In the mid-eighties, Charles Colson released (what I consider) the 2nd greatest Christian book ever written. Loving God was an effort to counter an increasingly secular culture and Colson’s own discovery of what it meant to follow the greatest commandment -- to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. The Seventies and Eighties had seen the rise of all things relating to “self” – including biofeedback, Yoga, creative consciousness, EST, and the broad spectrum of the New Age movement. Colson illustrated the cultural clash between finding one’s self and finding God with the following quotes:
“The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself…the only sustaining love involvement is with yourself.” Shirley MacLaine
“It is vain, O men, that you seek within yourselves the cure for your miseries. All your insight only leads you to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good.” Blaise Pascal
Today, as Christianity is more and more marginalized in our culture, Colson’s study of what it means to be a true believer is more relevant than ever. He believes the key to loving God is not getting more out of the Christian life – but rather, putting more into it. The book features a number of wonderful stories of people who decided to follow God with all of their heart, soul and mind – and the life-changing impact they had in the lives of others. One of these stories focused on a 91-year-old woman named Myrtie Howell who fulfilled the Great Commandment from a tiny room in a nursing home.
Myrtie Howell was born in 1890 into a hard life. At the age of ten, she went to work in a mill for ten cents a day. She was married at the age of 17 and had three children in quick succession. Her middle child died at the age of three. In fact, it was the death of many close relatives that tested her faith. “I felt like Job,” she said. “I just felt like Satan had a conversation with the Lord and if the Lord would just let him get that Myrtie – he’d make her give the Lord up. But it only made me lean more closer, more to Him.”
Finally, the death of her youngest son, the declining health of her oldest, and her move into what she describes as “an old folks home” left her spiritually depressed with little to live for. One desperate day she prayed, “Lord, what more can I do for you? If you’re ready for me, I’m ready to come. Take me.” She says the Lord spoke to her as clear as can be saying “WRITE TO PRISONERS”. That seemed like a tall order for someone with little formal education who knew nothing about prisons. But she wasn’t about to second guess God. She addressed an envelope to: Atlanta Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia which simply said:
I am a Grandmother who love and care for you who are in a place you had not plans to be. My love and sympathy goes out to you. I am willing to be a friend to you in correspondent. If you like to hear from me, write me. I will answer every letter you write.
A Christian Friend,
Over the next few years Myrtie corresponded with as many as 40 prisoners at a time. Colson was so moved by her faith and commitment to Prison Ministry that he visited her in Columbus, Georgia near the end of her life. What he saw was gloomy surroundings in most of the facility, but joy and love in her simple apartment. He saw stacks of hundreds of letters from prisoners and read a few. One was signed “granddaughter Janice”:
I received your letter and it made me sad when you wrote that you may not be alive much longer…You’ve give me all the love and concern and care that I’ve missed for years and my whole outlook on life has changed. You’ve made me realize that life is worth living and that it’s not all bad. You claim it’s all God’s doing, but I think you deserve the credit. I didn’t think I was capable of feeling love for anyone again but I know I love you as my very own precious grandmother.
As he was leaving, Colson thanked her for her faithful ministry but she said, “Oh no, you’ve helped me. These last few years have been the most fulfilling of my whole life. I thank you – and most of all thank Jesus.” Outside of her room, he again signs of despair, depression and emptiness. The blank stares he saw didn’t have the hope and joy of Myrtie Howell. The difference was that Myrtie recognized the purposelessness of life without God. She had given up her life to gain His life. She knew all about “Loving God.”