Strawberry Fields Forever
By Curtis Peter van Gorder
It is said that our life hinges on four main decisions that lead us to become what we are: what career we choose, who we marry, what friends we make, and what we believe in. I would say that what we believe in is the most important of the four, as that will largely determine what happens with the other three.
Each one of us likely has a story of some pivotal moment that helped shape our belief system. These experiences are part of what is known as our testimony. Our life story speaks volumes. It tells the listener that if it happened to us, then it just might work for them. You can read how Paul told his story in Acts chapter 22. Perhaps your story is still in the making. Here is mine:
I was nineteen when I decided to spend the summer on my family’s abandoned farm out in the middle of the Pennsylvania wilderness in America. It could hardly be called a farm anymore. Only the shells of a few buildings remained. Forty years earlier it had been a bustling farm for my father and his family of seven rowdy brothers and sisters, but a tractor that was strip mining in the area ran over a fuel line that ignited, reducing the house to ashes. No one bothered rebuilding the house, and the surrounding property reverted back to its natural wild state. Away from everything and everybody, it was the perfect distraction-free place to chart my path for my future. Nineteen is a pivotal age and a time many make important crossroads-type decisions—and so it was with me.
My dog and I lived for six weeks in complete simplicity. Taking long walks through the forest, swimming in the river, meditating, and writing poetry. I lived on wild strawberries, granola, and soybeans. I nicknamed this place my “Strawberry Fields Forever” after the popular Beatles’ song that romanticized an idyllic eternal world that I hoped to find in this natural simplicity.
My life previously had been anything but simple, and I longed for some peace of mind. My girlfriend had gotten pregnant. I had asked her to marry me, but it didn’t work out. The child was given up for adoption. (Just as a footnote, I have since met my son, and he told me that he is thankful for the gift of life. I am thankful that he has done well as a successful financial adviser and has a happy home life.) To know that I had brought a child into the world was truly sobering, to say the least.
At the time I sought to express myself by writing in the “stream of consciousness” style, and my photography was equally as confusing. Just to show you how confusing it was: some friends and I had put together an exhibition of our “art,” which we had dubbed “Weirdism” in the hopes of starting a new art movement. It was short-lived, though, as we found our exhibition in the trash the next morning. The janitor had mistaken it for garbage.
At this time in my life, I was taking LSD and marijuana occasionally and it was messing my head up badly, giving me a very distorted sense of reality. All of this was happening against the background of the turbulent ‘70s, with the Vietnam War, race riots, the civil rights struggle, and a nation of searching youth all thrown into the mix. I longed to find a simple life to reconnect with nature and try to find my spiritual roots.
I thought perhaps I could find it in Zen archery. I was in awe of the great masters that I had read about, who could shoot an arrow and hit the bull’s eye, then with the second arrow split the first arrow in half. I tried and tried to hit the bull’s eye, but I spent most of my time searching for the arrows. It would take me a few lifetimes to master this art, I figured. Now I knew why they had pictured the masters with long beards and bald heads—it took them that long to learn to shoot straight. But I was in a hurry to find enlightenment.
I longed for a “somewhere” and a sense of community rather than the heaven of “nothingness” that some creeds promised. So even though I found a measure of peace by living a semi-hermit’s life, I realized that the peace I found in nature was only temporary, and it would soon fade when I returned to the city. I needed to find a more lasting peace when I was confronted by the harsh realities of everyday life—a peace that was not dependent on external circumstances, someone or something that could still the tempestuous waves of life. I had gone to church occasionally and was a nominal believer, but did not have much of a heartfelt understanding of what Christianity was all about or how it applied to me.
It was then that my sister told me about Jesus. Not the traditions or the rituals, but the man. I discovered that Jesus was much more. He was the man who lived the perfect “simple life,” going everywhere doing good. He not only talked about love, but gave His life for it and rose again three days after His death, giving us eternal life in the bargain. In my mind, in the context of that time, He was the perfect “flower child” without the bummers of drugs and all the other hang-ups I had experienced. I received Him into my heart, and a seed was sown that grew and grew as I watered it with His Word, prayer, and sharing my faith with others.
A few months later while on vacation in Canada, I waded into a lake and cut my feet on the sharp rocks in the shallows. As I lay on the shore trying to nurse my wounds, I looked up at the turquoise sky. Being on the verge of a life-changing decision, I wondered if this incident had some significance for me, so I instinctively asked the Lord to speak to me about what had happened.
It came not in audible words, but via what the Bible calls “the still small voice” to the heart.1 It said, “Jump in all the way, or stay on the shore. But if you wade in, you’ll get cut.” I knew this meant that I was to go ahead and make my decision with boldness, doing what I knew to be right and not worrying about the consequences. As the saying goes, “Make sure that you are right, and then go ahead.”
I took the jump and decided to devote my life to the Lord’s service in many ways and in many lands. And here I am some 40 years later, glad I did. Proverbs says, "The Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.”2 He has certainly done that in my life many times.
It was in Jesus that I found the peace of mind that I was looking for. Not in running away from the world, but being in the world yet not fully of the world. Sure, we sometimes need quiet and to get away from it all—even Jesus had to leave the multitude to get alone and talk with His Father. How much more do we need to have peace and quiet for our souls? But we shouldn’t forget that there is a world waiting in need of that peace that we have received from Him—the peace that passes all understanding.3
Looking back on my crossroads decision, I can say that I have no regrets. Jesus is the truth and the way to life. He has led me to green pastures beside still, clear mountain waters.4
1 1 Kings 19:12.
2 Proverbs 3:26 NKJV.
3 Philippians 4:7: And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
4 Psalm 23:2.
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