Though I was quite young at the time, it was a book that left a deep impression on me. Since my steady and early involvement in the church, I understood that hope was essential in learning to live a good life. However, I think what also stuck out in Wilkerson’s account was the importance of believing in something greater than one’s self.
Believing in a power greater than one’s self advocates of course for a God, or as others might coin it, a supreme deity. Is it someone who looks like Moses, perhaps an invisible being or maybe a force that watches over us? Or is it simply the laws of nature?
Either way, I tend to believe that the majority of us want to believe that there is something not accidental or unsystematic that causes us to believe only if we can discover the message or the signs, then we improve the odds of delivering ourselves from the catastrophes and voids that await us. Ask many of those who have entered a 12-step program for addictions if acceptance of a greater power can work.
Of course, as luck or destiny would have it, my own professional life has been led to work with young people, many of whom have faced at-risk paths determined either by the environments they were born into, or choices they would eventually make or both.
Based on the thousands of conversations and interviews I’ve had with those young people, and along with the insights and opinions provided by parents, educators and law enforcement, I have heard stories of the hopes, the challenges, the depressions and the disappointments they have all experienced. From family conflicts to drugs, from acts of violence to arrests, from the gang life to the thoughts of suicide, each issue carries significant importance to the young person who has put their trust in me enough to share what often turns out to be their deepest fears.
Added into the equation was that I was no angel during my own youth. I was a screwball who didn’t take school seriously. I was angry, although I was never sure why. I would fight or blow up at the slightest antagonisms or disagreements. And I did have involvements with the local police. Although there were two differences that separated me from many of those kids who I have had the privilege to work with. The first is that I had a solid family. I knew there was structure and caring adults available when you needed them most. And there was guidance from the expectations laid upon you, responsibilities assigned to you and discipline provided when you took something for granted.
But there was something else I had. Just as David Wilkerson attempted to provide to the gang members and young addicts who he had worked with in New York City. Simply, my believing that there was a greater purpose, an understanding that if I believed in goodness, then so, too, I believed that evil was just as much of a presence. It all translated into believing in something greater than myself. That, of course, came from the experience that developed my faith, a faith that had been fostered during my early years. I believe now, and even when as a 17-year-old when I was sitting in my local county jail, it was that faith and conviction that gave me hope and direction when I was at my lowest.
I often have the opportunity to ask a young person, “What do you believe in?” Normally, I get a blank expression in return. They seem clueless as to what I’m inquiring about. Yet the gaps and the temptations in their lives are glaring. Why say no to drugs? Why shouldn’t I join a gang when I have no kind of family? What’s the big deal of taking from someone who has so much? Why shouldn’t suicide be preferable to the life I now lead?
Why shouldn’t so many of our young feel so empty, with no direction other than what they can search for over social media? Unfortunately God doesn’t have the exposure he once had.
Through the courts and the media, the atheist core has been very successful in making the American landscape more comfortable for themselves. The way they see it, there is only darkness at the end of the road. No problem, for them. However, it does not help the young people who already feel they are at the end of their road.
Bob Rinearson is a resident of Fort Wayne.