your ministry. I can't say that I didn't have a great community around me because I had Fellow teachers and friends who would have willingly walked with me through all of the difficulties that I have faced. The true issue was my trust of these individuals. I have learned that the importance of community is not to just simply have crowds of people around you, instead true community comes from having people around you that you trust and who care about you; people who will hear your stories and talk you though them, giving you advice. As I said, my issue wasn't having people around me, I had plenty. My issue was being open and honest with the people who were around me. I felt like I had to solve my problems on my own, therefore I wouldn't allow myself to be completely honest with everything that I was truly facing. Yes, I had a community of family and friends around me, but I wasn't using them to the most effect that they should have been. Also, in this time I had lived with a home church or a church community. While I did find a church to go to, I never truly connected with the members of the community. Obviously that cost me a lot when it came to my faith walk and my growth as a man of God. I was essentially stunting my own spiritual growth with this choice.
2. Influence- Now, anybody with any life experience at all could tell you that not only do they have influence on people but they have been influenced by the people around them. The lesson of community and influence truly go hand-and-hand. The company that you keep influences the person that you become. Over the last two years I have had many influences come and go. Unfortunately the ones that I chose to keep around where the ones who lead me astray. Please understand that I am not saying this to blame the individuals in my life for my distance between myself and God. I am writing this to share what I've learned though this very trying experience. Influence is a two-way street. If people can influence you positively or negatively than you too can influence them as well. The dilemma is when a person is allowing negative thoughts to fill their mind and heart, more often than not that vibe will overflow into the person's influence of others. This was never more evident than in my own classroom. Over the last years I was negatively influenced by my lack of God's presence in my life along with the other influences of people, music, media, and my own thoughts. As they filled my heart and my mind, I carried a negative presence into my classroom. As I faced challenges in the role of teacher, the dark cloud got heavier and harder to bare. That same cloud filled my classroom, hanging over the head of every student that stepped foot in my room. This is an impact that I never wanted to leave with such an amazing group of kids. Soon, I realized that I need to change my influences if I wanted to become the person that I once was. If I desire to influence and impact the world for God's ultimate glory, then I must grab hold of my influences and learn to control them. I can not allow them to have control over my thoughts and my mood, I must speak out the truth of God. I will pray to God to allow my thoughts and my mood to be an influential element to the world around me.
3. New surroundings- I spent nearly ten years in flagstaff, Arizona. From the time that I was 17 until right before my 27th birthday. Flagstaff became my home away from home. For years it was the place that I first met God and realized his dying love for me. It was there that I discovered who I was and what I was capable of. Flagstaff was the place where my heart opened to God's word and His plan for my life. I started working in multiple ministries, impacting the lives of those that I worked with. When God called me to move to Phoenix, I thought that it would be easy to transfer my passion and my heart for people and ministry to the new place, but I soon found that more difficult than anticipated. Now, once again I am not saying that the new surroundings changed me, but I am saying that if one does not properly prepare their heart for the transition through prayer and building a firm community within the church, then it makes the transition extremely difficult.
5. That's what I did; I failed to properly prepare my heart for the transition. I lacked discipline in finding a church and building a church community that would hold me accountable to the life of a Christian. Due to my own choices I found distance between myself and the God that I once loved so dearly. Now, That I am on the road to recovery and rebuilding my relationship with Christ, I feel the need to tell the truth of my journey, leaving nothing to the imagination.
Anthony K. Giesick
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