By Alexandra Applegate, Storytelling Intern at Saddleback Church
The echoes of Jerry’s screams bounced off the walls and the vulgar words he used rang in his ears, making his wife and children recoil in fear. When he lost control and became inconsolably angry like this, it was hard for Jerry to look in the mirror and not see his own parents.
Jerry’s father was a military man who believed physical abuse was a form of discipline, and Jerry’s mother spent most nights drinking rather than being with Jerry. The time spent at his father’s brought physical bruises and tears while the time spent at his mother’s left him questioning why he wasn’t her first priority. Consistently being mistreated and forgotten about by his divorced parents left him with an anger he didn’t know how to separate himself from as an adult.
“I had my father’s anger. It was explosive at any given time,” Jerry said. “When something didn’t go my way, I got angry. If I couldn’t control the situation, I got angry. I yelled, I cursed, whatever made me feel better at the time.”
During his adulthood, this anger continued to lurk around every corner of Jerry’s life causing two marriages to end. He had decided it would be easier to leave and start over with someone else, so each time, Jerry left. His anger and outbursts poisoned the relationships he had with his children, his spouses, and his parents — whom Jerry had given up on and stopped talking to.
This problem persisted in Jerry’s marriage to Rhonda, his third wife. Rhonda told Jerry she couldn’t handle it anymore; he either had to change something or he had to leave because he was negatively affecting their children. Jerry realized he couldn’t keep letting his anger control his life.
“It was either be lonely for the rest of my life or try something new,” Jerry said. “I was tired of running. It was time for me to stop. It wasn’t working.”
It wasn’t until Jerry started seeing a psychologist, a longtime member at Saddleback Church, that he heard the truth: Only God could help him. Jerry had not grown up attending church and didn’t believe in Jesus, so Jerry was incredibly reluctant to rely on God to change his life so drastically.
One day, Jerry noticed a bumper sticker on someone else’s car that read “Jesus” in big letters. Being a man who believed in signs, he knew there had to be more. Rhonda had been a member at Saddleback for 20 years so Jerry knew of Pastor Rick and began listening to his messages while he drove.
“They were the most relaxing drives I had. So I went home and told my wife I was going to church on Sunday,” Jerry said. Rhonda had never convinced Jerry to come to church with her so she was more than willing to take Jerry. “I wanted direction and hope for my life. I didn’t want to go through another divorce. I was hoping that something would change my life.”
Walking up to the church that Sunday, Jerry still was not sure if he should be there. He didn’t know how God could accept such a broken man. However, Jerry was immediately welcomed by a hug from a greeter and tears welled up in his eyes. He realized he was loved, despite his past and his brokenness. “From the time I stepped on campus, I was welcomed. I felt at home and at ease,” Jerry said. “I felt like the message was directed at me. I cried through the whole service.”
Soon after, Jerry’s psychologist gave him The Purpose Driven Life and they worked through the questions together every morning. He also heard about Celebrate Recovery (CR) at Saddleback and felt that was the next step to address his anger.
At first, Jerry only went to the worship aspect of the meetings. “I would tell myself that’s all I needed. I didn’t need the group discussion,” Jerry said. “But I noticed I wasn’t changing. It was still the same thing every night. I would give it all to God at worship and then as soon as I got home, I would take it all back.”
Jerry eventually decided to try sharing at the group discussion to see if it could change the anger that held onto him so tightly. The first week, Jerry didn’t share but just listened to the other men in the group share their stories. “I realized I’m not the only one. I’m not here by myself,” Jerry said. The next week, Jerry decided to share his own pain, even though he didn’t believe he could impact other people’s lives. Afterward, some of the men starting contacting him and Jerry found an incredible bond with them.
Through this community, Jerry started the step study with CR and admitted he was helpless and couldn’t control his own life. The healing could finally begin. When Jerry reached the “Make Amends” step in CR, he knew he needed peace with his painful childhood. “I hadn’t talked to my dad in six years but I sent him The Purpose Driven Life and I am trying to tell him how my life has changed,” Jerry said. Jerry now speaks to his father most days and is working to rebuild their relationship.
Since beginning his healing process, Jerry has taken Class 101, been baptized, and started volunteering at Saddleback as much as he could in a variety of ministries. Jerry didn’t know how God could use him with the baggage he carried but was determined to try. Recently, Jerry was employed as Saddleback’s Warehouse Coordinator and is able to serve all the ministries at Saddleback. But most significantly, Jerry’s family has seen an incredible change in him and Jerry has seen a change in how he views himself.
“I don’t get angry as much. I am getting rid of the negativity in my life and trying to build those relationships that I ran from when I was younger,” Jerry said. “Just because you’re broken doesn’t mean God can’t use you to help someone else. I’m still broken and he is still using me.”
Reprinted with permission from Saddleback Church. http://saddleback.com/watch/stories/2017/07/21/From-Brokenness-to-Freedom