James Curren was a sleepwalker. It was nothing serious. The seventy-seven year old usually got up, got his cane, wandered through the house, and went back to bed. But one night his sleepwalking took a bizarre turn. James got up and walked out the door of his Palm Harbor, Florida home. Behind his house in the dead of night, he marched zombie-like into a pond where he sank chest deep in mud.
He immediately awoke, but found it impossible to free himself from the suction of the pond’s soft bottom. James’ frantic thrashing did accomplish something, though. It attracted half a dozen alligators. They converged around him, circling, testing him. James swung his cane at the dark submarine-like shapes, causing them to lazily retreat, but they always returned.
With every pass they seemed more aggressive and James felt more wearied. As the old man sensed his inevitable and horrifying end, he gave up trying to save himself and began crying out, calling for someone, anyone, to save him. His yelling eventually woke a neighbor, who called the police.
When rescuers arrived, their searchlights revealed a pond swarming with alligators, and Curren’s solitary figure trapped in the middle. Volunteers converged on the old man and pulled him free.
This little piece of true-life drama might have made a good sixty-second segment for reality television. It’s the kind of thing you might mention at work the next day—“Did you see that piece about the guy who got stuck in the alligator pond?”
No, I didn’t see it, but I’ve lived it. Not the literal event mind you, but the emotions related to it.
Not long after I became a Christian, I moved back from Europe to the U.S. I got married. I got my first apartment. I got my first pet. Then I got confused. Maybe it was all the changes happening within those few months. But the bottom line was I got out of bed one morning and said, “Whatever.”
I resolved not to pay so much attention to Jesus, the Bible, church, or a holy life. This didn’t translate into a determination to start smoking crack or running around on my wife. It merely meant I would place myself back at the center of my life where I had once put God, and live with a murky, ill-defined focus. What would I do today? Whatever. What would I do with my life? Whatever. It was a basic decision to sleepwalk.
Then I got stuck. The kind of lifestyle I had wandered into while sleepwalking was hard to get out of. I found aimless self-satisfaction and fun almost impossible to voluntarily relinquish.
I was okay with being stuck, though. Until the alligators started showing up. Plenty of them came—tiny signs of friction in a brand new marriage, temper flare-ups, bad attitudes in the workplace, lust for material things, and even a few illegal stunts.
I knew I was in trouble.
When Christians make decisions without caring what the Bible says, or they try to obtain things without prayer, or try to live life without the godly support of the faith community, it’s like walking through a dark night without being able to see your feet or anything else around you.
Persistence in that way of life only leads to being trapped. Then we try to struggle out of our mistakes by making more poor decisions to undo the bad ones we’ve already made. ‘Gators always come. With every compromise and moral shortcut, more of them show up.
And then there’s the surreal moment when you ask yourself, How did I get here?
The Bible says, “Awake sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14). This verse wasn’t written to pagans, atheists, or devil worshippers. The Apostle Paul wrote it to Christians. Yes, it’s more than possible for people who have been redeemed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit to sleepwalk, and in terms of spiritual vitality be described as dead.
Paul charged us to “Awake” and “Arise.” Sometimes you just wake up. But if something inside is off-kilter enough, it’s going to take outside forces to bring you to your senses. It might start with a soft nudge. In my case, my young wife began to ask, “When will you teach me the Bible?”
Her gentle chiding got to me, but I still managed to brush it off.
Enter the personal crisis.
I mentioned I had started to experience negative things creeping back into my life. Those weren’t nudges. They were body slams for the guy who likes to sleep through his alarm.
Some Christians only wake up when they feel the consequences of having become alcoholics, or when they’re in jail, or alone because they’ve alienated all their friends. Others persist until they lose their families or health, go bankrupt, get fired, develop severe emotional stress, or find themselves in court.
These aren’t curses or some sort of divine revenge. When the alligators multiply, it’s a call to wake up, and once again call out to Christ. When I finally did, the promise of that verse—“Christ will shine on you”—came true for me. I hadn’t felt so bright and clear for a while.
I suffered some humiliation in the process of making a number of things right again. And although I ate serious crow casserole, it was a meal eaten under a noonday sun.
“For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall”