The stench of stale smoke filled the air. Empty beer cans were strewn haphazardly around the trash can in the corner of my apartment. It was 2 a.m., and I was sitting on my ragged couch with my best friend, Chuck. We surveyed the mess.

We were supposed to have had a small get-together, but word got out that there was a party at my place. I didn’t even know some of the people who showed up, but apparently they had fun; the wrecked apartment was evidence of that. I didn’t remember most of the evening. I had partaken of some strange mixture of drugs and alcohol, and my brain was in a fog. All I could think about was how long it would take to clean up the mess.

Live like this?

In the midst of my stupor, Chuck said, "Hey, Piet, we are always going to live like this!" He was excited about that prospect. For the first time, I was not. I don’t know if it was the mess in the apartment or the after-effects of too much partying and not enough sleep, but I wanted out.

Chuck’s words haunted me. In the weeks leading up to the party, I had been given a steady dose of the real consequences of the party scene. Good friends were addicted to cocaine and stealing money to support their habit. Dealer friends were going to prison. I even found myself in a jail cell for an illegal joyride. I really didn’t want to live like this anymore, but how did I get here?

Good gone bad

Raised in a strong Christian home, I regularly attended church as a child. I don’t really remember hating it; I just didn’t get it. Church was part of the family routine, like good hygiene and going to school. We didn’t argue; we just went.

But when I moved out of the house, I could make my own choices and didn’t see any reason to stay committed to a religious ideology that seemed mostly about rules. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to be cool. The warnings I received from parents and teachers about the dangers of drugs and drinking seemed overdone. Many of my friends were using.

After three years of living the way I wanted, I began to feel the emptiness of it all. God heard my heart’s cry. He allowed me to meet a group of Christian young people who showed that their faith wasn’t just about showing up on Sunday morning. Rather, faith was alive and relevant every day. The more I got to know them, the more intrigued I became about Jesus. I prayed sincerely for the first time in my adult life.

A choice to make

One particular Friday night, I found myself driving back to a familiar party scene. My friends used to gather in the parking lot at the end of a peninsula jutting out into Long Island Sound. I was thinking about God but couldn’t imagine myself breaking the connection with my old friends.

As I arrived, I made an observation. On one side of the car was a beautiful sunset. I was taken by the colours, the clouds and the seagulls. On the other side was the group of partiers. Kids were on the hoods of their cars, smoking and drinking. The scene that had drawn me in for the last few years was suddenly exposed for all its ugliness.

God used the scene to speak into my soul. Here is the kind of work I do, He said as I looked to the left, toward the sunset. Then I looked to the right, toward the partying crowd. That is all you have. Wouldn’t you rather be part of My kind of work? I knew His words were true and that they were for me.

At the end of the road was a T intersection. I turned left, taking the road back home, the road to a new start and a God-ordained work.

The group of young people who modelled Christ became my new community. A young pastor friend mentored and discipled me in my new-found faith. Soon, I felt the call of God on my life for vocational ministry.

I have now been serving in pastoral ministry for 25 years, and I still can’t look at a sunset without being reminded of that crucial intersection. Using real-life consequences, gracious believers and the draw of being part of a larger story, God brought this prodigal home.

Pieter Van Waarde was pastor of Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia, Missouri, at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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