A Night Under a Streetlight
I got a chance to sit down with Bill Withers, a very impactful man with quite an extensive background. Bill and I spoke of his faith walk and journey with Christ over the years, and I learned of a story I think many can relate to.
Bill’s faith story is not unlike many college students. He was raised in a Christian home, going through the church ranks to serve as the president of his local youth group, attending all the camps, the fundraisers, the service projects, etc.
But that all changed when Bill went to college.
He started to live a life that was the upside down world of what he had known. He started making bad decisions and got involved with some unhealthy relationships. He began to question a lot.
“I had a lot of questions about God and faith and Christ and leading through service. I became bitter. Some of that was just questions,” Bill stated.
He connected with who is now his wife’s sister and her husband, who pastored a group of youth at the time.
“They let me push Christ around a little bit. They never judged me. All they’d do is sometimes say, ‘Hey, here’s something you might want to read; here’s something you may want to think about.’ They never forced answers. They had extraordinary listening skills” Bill explained.
Then in 1982, something changed.
Bill was walking a couple miles away from his campus in Minnesota one night when he came upon a streetlight. He was all alone along some boulevard under this streetlight when he felt something happen to him. This is where he reconnected with God and re-committed himself to Christ.
“I decided I was tired of asking questions with no scientific answers, so I just stopped underneath that streetlight and decided to accept who I was and accept my relationship with Jesus, reclaim how my parents raised me, and stop asking questions. It was a step out of the boat onto the water Peter moment for me. And while I’m as broken in sin as anyone in this world, I have never gone backwards from that expression of my faith since then. I’ve never questioned,” Bill stated.
Because of that night, Bill said he has peace. He no longer wrestles with things and just trusts. He knows it will all work out.
Life has presented itself with challenges, though.
“I’ve had people in my family die. I’ve had friends commit suicide or be killed. I’ve had plenty of health issues within my extended family. But these are not any different than any others. When I decided under that streetlight to stop wrestling with Christ and all the questions, I stopped questioning how life just kind of sometimes happens. So, no, the God I worship didn’t cause the car accident. The God I worship didn’t cause the cancer. The God I worship didn’t pull the trigger. I’ve chosen not to wrestle with these things. I don’t beat God up about them,” Bill said.
“Just on New Year’s Day we admitted my mother to the hospital, and she ended up at a nursing facility. But I’m not going to sit here and have this pity party over things that are natural in this world. I have my faith; I’m not anxious about any of those things. There’s no sense in getting your grundies all in a bundle about things you can’t control,” Bill explained further.
After Bill married his wife, Linda, and had children, he found his life to be unbalanced. He became a workaholic as he began a small media company in Minnesota. Bill recognized this and was able to confess this to the company’s CEO by simply stating, “I think I’ve lost my way.”
The CEO suggested Bill take a vow of silence. This meant attending a weekend retreat led by Jesuit priests, and Bill decided to go. The only noises heard on the retreat were nature, faith-based or spiritual music, or those words of the Jesuit priests. Bill and everyone else there were not allowed to speak. No technology was allowed.
He came home from that retreat balanced.
When he came back from that experience, he hired a carpenter to make him a wooden box. The box signifies the sides of Bill’s life. They include being a husband, father, teacher, leader, friend, and student. Bill asked the carpenter to put something special inside the box. And that secret object is unknown to everyone but Bill and the carpenter. He explained how the contents are what should be at his core.
“The box is to be opened at my funeral by my wife,” Bill stated.
The box sits on a table in Bill’s office at Wartburg College where he know teaches. A small figure of Jesus sits on top of the box. All of this sits in front of a picture of Bill’s family. It serves as a reminder of what his life should be centered around. It reminds him of balance. It reminds him of faith.
“Faith has helped me find peace. I just don’t fear things. I’m not as anxious about things like I once was. You just don’t have to worry about stuff. There’s literally so much good in every day. We fight ourselves and fight so many other things. But I’m just peaceful.”
This serves as a reminder that no matter where you are in your walk with Christ, there is always a place for you at home with Him. You can always reconnect. He’s always offering you that peace.
Be quiet and listen. In the midst of doubt, fear, and questions, there is always a way to find that peace. Choose to accept it, and believe it. Trust in it.
Bill’s Best Piece of Advice: “Have faith. Keep believing. Relax a little bit. It’s all going to work out. And that goes back to a streetlight and a very, very young guy who was just really tired, especially of asking questions. All of these questions we ask will someday be revealed.”