Just the term or phrase “spiritual awakening” or the concept of a spiritual renewal, a rejuvenated soul or whatever you wanna call it, has always been marked by (at least in my mind) with some sort of grand, ethereal, celestial event. It’s the kind of event that is accompanied by a choir of angels and harps, as the heavens open up and God shouts with a thunderous voice something very “God-like” and has big words or phrases that might sound something like “thou art released” and then boom everything changes in a split second.
This brings to my mind the story in the Bible where Saul on the road to Damascus is stopped in his tracks and knocked off his horse by a blinding light from Heaven followed by a thunderous voice of God(If you’re singing Blinded by the light right now, you’re not alone.) Saul at that moment is literally blinded and realizes that he’s been going down the wrong path in life, despite what he thought. God revealed to him that the very people he was persecuting, Christians, were the very people he was supposed to be serving And leading. This was a turning point for Saul. From that moment on he even had a new name, he went by Paul. Paul went on to write most of the New Testament of the Bible. He went from killing Christians to building the kingdom of God and leading them in a revolutionary life. This is an extreme case of what I think of as a spiritual awakening, but recently I’ve begun to think they may look a little different and more unassuming than we even realize or recognize but really has the same impact, just a messier version.
When I was a kid I remember my PaPaw aka Grandpa always had a pack of chewing tobacco in his back pocket, Levi Garrett if I remember correctly. As a curious youth would do I would watch him put a big wad of that tobacco in his mouth a few times a day to have “a chew” as he called it. He was a a rugged man, a WWII vet, served in the 13th AirForce, he still had shrapnel in his body from a close encounter with the enemy in The Phillipines. Needless to say I adored this man, I wanted to be like him in every way. I used to make my grandma match up our outfits, i emulated his speech, my mannerisms were like his. He was the man I looked to in order to learn to be a man. I used to put on shaving cream and pretend to shave, just cuz I saw him do it! He taught me many, many life lessons that I still carry with me to this day. I miss him to this day. He would always encourage me to be a “gentleman” and” let the ladies go first” etc. But so many things I learned from him still are at play today….103 years after he was ever born, God may I have that legacy.
One of the biggest things I carry with me to this day was a lesson I learned…. the hard way. I watched my grandpa put a chew of tobacco in his mouth several times a day and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. It seemed to bring him to life, he seemed to savor it! When he unrolled that pouch, mashed the tobacco between his fingers I could smell the aroma of the tobacco, it was comforting and it mysteriously made me want some. I thought, if this man that I love so much enjoys this, then surely I would enjoy it, right? Well, I annoyed him daily with the persistent and probably annoying requests, “PaPaw, I wanna chew, lemme have a chew.” He consistently said “No, it’s not for kids, maybe when you’re older IF your mom lets you.” He said “and it’ll make you sick.” I thought that sounded silly, why would my PaPaw continue to chew tobacco if it made him “sick.”
One day I guess he was over it, he gave in to my annoying requests and he said “ok Dave, you’re a big man, here you go” and he proceeded to hand me the pouch of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco. I was overly excited and eager to try some of it and this was a right of passage into manhood, after all. He sat back with his arms crossed as I I shoved a wad of tobacco in my mouth that would have choked an elephant. I began to chew and recall it was pretty gross, but I proceeded to chew and grin the best I could with all that chew in my mouth. This was very similar to my encounter/discovery of coffee, I just couldn’t figure out why adults would eat/chew something that was so….bitter. But, as a proud little “know it all” I proceeded to chew and chew and…..swallow, there was so much tobacco juice I couldn’t help but swallow it. My grandpa smirked and asked “well, how is it?” I proudly smiled and said “mmmmmmmm” cuz it’s all I could say at that point.
Then, it happened. I began to feel my stomach swirl and I broke out in a cold sweat. I felt horrible the only word i can think of that would describe that feeling is….green. At this point I decided to spit it all out, something had gone very wrong. I got soooooooooo sick and began to dry heave at first and then I hurled, I threw up viciously and violently. My eyes watered so bad I couldn’t see, I was barfing but still no relief. I was sweating, had cold chills and I was still incredibly nauseated, so nauseated. My grandad rubbed his hand on my back and tried to comfort me and said “see, I told you.” But that wasn’t any help either. Honestly, it took me a couple days to fully recover and regain any type of normal.
I wish I could tell you that this was the last time I ever chewed tobacco but I had to try it several more times with similar results in order to learn a very simple lesson. “Chew this and it will make you so sick you want to die.” I am glad to say that today, I do not chew tobacco but it’s not because I’m healthy or wise or am scared of cancer, I honestly do not want to get sick. That’s actually enough of a deterrent for me today. I believe this has been a gradual, spiritual awakening. It didn’t happen overnight but it did I fact lead to a change in my “heart.” It was a messy, long process but it did eventually happen.
I’m recently reminded at the moment of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”. If you’ve seen or read this you’ll probably remember that Ebeneezer Scrooge has a change of heart after being tortured by 3 “ghosts” who visit him to show him the error of his ways and how his life is off track. After the third ghost, he’s seen the error of his ways and from that moment on he’s a changed man. As I watched the story again recently I began to see the unhealthy negative patterns in his life began to consume him. It was His fear of poverty propelled him into an all consuming greed that cost him every relationship In his life and left him with the reputation of being “a Scrooge” He didn’t set out the be this way but eventually over time he made decisions that isolated him and robbed him of life. As we know from the movie, after his change of heart he left a legacy of generosity and kindness. This spiritual awakening happened late in life for Scrooge but it did happen.
I think God has been showing me these things to help me identify The Spiritual Awakenings in my life. They’ve been happening all along but I think I’ve been waiting for an “aha” moment. And, while there are these moments at times, the Spiritual Awakenings that I’m becoming aware of are a constant renewing of my spirit. God says the he wants us to have a full, rich life. For me, it has been the recognition of self destructive patterns in my life, patterns that are designed to destroy me, not to bring me life. Just like when I chew tobacco, I now know that these choices make me “sick” they rob me and those around me of the full life that God intends. I’d like to think that as God shows me these things I’d just “stop” and then make a change immediately. However if I’m being honest the spiritual awakenings are usually a process of God allowing me to bump my head, get back up and go, “ok, that hurt, maybe I shouldn’t do that again.”
So, if you’re like me you might be waiting on a divine sign or fireworks or whatever to point you in the direction your spiritual awakening. You might be waiting on choirs of angels to signal this moment of significance. If you’re waiting on those and not getting them, don’t be alarmed. Instead look for a the hand of a patient loving father who looks at you when you fall down and get back up and says “now, go this way.” This in fact is a spiritual awakening. I pray we all come to see these seemingly insignificant events in our lives as places where God is at work in us. He says in that he “started a good work, and he’s gonna finish it.” Be encouraged today that God is at work in you, even if it’s a little messy 🙂