What Happened That Night?
By Fred Pruitt
(The question above is what I asked myself many times during much of the nineties, while I was going through a season of intense doubt. I always knew the answer, but for a time I wouldn’t admit it, so it became my anchor of Christ in my consciousness that would not go away.)
You would think Christmas would be my favorite time of the year. It always was when I was a kid. I loved the presents, the decorations, the TV specials, the parties, singing Christmas carols. I loved it all.
My Christmas joy started to erode in my teen years — a usual occurrence I imagine — and continued through into my early twenties. But just as joy about the holiday and the things surrounding it waned, the most momentous event of my life occurred on Christmas Night, 1972.
I’ve told this story enough times that many who read this will know it, so I won’t go over the details again. But to sum up, what occurred that cold Christmas night on a dark country road in Georgia, changed everything about my life forever.
I had been running. For some time, something had been after me. Janis and I had been married by that time a few months, and our first son John was due to arrive the next spring. The pervasive cold of that night under the crisp stars was the brutal harbinger of what was staring me in the face. The vision I saw was myself, a cold shell with nothing in it, a stark, empty darkness. At age 21 already defeated, down for the count, nowhere to go, nobody to be.
But I had been pulled out into that cold that night. I didn’t know why I went. I had no idea what would happen.
In deep pain I cried out, “God — IF you’re there ….!”
I didn’t believe. I didn’t hear any voices. I saw no vision except the dark clear sky filled with little dots of light above me and all around me. I got no goosebumps. I didn’t even hear an “inner voice.” Except for my cries from depths I didn’t even know, there were no sounds.
But after my cries I walked back to the house up the road, went inside and told the people in the house, who said I looked “different” when I came back in, that, “I don’t know what this means, but from now on I’m following Jesus.”
That started something in my space-time milieu that I learned later God had started in Himself before there was a world or a “me,” that has gone on and on and on since then, running almost of itself, that I have found since then that I cannot stop — and I have tried!
I was thinking on that tonight, and about Christmases since. Because I said at the beginning that you’d think Christmas would have always been, especially since that night, a wonderful season for me. But for me it has often not been the case. The reason is that so many subsequent Christmas seasons would find us in great need, unable to give what we wanted to give, and needing help for our own survival. We could buy Christmas presents for our kids, but it would often be at the cost of utility bills or some other necessity, which made Christmas more a time of stress and self-torture and self-recriminations, than a time for rejoicing in Christ and what He had come for. For many a Christmas I almost cursed the whole thing, because for me it seemed to be a annual reminder of my own failure. And not only that aspect, but as our family grew so did the stresses in our family. Like most of us, we always had such high hopes for the season, always wishing it could be like it was when we were kids again, but so often it wasn’t, but filled with problems, fights, arguments, frustrations, angers.
But I go back to what happened that night. I’ve gone there many many times. What happened out there in the cold?
I didn’t meet a book.
I didn’t meet a preacher that I thought hung the moon.
I certainly didn’t meet a church or a denomination.
I didn’t meet a doctrine or a body of truth.
I didn’t meet a creed or a system.
I didn’t meet a set of how-to’s, techniques, procedures, laws or commandments.
I didn’t even meet the solution to all my problems.
No one will understand this except a person who has experienced this same thing, but what happened that night is that I met a Person. A Living Divine Person. When I cried that night to the invisible sky, Someone more than sky was there. Someone other than stars heard. And in a way beyond human understanding or outside of rational understanding, that Living Divine Person made Himself known in me from the moment the words came out of my mouth, “I don’t know what this means, but from now on I’m following Jesus.”
I have since learned many things, things that could fill books and books. But they all boil down to this great simplicity, in the words of John the Baptist at the River Jordan, when he saw Jesus walking along the bank: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”