Tuesday Testimonies: Understanding God’s Grace

The other week, John Simmons read Romans 8 and cried.

Verses 14-15 say, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”

In his childhood home, the same house his grandparents bought in the 1960s in a small town near New Hampshire’s seacoast, John’s parents taught and emulated the love of Christ.

His father, who owns a law firm, would always be home for either breakfast or dinner and earned the title of loudest fan at John’s sports games. John’s mom homeschooled him and his four siblings, recognizing that the New Hampshire public school system’s curriculum often did not align with biblical truth.

“If you looked at my life on paper, you’d think this kid has it all together,” John said.

But between the ages of 12 and 13, John grew 13 inches. During the rapid growth spurt, something happened in the caudate nucleus of his brain. 

John described the caudate nucleus as a strainer for our thoughts. We have all been in a situation where something on a computer is not working right and we, quite honestly, want to act out in rage and throw the computer in the trash. Quickly, however, that thought subsides and, while we still may be upset, we can realize that thought was silly and move on.

John, however, was no longer able to strain out those thoughts. If he was in that situation with the computer, he would not actually throw it in the trash, but he was unable to recognize that thought as an irrational one. His brain would internalize that anger to the point that it became a part of his identity.

“I would think that I was really an angry person on the inside and that, whenever I would face a problem, all I would want to do is act in rage, which wasn’t true, but I couldn’t filter through these things on my own,” John said.

For two years, his close-knit family watched his whole demeanor change as he became lonelier and more isolated. More and more irrational thoughts came with each day, and he became more confused about his identity and began to doubt his worth.

“All of that made me think, how could God love someone so messed up as me, so I’ve got to start earning his favor back.” John said. “I became very legalistic and totally did not understand the concept of grace at all.”

In any free moment, he would go to his room and read the Bible, pray and go out of his way to be kind to people, but out of guilt towards God and a desire to be loved for his actions. He became a slave to fear, guilt and anger.

Finally, his parents realized they needed to take action.

“They said, ‘Johnny, we know this isn’t you. We’re going to figure something out,’” John said.

But he saw himself as such an awful person that at the age of 14, the same night that his parents decided they were going to help him, he was ready to take his own life–until God stepped in.  

John knows he isn’t perfect, but he is learning that his worth is in God’s grace, not his brokenness (photo by Haven Fredrich).

“It’s the only time that I feel like I’ve actually heard God speak audibly to me and he said, ‘I have a plan for you.’ And that was it, and I didn’t go through with it,” John said. 

Soon after that night, John’s parents discovered the research on the caudate nucleus and its effects on filtering thoughts. They were not able to completely heal the problem, but the knowledge allowed John to realize the anger was not who he truly was. 

For years, John viewed himself as a slave. He still has a hard time accepting that God loves him, and he wages war against these lies on a daily basis.

“I still struggle with the basic truths of our faith, but I’m working through it by God’s grace,” John said. “My hope is that anyone reading my story is encouraged to know not only is it natural to have doubts and questions, but no one feels like they have to have it all together. And in the end, there is daily hope to overcome this.”

John finds hope in the words of Romans 8, knowing that he has been called into sonship through adoption, not the slavery he lived in for so long. 

“If the God of the universe has this capacity to not look at our brokenness and just automatically condemn it but rather to want to come alongside us and walk and carry our burdens, that’s the most freeing reality there is,” John said. “It’s amazing that he is our helper in times like this.”

Jacqueline Hale is the Feature Editor. Follow her on Twitter at @HaleJacquelineR.

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