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Eric Metaxas’s Memoir, “Fish Out of Water: A Search For the Meaning of Life”

Famed Biographer Turns Spotlight on Himself 

People often ask Eric why he decided to write his personal story. Eric believes that his life unfolded like it did, with all its highs and lows, crazy twists and turns, and unbelievable circumstances and situations so that someday his story would be told. And his story would be compelling enough that it would appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Eric's memories are heartwarming and sometimes hilarious. Other memories are shrouded in raw, emotional and physical pain. But Eric’s story has one overriding theme; his desperate search for meaning and purpose in life. He asked ALL the big questions, over and over and over again. Eric’s search for meaning culminated in an astonishing dream that changed his life forever. Eric likes to say, “Eternity broke into my life while I was sleeping and worked its ways, backward and forwards, making sense of the past and the future." Eric hopes that other passionate seekers will come along for the journey, and ultimately find the same answers to life that he did. Eric is passionate for people to find GOD!

A Fish Out Of Water 

How does the curious, precocious son of two immigrant parents, small, short, scrawny and forced to skip first grade, find a place to fit in? He doesn’t. He just tries to be friendly, except when he is not. Eric says he got his first glimpse of his badness, that thing they call sin, when he bullied a fat girl until she cried. That’s when he understood what guilt felt like. He says, the ‘sin thing’ pursued him through childhood as he repeatedly bullied others. His Greek Orthodox school didn’t seem to understand the “sin thing." Except for one kind priest. He explained the basics of the faith, Jesus’s death on a cross, and the meaning of salvation. Eric was all in, at least for the moment. But there was no one to answer his questions, or mentor him, so he drifted. It wouldn’t be the last time he drifted.

As Eric approached high school graduation, the urgency of his search increased. He found Good News for Modern Man in his parents’ bedroom and read it. He didn’t understand much except that he needed to get his life right with God. But how? A life-threatening car accident provided some instruction. Eric begged and begged God to let him live. He did.

Eric spent the rest of the summer hanging with friends who were secularists or reckless, devil-may-care sorts. They provided a short-lived sense of belonging. Then he spent two years in community college and read books written by Dante and Goethe. These books raised more hard questions about the nature of reality and the afterlife. Why did Goethe call the devil, “a negating force?”

After “warm up” college, Eric was accepted at Yale. He packed all his existential questions in his suitcase, but he knew his new highbrow friends wouldn’t have any answers. He did attend a weekly Christian meeting. But he says he didn't fit in. He hid his attendance from his new friends like an addiction or a Satanic cult.

Eric's Yale years left him more confused than ever. The idea of "one truth" was like blasphemy, so Eric hid his search for meaning, and drifted along with the status quo. After graduation, with no job and no prospects, Eric’s search for God was getting desperate. He thought a brief spin around the world, including to his mother's homeland, Germany, might clear his head. But he still found himself devouring heavy reading material that clouded his thoughts. He pondered dark poems like, Poe’s Annabel Lee. In reciting the lines, Eric says, ”I wanted to scratch beneath the surface of the universe, to find the gold, and ivory and tapis beneath, to know the meaning of the universe, and to give myself to it." Eric hoped that he would find someone or something that would satisfy his longing. 

When Eric returned to the U.S., he had more practical questions to answer. How would he make a living? But his mind wandered again to concepts like "destiny.”  How did he find it, or did it find him? Did the universe owe him something "exquisite and fulfilling?” If so, Eric determined that the universe was holding out on him. He says his parents kept talking about jobs. Eric talked about vague dreams and plans of a publishing career that would “discover him.” He dreamed of writing his first book, and having the world, "mark the debut of an astonishing genius." These ponderings became his obsession. He kept wondering, if you peeled away all the layers, is there something at the bottom on which the universe depended? Is that God?

Eric managed to publish several articles in Country Journal after The New Yorker and the Atlantic refused them. He began a serious relationship that ended in his girlfriend's pregnancy. Not to worry, Eric said, "it's just a mass of cells.” The abortion happened quickly. When his girlfriend cried, saying she felt guilty and empty, Eric ridiculed her. 

A Dead-End Job At A Chemical Plant With A Silver Lining

Eric already knew his definition of hell: proof reading manuals at a chemical plant. He says he fell into that “terrible slough of despond...a lifeless abyss, perfectly hermetically sealed with no exit.” Eric did find a friend at the plant, an elderly Christian man with a warm smile. His new friend Ed suggested that Eric ask God if he was real, and, if so, to please show him. Another day, Ed dropped an index card on Eric's desk with a Scripture from Jeremiah 29, "For I know the plans I have for you..." Eric pondered, "Did that mean, God didn't want to harm me, but to give me hope?” Months passed with "sputterings of hopelessness within the hope.” Then, a simple "fleece" was answered. Eric asked for a particular song to be playing on the radio as he began his commute home from work. When it happened, Eric was flabbergasted. 

God Closes The Deal With Prayer And "A Dream"

Several months later, Eric’s favorite uncle suddenly had a stroke and fell into a coma. Ed told Eric that he would ask a whole lot of people at his church to pray. Eric said, “It staggered me...total strangers praying for my uncle. These strangers actually believed that prayer would work. I realized they were praying to SOMEONE outside themselves, asking Him to do something...as though God were a person.” Then, Ed suggested that he and Eric pray together, one on one. Eric says, “I had never done anything like this in my life…but with my eyes shut, and as I listened to him pray, I felt I had suddenly...opened a portal into another world.” Eric’s uncle died several weeks later, but Eric’s fledgling faith was unmoved, “It was as if God had become real enough that I trusted him..."

Shortly thereafter, on a sultry night in June, Eric had a dream that changed his life forever. He was ice fishing, and as he peered into a hole in the ice, he discovered fish were waiting to be pulled out. One of the fish looked golden. Suddenly, Eric realized it was golden. He saw the letters XTHYS (Greek for Christ) and knew this fish represented Jesus Christ.

God used the metaphorical frozen lake that Eric wanted to break through all his life, to show him the real nature of God. He said, “God told me, 'You were always searching for an impersonal God, but I want to give you, not just me, but a living creature, my son Jesus Christ, Receive him.'” Eric accepted Jesus Christ and realized he had found what he was looking for all his life. "I knew that He had come to me and that I would never be alone. I realized that God loved and accepted me. I would never be a 'fish out of water again.'”

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