Before I get lost in trying to solve the problems of the world, I must get back to the events of 1970. I went back to work as a systems analyst the last Monday in April. I worked only half time, generally arriving at work about ten o’clock in the morning. Some of my associates could see immediately that something major had taken place in my life. I asked them how they knew that I had experienced a profound conversion. They said, “It shows in your eyes.” I felt a new kinship with some of my former working associates but was quite defensive in the presence of others. Some welcomed me like a long lost son into their midst. One person told me that he had been praying for me a long time. Some individuals started to reveal their personal lives to me. One person told me how fortunate I was to have had such a convincing experience with God. Then he told me about himself and how he had stopped drinking fifteen years ago. It was years after he had quit drinking that he realized there was a God who was helping him. He gave me a little card from the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. I carried it with me for over five years and learned to appreciate the AA program. I looked at the card and read the prayer many times. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Another person told me that it was a pleasure to have me around now. I asked why, and he said that I seemed to be at peace. Previously, he said, I was uptight, always in a hurry.
By and by my eyes opened more. I had never considered myself to be a tornado, only a dedicated, enthusiastic employee who loved his work. I realized then that my intense nature must have been a source of discomfort or irritation to some people. I certainly would not like to be around someone who cannot relax. And to have someone like that forced on me would be rather unpleasant.
My love for systems work and my ability to concentrate were gone. I was more interested in people, their personal lives, their problems, their mystical experiences, their relationships with God, and so on. Although I tried as hard as I knew how, I must confess that my contribution to the company was minimal. One person, a real religious fanatic, monopolized most of my time. I did not particularly care for him; nevertheless, I followed him around like a little puppy dog. I think what I learned from him was not to be like him. He was obnoxious and rude in the way he exhibited his faith. Josephine met him only once and disliked him instantly and intensely. Many times he took me to prayer meetings that lasted past midnight, much to the chagrin of my wife.
Toward the end of July there came a layoff in our department. I was one of those dismissed. Although I could agree that the decision to lay me off was realistic, the dismissal still came as a blow. I had been with the company for almost nine years. I was not ready to face the strain of proving myself in a new job. Some more healing within me was necessary before I would be ready to face the public again. I therefore asked my therapist if he was willing to certify me for total disability. There was no hesitation on his part. A week before my termination day, I did not return to work and thereby became eligible for total disability compensation. Two years earlier our company had offered its employees low-cost disability insurance. I became the grateful recipient of a substantial monthly check from this policy. We would have no financial worries in the foreseeable future. I began to recognize the hand of God working in my life! He was planning for my provision while I was still asleep.
I felt no particular pressure to hurry up and go to work again. I was satisfied to dream about a variety of new professions I could learn. One day I wanted to become a barber; the next day, a mechanic; and the day after that, a gardener. I was also quite unsure about which church I liked best. For awhile I felt at home in the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which is an unusual place. It is near the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and appeals to a rather transient and unpredictable group of people. No one criticized my behavior or asked questions. Whenever I attended, I felt welcome. My absence was not considered a form of backsliding. My wife and children did not want to go with me. Their reluctance to join me bothered me, so I decided to find a church that would be acceptable to my wife. I struck upon the brilliant idea that she couldn’t possibly refuse to accept the church affiliated with our boys’ school. She came with me a few times, but soon decided she could not be comfortable in a church. It was not very difficult for her to influence the boys to stay home with her. After awhile, I went alone, then only every other Sunday. I never struck upon a formula on which we could agree. I was very sad and felt extremely torn inside. The people at the church considered my wife a heathen, an unbeliever, a person sure to go to hell. Those opinions were based on my uncalled-for remarks. Everyone offered to pray for her and to pull her into the safe camp of their faith. All of this put our marriage to the test. Much unnecessary grief was created in the name of Jesus.
Unbeknown to me, Josephine became very disenchanted with my therapist. She proceeded to look around for someone else to treat me. One day she announced that she had heard about a psychologist who also taught at UCLA. She went to see him and liked him very much. I did not object to seeing another therapist because I felt it was all a part of my training to become a counselor myself someday. I, too, liked the man. He was very easy to talk to. I felt that here was a man with whom I had a kindred spirit. When he told me that my wife was the really sick person, he became my immediate ally and friend. He recommended that we get out from under our heavy financial burdens and assume a more relaxed lifestyle. He did not need to convince me to make such a change. But my wife was married to her job and would not budge.
The psychologist followed a system of therapy called “Reality Therapy.” He did not threaten the world in which I was most comfortable. He tried to assist me in finding as much fulfillment as possible in that world. When I voiced the desire to work with drug patients, he proceeded to help me find a suitable job. I became a volunteer worker on the drug abuse ward at Olive View Hospital in Sylmar. Soon I was totally fulfilled and could hardly wait to get up in the morning to go to work.
Before I tell you about my experience at Olive View Hospital, dear Phyllis, I must share what I consider to be valuable new insight. I was still experiencing violent periods of distress in my body and spirit. I did not know when they might come, why, or for how long they would stay. These attacks were very frightening to Josephine and me. Although I did not lose control of my conduct during these periods of turmoil, I was afraid I might. I cannot tell you what losing my composure would have entailed, but I was certainly afraid to find out.
I remember sitting in the bathtub early one morning reading the Bible – the book of Isaiah, I believe. I was reading about some idolatrous queen of Babylon and immediately connected my wife with her. My anger towards Josephine was enormous. Instead of expressing my anger towards her, I went to the yard and cut down some unproductive grapevines. Fortunately, I have always had a great deal of respect for the law and for life; otherwise, this letter might have been written from a prison cell or a highly secured mental ward.
One day I got the idea that I had a perfect right to take authority over my violent attacks of distress. I treated these attacks as if they were hurled at me by our archenemy, Satan himself. “I will take no more of this harassing,” I said to myself. But what to do? Every bit of analytical skill I had employed previously to design exotic computer systems, I now applied to the solution of this problem. I tried many things, but the most effective and dependable solution became a combination of physical exercise and simple prayer. I learned that I must never allow the distress to assume full-blown proportions. At the slightest indication of agitation, I headed for the swimming pool and swam vigorously. Prayer was generally limited to saying the name of Jesus over and over again. Sometimes I said the name of Jesus in combination with someone else’s name I felt to be in distress. The tension was generally over in about thirty minutes.
Realizing that I was not completely helpless was the beginning of rebuilding a new healthy will. Today as I know the Bible a little better, I pray along these lines, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” These are the instructions of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians. They are as applicable today as they were almost two thousand years ago. The name of Jesus has not lost any of its authority or power in the presence of the enemy.
In the meantime, I have also learned a few things about being an intercessor. When we are an intercessor, we are compassionately concerned for the welfare of someone else or a group of people. We are willing to feel and experience another’s burden and carry them in prayer to the Throne of Grace. We are willing to wrestle and agonize in prayer until we sense that the prayer has been answered. We might be aroused to pray in the middle of the night for either someone close to us or a stranger. We might pray for a situation for an hour or intermittently for a number of years before we have the assurance that the prayers have been answered. An intercessor is tenaciously stubborn in his prayer life. If you want to learn more about intercession, I recommend two books: The Way of Divine Love, by Sister Josefa Menendez, and Rees Howells Intercessor, by Norman Grubb.
Many of us struggle with strange feelings and phenomena. We can easily become confused and frightened when we cannot find explanations for these peculiar experiences. I believe that these two books, placed in the right hands at the right time, will set many a tortured soul free. Anyway, the Good News is that we no longer need to be like hapless medicine balls, which get mercilessly kicked around. The Good News is also that for every trial God will make a way of escape for His chosen people.
Some of these thoughts and convictions were part of the equipment that I brought to the drug abuse ward. The first day there I had a discomfort in my spirit towards the prisoners on the ward. I was not able to come very close to them. “They might really be bad and even dangerous,” I thought.
When I went home after the first day, I asked God, “How can I help these people if I can’t love them?” In some mysterious way, God showed me that these prisoners on the drug abuse ward were SICK, not BAD. The complexion of my attitude changed immediately. The next day, as I stepped off the elevator, I knew I was where I belonged. An unseen Presence met me, filled me with joy and the confidence that I could be of help. I believe that it was the Holy Spirit who came to greet and to anoint me. He filled me with the desire to be a friend of outcasts and prisoners.
My duties were to be a friend, companion, and escort for the patients. They were not permitted to leave the ward without an escort. I would be asked to accompany them to the X-ray department, the dental department, to take walks with them, and so on. Sometimes they would talk to me, but often they were silent. By a strong inner prompting, I felt restrained from asking questions. Every confidence I considered a sacred trust. Somehow I regarded it a privilege to be allowed to see the turbulence, the despair, the rebellion of the souls of these men and women. Often I would play games with the patients, listen to records, eat with them, or watch television. They said I would never need to take drugs, that I had a natural high. I could not quite comprehend what they meant at the time.
For several months my spirit was very buoyant. Every day was an adventure. I allowed myself to be drawn into the presence of one patient after another. There was nothing premeditated about what I would talk about; but I recall that very often I repeated the story of how I asked Jesus to come into my heart. In fact, once in awhile I was approached to retell the story. Some just would not believe such an unusual story when it was told second-hand. I had many opportunities to share my faith in a very unpolished way. Only time will tell how many seeds were planted and how many were watered.
During that time I was eagerly devouring the writings of Kahlil Gibran. I took his book The Prophet with me to the hospital and read it whenever I had a moment to myself. Soon I found a host of persons who enjoyed The Prophet. Many of the patients had read the book. By my bringing it along, they met one of their old friends. The fact that so many knew and loved The Prophet built a bridge between many patients. I used to bring the very fancy edition of the book to the hospital. Curiosity would prompt many to ask, “What are you reading, Peter?” or “What’s that book you’re always carrying around with you?”
I would answer, “Have a look,” as I handed over the volume. Almost every time, the person would remain glued to the book until he had read it. I believe that the writings of Kahlil Gibran may become a preamble to a personal commitment to following in the footsteps of Jesus. The fact that the book is so extremely popular shows me that people are really hungry to know God.
After I had worked at the hospital for almost three months, I developed a very critical attitude toward the psychiatrist on the ward. I started to see and imagine all kinds of intrigues between doctors, nurses, and patients. The excruciating pain in my face came back in full force. I tried to find out what caused the pain. I thought perhaps I should ask to be assigned to a different ward. I went to the tuberculosis ward, but the atmosphere was so depressing that I lasted for barely a day. I decided that maybe I was supposed to discontinue this type of work for awhile. Five weeks later an earthquake destroyed the hospital. Since then I have discovered that the pain in my face is like a fire alarm for me. Whenever the pain flares up, I ask myself, “What’s wrong?” Little by little, I am learning who the culprit is and how to handle the situations that come up. Very often, however, the only way God can get my attention is to make me quite uncomfortable in a given situation. Pain can be a real blessing in disguise. It can tell us that something is wrong before it is too late. Painkilling remedies should therefore be used with a great deal of discretion.
Today I view mood-and-mind-alerting drugs like Russian roulette. One never knows when someone might be adversely affected by medication. Sufficient numbers of people have seen the adverse effect of penicillin to know that what may be healing for one individual can be deadly for another. The same holds true for drugs that relieve pain or attempt to balance our moods.