A Conversation With J.C. Watts, Jr.
February 1, 2002 - False turns ... the occult ... agnosticism ... blind alleys ... and he turned to Jesus Christ.
by Joseph Newkirk
It was a windy afternoon in mid-October, six days after my 45th birthday, when the church bus pulled up to the Trans World Dome for The Greater St. Louis Billy Graham Crusade, in St. Louis, Missouri. The year was 1999. I had come full circle.
As I listened to the Christian music and then to the testimony of Kurt Warner, quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, my mind traveled down the many false turns and blind alleys that I had taken over the years.
I had been born into a Christian family with loving parents, but long before turning my life over to the loving God who made Himself known to me through His Son, Jesus Christ, I ventured into humanistic psychology, the occult, Zen, agnosticism, Freudian analysis and Marxism.
In college I majored in psychology and came to believe that there was no room or reason for God in a world that I thought could be explained completely by science.
After college I began to have severe emotional problems. A psychiatrist told me to "work on myself" in group therapy and counseling, and he prescribed tranquilizers to help me cope.
I was able to hold a job at a community college, but my personal life was in shambles. Frightened and isolated, I wanted to shout to everyone that John Donne, in his poem, was wrong when he wrote, "No man is an island"—some men are islands.
I turned to meditation to calm my nerves, and then to Eastern religion. But in these there is no place for the individual. I found "cosmic consciousness" to be a mental void and "nirvana" a frightening nothingness.
Perhaps the most terrifying moments of my life came when, disillusioned with Zen and meditation, I dabbled in the occult and satanism. I bought a copy of a satanic "bible." Here at last, I thought, was a guide for me—it had no sentimental fables or myths, but instructions about pleasure being good and about indulging our desires.
I tried some of this unbridled hedonism but soon was disillusioned again. I realized, with overwhelming depression, that the occult was just another path that led to a huge abyss.
It was the same with Marxism. This philosophy teaches that there is no transcendent cause or purpose, that life is an end in itself. I realized that it's not enough to improve economic and social circumstances if people don't also have a more important reason for living.
I turned to self-help books and seminars on how to "change your world by changing your thinking." This philosophy exalted the self, without recognizing that life does not follow our wishes and designs.
One day a friend invited me to church. Out of desperation I agreed to go. At the church I opened a Bible at random and read Psalm 40: "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."(1)
I knew about slimy, muddy pits—I had been in many of them. I had turned everywhere except to God.
A few months later the church sponsored a bus trip to The Greater St. Louis Billy Graham Crusade. At the meeting I found Billy Graham's words touching and compelling, and I was aware of the presence of God. Mr. Graham invited people to come to Christ, and they began to walk forward to the platform as a hymn softly played. I knew that my moment had arrived.
That night, as I walked out of the Trans World Dome into the darkness and chill of the metropolitan streets, I was filled with a peace and a joy that I had never felt before. I felt connected, I was no longer an "island."
I began my wonderful new life of being led by God. It now seemed so simple. Here was God who is greater than creation but as near as prayer.
After the Crusade I returned to my work with students at the community college. My job was the same, but now I saw my students differently. Now I saw each one as a unique creation of God. Each one needed not only instruction but care and compassion. That became my mission as I served God by helping others.
That Christmas season I volunteered with The Salvation Army, bringing gifts to residents at nursing homes and in shelter-care facilities. I rang bells for The Salvation Army kettle drive so that gifts and food could be bought for families who needed help during the holidays. I spent part of Christmas Day making meal deliveries to needy families. How different from the times when I served only myself! I began to understand a passage from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans: "In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."(2)
Something else happened: I was able to laugh. Not a nervous cackle that masked my anxiety, but a genuine laugh that expressed the joy of creation. For many months I still struggled with fears, but I found that laughter helped to ease these fears. Whenever I felt fearful, I would read Jesus' promise: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh."(3)
The pain involved in my growth is extraordinary at times, but now I am living with a purpose and a direction. I want to use my time on earth not to achieve worldly success but to help others. Knowing that Jesus suffered for me and my sins, I feel consoled that now in my own small way I am loving and serving others and submitting my will to His design.