The start of a tricky time
During my adolescence I felt my ‘calling’ (a Christian word which, basically, means ‘what I want to do when I grow up’) to be a Christian youth worker. Sadly, I focused on the talks and the title as opposed to the life style. Instead of delving deeper in my relationship with God, I tried to act pragmatically about the role, for example, politics might be useful for a youth worker so I did an A-level in it. Politics didn’t go well. Anyway, when I was in Upper Sixth I didn’t feel ready to go to university so I decided to do a gap year with a Christian organisation. Problem was: I hadn’t invested in my walk with God (basically, Christian lingo for ‘relationship with Jesus’) and was still concentrating more on the fact that I was sinful than being a sinner who was saved and everything was on Jesus. During the summer, there were a couple of moments when I lost my temper and shouted at a friend and at my dad. I knew, deep down, I wasn’t ready for a year out with a Christian organisation.
In my first month in a Northern borough of London, I felt isolated. The house I was living in was shared with three other volunteers who worked in the local community during the whole week. Half of my week was spent half an hour’s bus journey away. It was stressful, lonely and, on one night, I acted in a way I really shouldn’t have. Feeling very guilty for what I’d done, I talked with a housemate. She then acted in a way she thought was right and, with the other housemates, informed the managers behind my back. During the afternoon of the next day one of the managers and I walked through a swampy bit of land. He gave me the option of either returning to the office and being talked to there, or to go home and await the return of the housemates plus the two managers from the organisation. That evening was torturous and, although I apologised to them all, the feeling of guilt deepened.
Words, I felt, fitted me at the time
The next day I was subdued and hollow and decided not to talk to any of them. That evening, I heard two of the housemates talking in the kitchen about me and I lost it. I went, bellowing, into the kitchen and grabbed onto the kitchen sink so I wouldn’t lash out. The third housemate came down the stairs and asked what was going on. She was informed and we decided we should call one of the managers over. It was one in the morning but, still, the manager turned up. She separated us and talked with me in the front room, where she told me I shouldn’t be making the others in the house feel threatened, before talking to the three house mates in the kitchen. The result of that evening was I was given an ‘Action Plan’. It was a list of negative things observed about me and written as a column of ‘Don’t…’ This ranged from not using my mobile phone all the time (I’d been contacting my mum because I felt so lonely) to not making those around me feel awkward by wearing my emotions on my sleeves (I’m an honest chap). There were a couple of ‘Don’ts’ that made sense but, clouded by ones I didn’t understand the logic of, they were somewhat lost. At the bottom of the page was a comment stating I needed to decide whether I wanted a mentor or a counsellor over the course of the year. This, I could also agree with.
Still, this Action Plan made me feel lousy, sleazy and sub-human. I decided to quit after six months, and the following year I decided to give up Christianity. Thankfully, God hadn’t decided to give me up. But, the feeling of guilt and condemnation lasted a long time and there are still threads that linger now. The message from this lesson, I guess, is that we should dig deep foundations when we can. And if a fellow human is caught struggling, don’t pour heaps of coal upon them by giving them a negative list of things observed about them. From personal experience, that doesn’t help.