“Is there anything worth dying for?” – Andrew Sawyer’s Story

Aug 19, 2022

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
"Is there anything worth dying for?" - Andrew Sawyer's Story

Former skeptic Andrew Sawyer lost faith in religion as a child and lost faith in humanity as an adult. He quickly realized that he still didn’t have answers for the questions of life and death. His search eventually led him back to God.

Resources by Andrew: https://andrewsawyer.substack.com

Resources mentioned by Andrew

  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (specifically referenced book two in Mere Christianity “What Christians Believe”)
  • C.S. Lewis Doodles YouTube channel
  • Andy Stanley, It Came From Within

Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Stories Podcast, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been a skeptic or atheist but who became a Christian against all odds.

We all want our lives to matter, to mean something, to ourselves, to others, to someone. We’re all driven, at different points, to ask the question, “What is worth living for?” Is there more than just the daily grind or the pursuit of pleasure or power or stuff? Why this urge, this angst for meaning, to feel valued, worth something, going somewhere. Why do we feel that wasting time is meaningless, while investing time is meaningful. What is it in us that longs for something more? 

After all, if we are merely just physical beings determined to act and react, to think and respond according to mere impulses and environmental pressures and instincts, why even ask the larger questions, the ones that lurk beneath the surface of physical motion? Are we really just cogs in a mechanical wheel with no particular direction.

Former skeptic Andrew Sawyer found himself in a place, physically and existentially, to ask these big questions about himself, about life itself. Come listen to him tell his story of searching for what matters most. I hope you’ll also stay to hear his advice to curious skeptics on searching, as well as his advice to Christians on how best to engage with those who don’t believe. 

Welcome to the Side B Stories Podcast, Andrew. It’s so great to have you with me today! 

It’s great to be here.

As we’re getting started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you live, maybe perhaps what you do? 

Sure. My name is Andrew Sawyer. I live in the Atlanta area. I’m an aerospace engineer. I work for a large operator of airplanes. I manage the reliability for the fleet.

That’s great! So why don’t we start back at your story. I know you were, at one time an atheist, and I wondered how those atheistic inclinations began. Tell me a bit about your family, your story growing up. Was God a part of your family life? Your community life? Tell me about all of that. 

Okay. Yeah. So I grew up kind of moving all over the place. Every couple of years. My dad was really ambitious. He was always starting businesses and stuff like that, so I lived in a bunch of different states. I think I went to seven different schools before I finished high school. So we were always on the move. And as far as the family dynamics, my dad’s side of the family is really, really, really religious, so my grandfather went to Wheaton College, he was always very, very religious. So very moralistic, and there’s only one right way to do anything, and that sort of thing.

And then on the other side, my mom’s side, the opposite. Basically a Wisconsin family, German/Jewish, always looking to have fun, party, out playing on boats and all that kind of stuff, not really interested in faith at all. But coincidentally, one of my mom’s older sisters had a conversion experience when she was just out of high school, and she decided to become a missionary, so she spent 35 years in Burkina Faso. So a little bit of influence on both sides. On the one side, very strict, moralistic grandparents, and then that influence from my dad, and then, on the other side, a much more permissive attitude, but then my aunt, who would visit us every few years and pester me about Jesus.

So your mom and dad, obviously, grew up in very different traditions and understandings of God, but they married, and they had a family. So during the time when you were a child, your father was obviously very religious. You said rather moralistic. And your mom, did she come to believe in God because of her aunt or your father? 

Yeah. My dad actually rebelled against my grandparents, who were extremely strict.


But they still dragged me to church. But we went to church with them sometimes, and it was the, you know, I’m wearing a suit when I’m 10 years old, that kind of thing. And my mom and dad, my mom was, in some ways, escaping from her family, so she went to a Bible college, and that’s where they met and so on.

Oh, I see. Okay. 

So they took us to church and stuff like that, but the thing about it was, aside from the moral part of it, there wasn’t really any substance within our family, of, “This is what our faith is about.” It was more, “This is how you should behave,”

Okay. All right. So very disciplinary and focused, I guess. Rules and regulations and perhaps rituals of going to church. 

Yes. Shame was a big part of my childhood. And just feeling not good enough, stuff like that.

So I would imagine, if there was a perception of God, it wasn’t positive based upon your personal experience. Did you have any understandings of God or belief in God, that there was an actual God? Or was it just some kind of moral system that you really didn’t want to have anything to do with unless you were forced to do it? 

Yeah. You know, I think I just kind of absorbed what, I guess, most people in my generation, at that age, absorb, which was, “If you act right, if you’re good, be good, God will bless you,” type of thing. So that’s what I thought. It didn’t really occur to me at the time, but it was really just about my behavior. And that’s what I was taught. So it was just much more of a moralistic thing than any kind of… I would say now my relationship with Jesus is much more about love than about punishment. To put it that way.

Yeah, but I can see where, in a family that values discipline that it would be easy to transfer those thoughts of a Heavenly Father being somewhat vengeful if you’re not behaving in a certain way and that you would have a very different idea of who God is, and that your relationship is all based upon your own behavior. 

Yeah, so I should mention I have a lot of memories of my whole family, basically, fighting in the car all the way to church. And then pretending the whole time that everything’s just fine. And then fighting all the way home. So that sort of thing. And then my parents got divorced as well, when I was 14 years old. So there was a lot of tension and conflict. And then balanced with strict moralism. So it was kind of a chaotic upbringing. And again, remember, moving every couple of years and having to be uprooted and start over and make new friends and stuff like that. So it is a unique childhood, I’d say.

Yeah. It sounds like it was really quite different, quite difficult, rather. So as you’re moving along and you’re going through the motions, you’re having this disintegration of your family, walk us on forward from there. 

Sure. So at that point, that’s when whatever faith I had, or beliefs I had about God, started to be challenged significantly. For me, when I had to uproot and move and change schools constantly, my family was really the only constant thing that I had, you know? And then to have that fall apart, it was like I had nothing really left. And so the thoughts that I had at the time, 14 years old, were, “Okay, if my parents went to church and tried to do all this stuff, and this is the result, then forget it. Forget the whole thing. I don’t want anything to do with any of this.” So that’s where I was. That’s where I spent high school and about the next ten years after that.

So if you rejected what you had been taught, essentially, or raised with, you’re rejecting God and Christianity, but were you specifically embracing a particular worldview or particular identity, like atheism or agnosticism? How would you have thought of your world or reality around that time? What was religion? 

Yeah. Religion was something I didn’t want to have anything to do with, so my interests took me elsewhere, so I got into partying and sports. There’s plenty of things to occupy a high schooler.

Did you outright verbally reject God? Did you identify yourself as an atheist around that time? Or did you just kind of move on and just said, “I know what I’m not.” I don’t know exactly what I am, but I know I’m not that? 

Yeah. I’ve always been a big reader and intellectual and stuff like that, but I never really got there with my faith until much later. So at the time, I just rejected it on the basis of my own experience and my own anger, and I didn’t really research for any better reason than that. And it worked for me.

Right, right. It worked. This whole God thing didn’t work for your family and it wasn’t going to work for you. So you just kind of went on to life on your own, right? 

Yeah. It was also quite convenient in high school to feel like I could just do whatever I wanted.

So we were living in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at the time, and it was such a chaotic thing. I have three siblings, a brother and two sisters. My older sister chose to live with my mom, and my other siblings were forced to because of their age. I was the only one that lived with my dad. And there was a bankruptcy involved as part of the divorce, and we were living in an apartment, and I switched schools again, and I just wanted nothing more than to just get out of there. So when I was 16, I went on a… Some neighbors of mine felt bad for us, so they invited me on a canoe trip. So I went on this canoe trip for three weeks in the boundary waters in Canada, and when I came back, my best friend had joined the Air Force. So he said basically, “Hey, while you were gone, I joined the Air Force. It’s going to be awesome. You should do it, too.” So the next day I was at Hooter’s with the recruiter, and he was talking me into it. So I signed. I enlisted in the Air Force in August of 2001, one month before September 11 happened, with the hopes of never coming back to Green Bay, you know? Who knows what’s out there, but it’s going to be better than this. So I did that.

But that was a big change of everything for me, to get out and go. So, like I said, I signed up for delayed entry at 16, and then I went to boot camp in July of 2002 and then finished all my training in March of 2003, and one week after I got to my duty station, President Bush declared war on Iraq. So I’m in a Special Operations wing in now a two-war front. So it was an interesting time.

I can imagine. That would’ve been very, very challenging. It’s a strong time of upheaval worldwide. I would imagine it was a bit frightening. I presume that that kind of experience would affect your worldview, the way that you see reality, and-

Well, you know, as I recall, September 11 really had a big effect, I think, on just the public consciousness of religion. And, for me, it was just more evidence that religion is a bad idea at the time. And I think that’s when a lot of the Richard Dawkins books began to come out and stuff like that.

Yeah. Now you said you were an avid reader. Were you reading some of those new New Atheist books? Literature? 

Actually, I was much, much too busy with my job and drinking to do much reading at the time.

Which might have been a good thing.

So finally I was away from what I thought were all my problems. Of course, most of them followed me. But it was a very transformative time for me. I feel like I didn’t really have any direction beforehand, as far as what I wanted to do. I just wanted to escape. And the military gave me a vision of what could be, and it was taught me that I was much more capable in a lot of ways than I had ever thought, and so on and so forth. So it was a very chaotic four years. I got out after four years. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, really. And at this point in my story, it sounds like I’ve had it pretty rough, but I’ve got to say I’m really grateful for the difficulties that I had early on. I feel like I learned a lot of lessons much more quickly, much earlier in life, than a lot of people do. So, for example, moving every couple of years, I recognized really early that cultural norms are arbitrary. So I had no trouble recognizing, after experiences like that, that really I needed to come up with my own pace and figure out what I like and not really go along with the crowd. I was much less tempted to just go with the flow. So that’s one [UNKNOWN 19:38].

I would imagine it would make you a bit of an independent thinker in a sense, after you’ve experienced all those different cultures and ways of living. You have to decide for yourself what your life is about and what your interests are. 

Right. And then also, as an outcome of being uprooted so often, I really got into books and novels and stories, and I think I read the Lord of the Rings when I was maybe eight years old. Stuff like that. So those were my friends.

Well, books can be very good friends. Great companions. So you had gotten out of the military. You were having a more confident sense of self. And so what happened next in your journey? 

So actually I think the real turning point for me was a deployment I went on in 2006. I finished my enlistment in July of 2006, so I went on a six-month deployment from January until June. It wasn’t quite six months, January till June, and while I was on that deployment, and leading up to it, I had had a couple of close calls with death. I laid a motorcycle down. Stuff like that. I wrecked a car. I got in some bar fights. And then, on this deployment, I remember contemplating my will. I had to do the out processing and go over my will. I’m 21 years old over there at time. And I remember just thinking, “This is really happening, and I’m really at risk. I’m not safe anymore.” And when I first got there and landed, when I first got involved with that kind of stuff… I don’t think people realize that there’s a blanket of safety. There’s this assumption of safety in America. Really bad things just won’t happen to me. Or when really bad things happen, it’s just kind of a one-off, one in a million. It’ll never happen to me. But when you’re in a place that people are actively trying to kill you, that’s not so. And I didn’t realize until I was there how significant that would be. So I got to thinking about my mortality and about what’s important.

And then also, “What if I die?” I’m 21 or 22, early twenties, with all kinds of dreams and stuff like that. I’d make $15,000, $20,000 on a deployment, which I thought was worth going to the Middle East for six months to make, and you know, come home and buy motorcycles and stuff like that, but along this contemplation of my mortality, it just struck me as so foolish to risk my life for $20,000. Like, “So if I die here, then what do I have to show for it? Not much.” So that led me down this rabbit hole of, “Is there anything worth dying for really?” It can’t be my own stuff. Dying for my stuff would be stupid. Or dying for anything that only belongs to me is a pretty useless thing. So surely none of those things are worth living for, either.

So I started down this path, and also, on that deployment, my sister gave me an iPod, and she had been attending Buckhead Church in Atlanta, so she gave me this iPod with all these Andy Stanley sermons on it. So it was kind of a perfect storm. All these realizations are kind of coming to a point, all at the same time, and I also have an iPod full of Andy Stanley. So we had a couple of sand storms while I was there. We were stuck in a tent for hours and hours. And I’m just listening to Andy Stanley and trying to figure out where he’s wrong. But the thing that struck me about him was… So at the time, I’m 21, 22 years old, trying to find out what it is to be a man. And I’m in an environment where manhood is about being tough, strong, and not taking anything from anyone, and get her done and carry your regrets around because there’s nothing else you can do with them. And the people that I was with, myself included, of course, we were living pretty hard. So I was making bad decisions. And I got involved with women and all that kind of stuff. So I had some regrets that I was carrying around.

And when I listened to Andy. He was twice my age at the time. And I’m thinking, “How is it possible that this guy is so clean?” I just couldn’t believe it. Does that make sense? Like how does he not have this baggage that I have? I’m having a hard time just getting out of bed sometimes, and here’s Andy Stanley, and it seems like he’s got it all together and doesn’t have any problems. So that really struck me. And then somewhere along that whole season, I, for the first time, saw the picture of manhood that is represented by Jesus. And it’s completely different than everything that I believed about what real manhood was. It wasn’t about being strong and coming in power but being humble and coming in meekness. All these things. So there was this sharp contrast. And I began to see that, for example, humility requires much more strength than putting on a strong face, you know? And all these qualities that I found in Jesus were actually more difficult than what I thought being a man was about, being tough, things like that. So that started to turn my world upside down.

So I think that was the first big thing that I was really wrong about. And I recognized I was way off. Does that make sense?

Yes! So when you were listening to Andy give these sermons, were you learning about, not only, I guess, who he was and the kind of life that he led, but the Person of Jesus. Were you learning about Jesus through listening? Or were you reading the Bible for yourself? How was that information coming to you? 

Yeah. I’m not sure whether I had a Bible there at the time. There was a little library on the base, where people had donated books. And I also got a copy of Mere Christianity. But I was just listening to Andy because I couldn’t sleep and just, like I said, trying to figure out where he was wrong. I couldn’t figure it out. But Andy is very practically minded, too, so there’s usually an action item with each message. So I found that very helpful, too. So I wasn’t necessarily trying to solve the philosophy first. This was kind of just the first attractive thing about the faith I had really ever seen. Prior to that, it was always just what people do in order to get blessings from God. And this was, “Wait a second. This is presenting something that you didn’t see before,” and it’s showing me that I was completely mistaken. And that really threw me for a loop.

I bet. I would imagine that being in that kind of environment, where you are in the desert and you’re facing a lot of the big existential questions that, like you say, oftentimes we, in the safety of wherever we are, don’t often think about. We’re often distracted by the next thing or whatever it is we’re doing. But you were actually forced to be in a position, sitting in a sand storm, plus signing papers of potential risk for your life, that it was kind of forced on you to really think about the bigger questions. And sometimes that can be a blessing, although difficult. And obviously, your sister had taken some sort of step in her life towards faith because she was listening to someone who she thought had answers for you. Something to learn.

And what’s also impressing me is that you were open, at that point. You were open to, not only listening, but also self discovering that perhaps you were wrong about a few things. And I think that speaks a lot to who you are. Oftentimes, we’re not willing to go there. If something doesn’t seem right or feel right to us or we don’t want to be impressed with a change. But you were willing to say, “Hey, something’s not right in me. He obviously has something. Jesus is different than I thought.” And evidently, it sounds like Jesus, in the Person that He is, His strength and humility, was attractive to you. 

Yes. The main question that I was wrestling with at that time was, “Is there anything worth dying for?” So I got hurt over there. I broke my back. So when I got back, that was it for my military career. I spent the rest of the time out processing. But I think I got the answer, at that time that… Really, the only thing that I could think of that was worth dying for is love really. And just in contemplating that, I thought about, “Why is it that I do things? Why is it that I joined the military? Did anything.” Really, it all came back down to either trying to get love or give love somehow. I want people to like me. I want people to respect me. I want relationships. It all ultimately for me boiled down to people. And not stuff. Dying for stuff is a foolish thing. So I think that was biggest blessing from that season, is recognizing that, a really fundamental truth, and then also, the flip side is, if it’s really worth dying for, then it’s also worth living for.

So my mission, as I assumed it at that time, was to figure out what that means. So I’m not necessarily focusing on the resurrection or on any of that stuff, or even on the ten commandments or the moral law. I’m really just interested in, “How can I love as well as possible?” because I thought that was the way to have the most meaningful life. Does that make sense?

Yes, yes. You were looking for, really, the point of life, of what matters. And it really is about love and relationships and truth. 

But I had a lot of baggage, too, at the time, and a lot of regrets and bad habits and all kinds of stuff. But that’s how it began.

So, as we’re talking here, when you were considering the Person of Jesus, were you considering Him as the Person of God? Or just a figure in history? Or a good example of humility and meekness and strength? 

Yeah. I don’t think I really turned to really look at Jesus as a whole, aside from just this little interest I had as far as love goes, until I read Mere Christianity. And that was a huge deal for me.

Tell me about that. 

Yeah. So I had read the Narnia books when I was a kid. I remember being in second grade and telling my dad they should make movies out of these things, that sort of thing. And so they had this little mini library where… You know, people sent books and Girl Scout Cookies and all this stuff, so there’s this little stack of books, and Mere Christianity was in there, so I got my hands on it, and I think it was book four of Mere Christianity? I think the subtitle is “What Christians Believe.” I read that, and I recognized that I hadn’t even been exposed… I may have been exposed. I had never noticed any of those things before. If I had made a list of what I thought Christians believe, none of those things were in the chapter.

So what was in the chapter that surprised you of what Christians believe and who they are? 

Well, he does a great job of cutting through all the controversial topics and really getting down to the basics, that Christianity is a process of becoming a new kind of man, of going from death to life, and he’s even got an essay in one of his other collections called, “Nice People or New Men?” And it was just a completely different category for me. I hadn’t thought of it that way, as far as the possibility of God getting involved with me and transforming me. I didn’t even know that was on the table. I thought it was about getting to heaven and being good, you know?

It was about tin men coming to life, right? 


It’s a full transformation of something that once was that becomes something so much more than you thought possible. 

By the way, if I can just mention, there’s a fantastic YouTube channel called C.S. Lewis Doodle, and the entire book is not only read but drawn out as it’s read. So, if anybody’s interested in that, I highly recommend it.

Okay, and we will include that in our episode notes, too, the link for that. So you were finding that Christianity was something very different than what you thought it was and that you were finding yourself attracted to a God who could transform your life because evidently, you had, like you say, some behaviors and many regrets, and that you were looking for a different way of thinking and doing life.

Now, I’ll put on my skeptic’s hat for a moment and just say, “Well, that sounds like it’s something that you might have embraced because it sounds like it works for you, or something that might give you the kind of life you were looking for.” Obviously, you thought it was the kind of belief that would be worth living for. So what it made it so compelling? As an intellectual, you said you are attracted to books. You’re an aerospace engineer. You’re very bright. I’m sure that issues of truth came into play, in terms of, well, perhaps God does exist, and here’s why. Was it just an existential kind of journeying? 

So, just to backtrack a little bit, I’d say, with my parents’ divorce, I lost my faith in religion. And when I was deployed, actually, I lost my faith in humanity at the time. I forgot to mention that, but this is very important. I was involved in both Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and I had a different viewpoint than a lot of guys. I was a crew chief on airplanes, so I got to see a little bit bigger picture, Like from a big picture perspective. Like, how is this going to play out? And just seeing war first hand and the destruction of it and just the stupidness of so many of the things. I used to think, when I was a kid, that grown-ups had things under control and figured out, but it didn’t take long for me to be dispelled of those notions through experience. So I really just lost my faith in humanity at that time. And the idea that we, as the human race, were capable of solving sin, really. But also death.

We’ve got these big problems, sin and death. So I was wrestling with that as well. I think the sin and death piece came a little bit after the contemplation about love. But just this idea of we’re all bound by this human condition of sin and death, and it doesn’t matter what amazing technology we invent or how we structure the world or any of that stuff. None of it matters if we’re all going to die anyway. So I started to recognize that. Those really are the fundamental problems I think that everybody is trying to solve in one way or another, whether they recognize it or not.

So you were coming face to face, through your experience of seeing the failures and the brokenness of humanity, the horrors of war-

Seeing caskets come back.

I truly can’t imagine what that must have been like. I can’t even pretend to put myself in someone’s shoes like that. 

It just further hardened my resolve that, like, “If I get home, I don’t care how difficult it is, I’m going to do it right.” So in other words, “I’ve got to figure out this thing.” “The days of me just living for myself, now that I know what I know, that’s over. I can’t go back to just blissful ignorance.”

So you started putting the pieces together. You were reading Mere Christianity. You were trying to make sense of what you were hearing and seeing and reading. And it sounds like that you started to make steps towards finding what it meant to live well, what it meant to live for more than yourself. I would imagine that seeing the brokenness of humanity in the world, as well as feeling the brokenness in your own self, that there was some attraction to Jesus in terms of finding that Christianity is the belief system, or the reality or the offer, really, of forgiveness. It’s not something that you can be good enough to make up for everything you’ve done or will do. How did the Gospel come into play in terms of your accepting this Christianity, Jesus as being the true or real or life-giving way to live? 

Yeah. I think of it as kind of a two-sided coin. So on the one hand I had no trouble at all acknowledging that I was a sinner. There were even times, I think, that I probably bragged about my sin and stuff like that. So that wasn’t a hard sell. And then also coming to terms with the reality of death. That wasn’t a stretch at all for me, either. So that side of… you know, you’re lost. And there’s nothing that you can do under your own power to do anything about sin and death, really. They’re going to take all of us down. So that side was easy for me to embrace.

But the other side of, but you’re also, at the same time, much more loved than you ever thought. You’re so much more valuable and loved than you ever even imagined. So I still wrestle with it. I still remind myself of both of those things. Sometimes, when I get puffed up, I use the negative side to humble myself. But then, in the course of humbling myself, I use the positive side to keep me from self pity. Does that make sense?


So I think that was a bit of a gradual process. There was another huge turning point that I can get to, but I want to say a few words… After I got out of the military, I went straight to college. I went to the University of Wisconsin. And I’m a nontraditional student at this point. I’m a combat veteran, 22 years old, which is old for a freshman. And I just did not fit in at all. And no one understood me at all. And it was so hard for me. My whole life in the military was all 100% about the mission, and everything that I did was for the service of something much greater than myself. But when I got to college, it really is I think the most selfish season of life. You have to be selfish. All of my time was spent on stuff that only mattered to me. And that was really hard. And then, as far as my faith goes, I tried to plug in and meet other believers, so I went to Campus Crusade. I got involved in Campus Crusade. I joined a Bible study and stuff, but man, I just did not fit in at all. So it was a big struggle for me.

But the turning point for me, as far as how the whole thing fit together for me, in 2007, my first summer of liberty, really, for five years, me and my best friend who I had joined the Air Force with, and we both went back to Wisconsin, so that first summer, I said, “Why don’t we take a road trip out West, and we’ll go visit all the national parks and all this stuff.” I thought that would be good for both of us. So I took him on this road trip, and I had my iPod with all the sermons and stuff like that, so we went all the way from Wisconsin to San Francisco, up through Canada on the way, stopping at every national park, and from San Francisco, he flew home. So, as soon as he left, I switched from listening to music in the car to listening to these sermons. I was just trying to figure out my next steps.

So I was listening to this series of Andy Stanley called, “It Came from Within,” and it’s about the sin that gets lodged in your heart and the verse, I think it’s from Proverbs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” And so I thought, “We’ll see what he has to say.” So I’m listening to these sermons. He’s got one about anger, and I thought, “Oh, that’s not really me.” And he had one about greed. And no one thinks they’re greedy. But then he had one about guilt, and it really just rang my bell. It’s like he was saying, “If you are dealing with guilt. If you have this burden of regrets, the way you deal with that is by reconciling with the people that you’ve wronged,” right? So I thought, “I’m with you on the guilt. I feel the burden. But that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” So he said, “Make a list of the people you’ve wronged and call them, if you can, and reconcile.” And I thought, “I’ve wronged a lot of people. What’s the use in me calling people that I’ve wronged a few years ago and saying, ‘Hey, I just want to apologize for whatever I did to you and remind you of what a bad person I am.’” So that’s what I thought. So I was wrestling with this.

So two weeks pass, and I get to Colorado, and I had kind of run out of money by that point, so I didn’t want to pay the $30 a night for a campsite at the Rocky Mountain National Park, so I went outside of the park, and I had a GPS. I parked the car at a trail head. I hiked twenty miles into the Roosevelt National Forest and was just kind of wrestling with this idea of reconciling and just my reluctance to do it.

So I was out there for a few days, and one morning, I woke up, and it was a beautiful day, and there was this mountain maybe three or four miles away from my campsite. I think it’s about 11,500 feet high, and I thought, “I’m going to climb to the top of that today,” and I didn’t think it would take too long. I’m a tough guy. I’ve been doing this all summer. So I didn’t even wear a shirt. I left my GPS in my tent. So I’ve got some tobacco and a bottle of water and a knife. I go hike up the top of this mountain, and it’s just stunning, so I had the camera with me. I’m taking panoramic shots. I eat my snack. And I’ve got nothing else to do, so I’m up there for maybe an hour or two, and before I realized what was happening, clouds had rolled in and completely obscured the sun. And that was the only thing that I had to get my bearings from, because I was up on a mountain top going in circles.

So now I didn’t know which direction I had come up from, because I didn’t have the foresight to make a mark or something like that. Just arrogance. So now I’m on the top of this mountain, and I don’t know where my campsite is, so I pick a direction and just start hiking down for about 30 minutes, and nothing looks familiar, so I turn around, and I climb all the way back to the top. By the way, at 11,000 feet, this is no easy task. I’m back at the top. I look around, try another direction, go down another 30 minutes, 30 minutes back up, so I’m three or four hours into at this point, and now it’s starting to get dark. I don’t know where I am. There’s no trails. I don’t have a shirt on.

Oh, my! 

And it had been raining that week, so everything was wet. I couldn’t start a fire. So I realized that I have to set up my camp for the night, so what I wound up doing was I found a big spruce tree with these really broad boughs. I went underneath it, and I dug a hole in the dirt with a stick and then made a huge pile of the dirt and pine needles from the tree, climbed up underneath it, and covered myself with the pile for the night. And hoped that I wouldn’t freeze to death. And I think it was probably about 45, 50 degrees that night and windy. And I did not sleep at all, but I did think about whether or not I was going to call the people I had wronged and reconcile with them. Honestly, I was ready to die. At that point. So there was this belief that had crept in that my problems were much too big for me to ever really get through. The best I could hope for was maybe dealing with half of them or something. So I’m lying underneath this spruce tree, shivering, hoping I don’t freeze to death, saying, “God, if this is it, this is it. That’s fine with me. But if You get me out of here quick and easy, I will do this stupid thing that You want me to do.” And at the time, I thought, “I will prove You wrong. If You want me to prove You wrong, show me how to get back to my tent. I’ll go. I’ll make the phone calls. And that will be the end of that,” right?

So the sun comes up, I get up, I brush myself off. I get up to the top of the mountain, and I pray. So I get down, bow my head, close my eyes, pray that thing, “Lord, You know the deal. If You get me out of here quick and easy, I’ll make the phone calls. Amen.” I lift up my head, and I can literally see my tent. I had a red rain fly on it, and a tree blew and swayed, and there’s my tent.

So I went straight down, straight to the tent, and went to sleep. And then, when I got up, I packed everything up, hiked back to the car, and drove straight to Popeye’s Chicken. It was my 23rd birthday, August 9, 2007, and I started making phone calls. So I think this was the biggest turning point for me because this was the first time that I obeyed something that I did not agree with. And I already had mentioned that Andy’s always done a great job of having an action item. This week, let’s do this, you know? So I did it. And of course I called the ex girlfriend that I was sure hated me the most out of all the people on my list, so that I could very quickly put this thing to rest, but she apologized to me. First off, she couldn’t believe that I had called, and then, through tears, I’m apologizing to her, and then she says, “I think I’m just as guilty as you are, and I’m so sorry,” and you know. “Okay, I was wrong about that one, but I’m sure it’s a one off.” All the way down the list. I called about thirty people. And every single one of them forgave me. So again I was proven completely wrong. Not just a little bit wrong but 180 degrees wrong. So that is really where I think my faith got serious. Because I thought, “If I could be wrong about something like that, what else am I wrong about?”

So what I did is I started studying the Bible, and then when I’d bump into something that I didn’t like, I would do it and find out that I was wrong.

Oh. Wow. 

So through that process, I found that, for me, when I bumped into something in the Bible that I don’t like and then I start making excuses about it and saying, “Here’s the reasons why I’m not going to do what this says,” I recognize that those are actually the signs of conviction, the symptoms of conviction, and those are the big opportunities, the big turning point opportunities, so I started just doing all of them. And that, more than anything else, more than any of the grieving or philosophizing or anything, is what really opened me up to it, because I recognized that I wasn’t qualified to sit as the judge of what is true and false and right and wrong and worth doing and not worth doing or any of that stuff. If I can be wrong about such basic things like that.

And by the way, when these people forgave me, that burden that I had was just lifted off. And I thought, just the day before, I was thinking about how it would take years to work through all of that, years and years and years, but here it is, all done in a couple of hours. And I just can’t get over the epiphany that that was for me.

What amazing transformation it sounded like. What a difficult process in a way, but like you say, what a sudden and amazing transformation, and really, it confirmed that what you were seeking and believing was true. And I imagine that it would also make you think of how God could forgive in such an amazing way, too. All of whatever it is that you had done, or whatever you were feeling guilt about, that all of that could be washed away in a nanosecond, really.

And also restore. Restores.

Yes, yes. So with that repentance comes forgiveness and restoration and that life that you were looking for. So I imagine, at the end of the day then, you have found the life that is worth living, or that there is something worth living for greater than yourself. And you’ve found that in the Person of God, I presume, through Jesus. Is that right? It sounds like you-

Yeah, absolutely.

… yeah. 

So I began to take the biblical language to heart. So essentially what it says about this stuff is I wasn’t just wrong about what real manhood is. I was deceived. And I wasn’t just mistaken about my problems and how difficult they would be. I was deceived. Right? How do I find out what else I’m deceived about? Well, the only way I knew how was to do this. Study the Bible, find something that I don’t like, recognize the symptoms of conviction, and then blast through and obey and see what happens. And by doing that, I was, I guess, gradually, step by step, undeceived. Does that make sense?


And I wish there was more out there on this sort of thing, because I think you can spend a lot of time contemplating truth claims without actually changing your behavior at all. And I don’t know… I could’ve probably gotten stuck in that for a long time, too, but the point at which the rubber hit the road for me was obedience. And Jesus Himself says, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily.” So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

I believe that adage that it’s not just about information. It’s about transformation. Right? You read for transformation. You seek towards transformation, towards that which is true and life that is truly life. And what an amazing story, Andrew. I’m thinking of those who might be listening. Perhaps there’s someone who, as earlier in your life, has some experiences that were really not their fault. Some of it was. We’re all guilty in some ways, that we bring life and its consequences upon ourselves. But you also experienced a lot of moving around, a lot of difficulties, the horrors of war. A lot of things that might push you away from God. 

But you came through that and towards Him. And I’m wondering, if there was someone listening who says, “I just can’t believe because of everything that’s happened to me.” … But you also read some things that pointed you back towards truth and towards God. I just wonder what would it be or what would you suggest for those who might be curious enough to be open, to listen or to learn? 

I would say be as honest as you possibly can. And genuine. With yourself. The things that you believe, are you really sure about them? Could you be wrong? Also, look at what you’re living for. What is your mission? Is it success or wealth or fame or any other thing that you’re going to lose when this life ends? …You know, the thing about my difficult childhood and all these experiences, of course I didn’t enjoy it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but after following Jesus, I don’t know how long it took, but He’s really redeemed those things. And I think back on some of the traumatic things that happened when I was a kid, and then I’m reminded of the lessons that those things taught me. Like the stuff that happened to me, it got me to the point where I recognized that love was the only thing worth living for. None of it was enjoyable, but I’m so grateful for it. So I’d say you never know. And so with, “I have so many problems, it’ll take years and years and years, and it’ll be so difficult to deal with them.” The only way to know really how difficult something will be is to do it. I found that it’s actually easier than I thought. And especially after time after time after time, me being proven wrong and scripture and principles outlined by Jesus, the self-sacrificial love and all this stuff being proven right every time I apply it in my life, that’s the basis, really, of my relationship is… You know, God even identifies Himself often as, “I’m the Lord who brought you out of Egypt,” and stuff like that, so I feel the same way about my past. He’s the Lord that not only redeemed me out of a lot of chaos and brokenness but also redeemed the chaos and brokenness itself.

Yeah. I think there’s just a tremendous difference between the moralistic, more legalistic form of religion that you encountered as a child, to wanting to obey Someone Who loves you and has your best interest in mind and wants to bring you out of deception and out of slavery to your own problems and bring you into a life that’s worth living. And you do it because of love and because you trust, because they have your, again, best interest in mind. It’s a very different way of looking at God and at Jesus. It’s not just religion. It’s a relationship of trust and love. 


So, thinking about those Christians who are listening and who want to impact those who are pushing away from perhaps their misconceptions like you did at one time, their misconceptions of God and religion and Christianity. You said you thought Christianity was one thing, and then you realized it’s something totally different than you what you thought it was. How can you encourage us as Christians to live and love or engage with those who don’t believe in a way that’s compelling, like the person of Jesus?

Yeah. I think it’s really a lot less complicated than a lot of people assume. I found it is really just about trying to love people as much as I can. And I haven’t had a whole lot of success with outright evangelism. I’ve tried, but I have had some opportunities to really show up and love people through really difficult situations. There’s a verse that says it’s God’s kindness that brings us to repentance. And really that’s what brought me to repentance. It wasn’t the fear of condemnation or something like that, so I think kindness and gentleness go a long way. Actually, gentleness brings to mind… One of my favorite passages is actually in 2 Timothy. It’s chapter 2, the second half of the chapter. Beginning in verse 23, it says, “Do not take part in foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels, and the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind and able to teach, not resentful,” and it goes on to speak of the condition of deception that the world is in. So I’ve been very careful.

This is an example of the way the Lord redeemed my conflict with my moralistic grandparents. I’ve been very careful not to be like that to other people. “You’re wrong. You’re going to hell. You need to repent.” That sort of thing. And I’ve put most of my chips more on the love side of the table.

I think you’re pretty safe there. I think scripture says also that they’ll know us by our love, that we are Christians by our love, so I think your words are well ordered and well grounded. So, Andrew, you have really opened yourself up today and given us an amazing story of transformation. I love the fact that you were willing, although you rejected all of it from the beginning, that you can look back and see that perhaps you rejected something that we all kind of reject. We reject the malapplication of religion and moralistic legalism and we reject a lot of things that others reject. But yet you embraced what was actually real and that you were willing to be seen. You were willing to see that you were wrong about some things, and you put your pride down. But you found life at the end of it. You found that thing that you were actually looking for all along. So I just appreciate your story, and I know that many will benefit from it, so thank you for coming on to tell it today. 

Absolutely. It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

You’re so welcome. Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Stories Podcast to hear Andrew Sawyer’s story. You can find out more about Andrew and the resources he mentioned with C.S. Lewis in the podcast episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our Side B Stories website at SideBStories.com. I hope you enjoyed it, and if so, that you will continue to follow, rate, review, and share our podcasts with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life. 

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