Recently, I attended a talk at the St. Paul’s Newman Center chapel hosted by bisonCatholic, a college-student group trying to live a Christ-centered life on the campus of North Dakota State University.
“God Tattooed My Heart,” by Christian convert Matt Simmons, took place on the coldest night of the year. When I finally decided to brave the minus-30 degree temps, I had no intention of attending as a reporter.
However, Simmons’ talk was compelling, and I can’t quite shake his story.
Born into a dysfunctional family with an atheist father and a mentally-ill mother who eventually abandoned them, Simmons was, by his own accounts, a total wreck of a child. His first police arrest, he said, happened when he was 5. His sister, put in charge of him after their mother flew the coop, abused him, both physically and mentally.
Eventually, he ended up addicted to hardcore drugs, and found an additional endorphin rush from acquiring tattoos. He soon went into the business, co-owning a tattoo shop to finance his destructive lifestyle, including a string of failed relationships.
At one point, he was so out of control he tried ending his life by slashing his throat in front of his girlfriend. He almost succeeded, blaming her for what had happened. Instead of leaving him, she drew closer. “That’s how messed up she was,” Simmons remarked.
But eventually, God reached him, and though through a long, arduous process, Simmons explained how God’s grace reached and completely transformed him.
Taking notes of his account, I felt chills running through my body, and not from the outside temps. I was especially gripped by this insight: “The depth of human pain is loneliness. That’s why Satan wants to isolate us, to get us off on our own, so we can die alone.”
Tapping his words into my phone, I was struck by both the truth and sadness of his pronouncement. I thought of myself in times I’d tried deal with my pain alone. The pain never dissipated by those efforts, however; it worsened wildly. I’ve witnessed this same tendency in loved ones who’ve isolated and pushed away from life-giving help in hard moments.
As Simmons noted through lived experience, “Without God in our hearts, we’re already living in hell.”
It’s true. Isolation is a turning-away from God and into self, but because we are relational beings made for communion with others, and especially, union with God, isolation offers a false solution.
I understand the tendency to go dangerously inward. I’ve tried it myself, never with good effect. I plead with anyone tempted toward self-induced seclusion, for your eternal soul’s sake, and those who love you, don’t acquiesce and “go dark.” Even if all you can utter is, “Help me,” into what might feel like a silent void, do it.
You may not hear back immediately, but somehow, through the voice or action of another, God will respond. You are never alone.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Feb. 16, 2019.]