Sy Garte’s experience of childhood bullying led to him becoming a bitter, angry man. When a miraculous encounter with God replaced those emotions with a supernatural joy, it started him on a journey towards faith in Jesus
Children tend to conform to the expectations of their environment. Sometimes this causes a dilemma, because they live in an environment where two different sets of radically opposed expectations exist.
I was raised in a family of communist atheists that went back three generations, but most of our neighbours - including the kids I hung out with every day - were Irish and Italian Catholics.
I was hanging on to a cliff, trying desperately not to fall. I heard a voice saying: “Just let go”
So I learned the skills of adaptation and survival, and was fairly successful at leading a double life - until I turned thirteen.
At that point, my friends formed a gang, which I was forbidden by my parents to join. Everything fell apart, and the consequences were violent and frightening. I found myself targeted by my neighbours, and a nightmare of physical and emotional bullying began (and the subsequent fear that went with it) that lasted for over two years.
A rage that burns
As I grew up, that fear turned to hatred and, one day, I fought back against my tormentors, allowing that hate to power my body into brutality.
I was never attacked again. But the hatred and bitterness of those days stayed with me. It became a defining part of my character. I was never afraid of anyone again, and I felt that those horrible experiences had given me a strength I had always craved.
Decades later, when I told this story to a Christian woman, she said something that at first surprised me, and then made me very angry. “You need to forgive them,” she said.
“Never!” I answered with some force. I explained how important my rage and desire for vengeance was to me.
“You need to forgive them”, she simply repeated.
I was not a Christian at that point but, by then, I had heard a lot about Jesus. I had even been to a church a couple of times. I sat quietly for a while, staring at the floor, my mind in a great deal of turmoil.
Then, for the first time in a long while, I began to cry. “I forgive them,” I said, and the world changed.
Just let go
I can’t explain it, but I physically felt weights and scales and burdens and cares dropping off me and, in their place, came something else. I thought it might be what people called joy, and I wanted to hold onto it.
Then, I remembered a dream from many years earlier. In it, I was hanging on to a cliff, trying desperately not to fall. I heard a voice saying: “Just let go,” which seemed a crazy thing to do. But the voice was insistent and, finally, about to fall anyway, I let go of the cliff edge.
Hatred and bitterness became a defining part of my character
I did not fall, because as soon as I let go, the world turned 90 degrees and I was lying on the ground holding onto a boulder. The man whose voice I had heard was standing nearby.
When I woke from that dream, I had no idea what it meant. I was still an agnostic, just beginning to wonder if my atheism was too strong a position to hold, given what I had been learning about materialism and spirituality. But now I understood: like in that dream, I had just let go of something heavy, and I was still OK.
The start of a journey
The legacy of rage and hatred was the first thing I let go of, and the world did turn for me. Later I would let go of other things, like my indoctrination into atheistic materialism, my distrust of religion, my refusal to accept the free gift of faith, and my belief that God’s love was something I did not deserve and could never know.
That evening, when I first said the words: “I forgive them” out loud, I started my long and very slow journey to faith in Christ. Having that burden lifted helped me but, there was one final thing I could not let go of for a long time. It was the conviction that my salvation was impossible; that it was simply too good to be true.
One day, while driving, I finally took that step, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had mercy on me, and entered my soul in a way that was undeniable. I pulled my car over to the side of the road and again, through tears, spoke some different words out loud. “I believe,” I said. And it was done.
Read more of Sy’s story in his book, The Works of His Hands: A scientist’s journey from atheism to faith