I freely confess that, in my view, it's something of a privilege to write on a site like Moviepilot. It gives me an opportunity to write about the things I love, and to be honest about what really makes me tick. Now, in a surprising and unique weekly challenge, Creators Media is going even further - giving us writers a chance to talk about some of our most personal stories. As a result, I'm going to cast back to a time that truly defined my life.
Meet the Young Tom Bacon
My childhood wasn't an easy one; both my parents suffered from depression, and as a result I grew up a rather... intense child, holding myself responsible for pretty much everything under the sun. Matters were complicated by the fact that I read voraciously, and absorbed vocabulary from the most obscure sources. By secondary school, I knew words that most kids my age simply didn't, and - courtesy of Enid Blyton books - I had a general way of talking that was rather old-fashioned.
To the other kids at school, I was an anomaly, and with the benefit of hindsight I can fully understand why they didn't always react well to this strange and unusual peer. I didn't know how to socialize, my hobbies didn't fit in (superheroes weren't exactly in vogue back then), my financial situation wasn't the same as theirs (I got a scholarship to a Grammar School), and I was also deeply religious.
Note my wording. As the years have gone on, I've realized that there's a big difference between being religious and being Christian. Nowadays, my faith is a personal thing, a matter of a relationship between myself and God. Back then, it wasn't; it was just the way I was, another differential between myself and the rest of my own generation that I clung to stubbornly.
Needless to say, the consequence was inevitable. I came in for a lot of bullying. Underneath it all, my self-esteem was already rock-bottom; I genuinely think the reason I wouldn't give an inch in terms of fashion, clothing, or any other aspect of identity was that, somewhere deep down, I was terrified that there wasn't anything much to me anyway. The bullying just reinforced this low self-esteem, leaving me convinced that I'd never fit in with my own generation.
A Defining Moment
For me, though, the story began to turn around one summertime, when my family went to a Christian conference. A worship leader named Don Moen turned up to lead, and one afternoon my parents decided they wanted to go to that meeting. I tagged along, somewhat unwillingly, more interested in the fantasy series of novels I'd picked up the other day. So I sat out the back, able to see the meeting and hear the music, but really just interested in reading.
And then I looked up.
It was the beginning of a process that continues to this day, a process that changed my life. You see, Don Moen was talking about God - not exactly unusual at a Christian conference! - and in that second I saw something in him that I just didn't have. I knew all about God. I could reel off Bible verses. I could chat happily about aspects of what I'd later come to understand was 'theology'. But Don Moen was different. When he talked about God, it was with a sense of familiarity, of real closeness. He wasn't just talking about some theoretical principle, or some foundational aspect of his reasoning; he was talking about somebody he knew. And when he worshipped God, he wasn't doing it out of rote or routine; the chance to worship was clearly one of the most precious things in his life.
I can't even remember what he was saying. The words weren't what mattered; what captivated me was his heart. And I remember thinking, "I want that."
I can't really describe what happened next; William James would undoubtedly call it a "mystical experience". But something changed in my heart; the weight that had been so much a part of me all my life was lifted. I was left absolutely reeling, able to feel joy like never before, and feeling more free than I had ever been in my life. Again - I don't remember what was being said, or what was being sung. I just remember being changed.
Years later, looking back, I understand: Christianity was never supposed to be a thing of rules or principles. It was always supposed to be a relationship. In one prayer, Jesus said:
"Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
That word 'know' means more than just head-knowledge; it's referring to an intimate familiarity. To give you an idea of the level of intimacy indicated by it, the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the same word when it says "Adam knew Eve, and she conceived"! So far as I'm concerned, in that moment when I looked up - at the second I decided I wanted to know God - God said, "Alright then, you're on." He revealed Himself to me, and in so doing He transformed my heart.
So far as I'm concerned, this was the beginning of the journey of my life. This was the moment when a broken child began to be healed. To this day, this moment defines me.
As the years passed, I grew in my relationship with God. One night, I couldn't sleep, and I went downstairs to write. To my surprise, I didn't write a superhero story or anything like that; instead I wrote about my history, my life-story, and penned it down as a narrative similar to the one you've just read. But I knew that the story wasn't over.
I sensed in my heart that God was placing a challenge before me; to be honest about who I am, to take down any barriers and be vulnerable like never before. So the next day, I approached one of my schoolteachers, Mr. Bellamy, and I asked if I could share the story of my life - and of my faith - in a school assembly.
The challenge I was putting before myself was this: Do not pretend. Do not hide. Be open, be honest, be real. Even to the very people who bullied you.
Naturally, Mr. Bellamy was nervous; he read through my notes, and suggested that I tweak one small detail. That done, on one fateful morning I stood before my school and talked about my life. I was open about my own struggles, my low self-esteem, my battle with depression. I admitted the difference between the empty religion I'd had, and the relationship with God that was now becoming real to me. Most importantly of all for me, though, I told them all that I blamed none of them for bullying me in the years past; I could understand now how much I'd stuck out like a sore thumb. And I told them that I forgave them.
I'll never forget what followed. That testimony wasn't received with bullying; it was received with respect. To my surprise, I was treated with love and acceptance - I think, in part, because I'd trusted them, and been willing to make myself vulnerable. In all honesty, I felt as though I became something of a 'school celebrity'. Far from never fitting in, that moment of honesty - a moment that flowed out of my experience of God - created a place where I could fit in. The years since haven't been easy; the struggle with depression still continues on occasion; but the pattern of my life was set. Of openness before God, and a willingness to open my heart to others.
I freely admit that I'm telling this story for several reasons. Firstly, because this is the story that defines me. Secondly, though, because I encourage you to learn two lessons from my experience: that there is more to life than empty religion, and that communicating openly and honestly has real, transcendent power. I encourage you to look beyond your own religion and seek out truth; I happen to believe that Jesus is truth, but I'll encourage anyone in their pursuit of truth. What's more, I also encourage you to learn to communicate who you are - to be open, to be honest, and to be real.
For me, I look back at my life and I thank God for what He's made me, and for the gifts He's given me. He changed my life, and He made me who I am. With over five million reads on Moviepilot, I'm privileged now to have been placed in a position where - incredibly - I'm a part of popular culture, not just the outsider looking in. It's a direction I'd never expected my life to take.