Augustine: Troubled Youth, Famous Thinker

Augustine: Troubled Youth, Famous Thinker
The books Augustine wrote 1,600 years ago are still printed and studied today. He wrote about his life in great detail, so we know much about him.

Augustine was one of the most influential Christians since the time of Jesus. Here is part of his story, beginning when he was 16 years old:

I had to sneak by her. Mother prayed for me in her bedroom every night, and if I wasn't careful, she would hear me leaving now. I didn't want another lecture.

"Yes, Lord, help me clean up my sinful life," I whispered in agreement to her prayers. "Later, not now."

Quietly, I slipped out the door. It was almost midnight, but the moon was bright, filtering light through the fruit trees just outside our North African home. My friends and I were meeting to have some fun that night.

Romanianus was the last of the five to arrive at Marcus' house. "I have the baskets," he said. "Let's go!"

Hiding in the Moonlight
We ran from bush to bush in the moonlight, hiding carefully as we neared the neighbors' orchard.

"You go first, Augustine," whispered Marcus.

I glared at him.

How is it that Marcus always gets these grand ideas and then pushes me to do the dirty work?

I wanted to look good in front of the other guys, so I went first while the others hid and watched. I ducked low, walking hunched over until I reached the tree. I pulled a pear from the lowest branch, then another, and another. A rush of excitement went up my spine. Within minutes my arms were laden with ripened yellow and green pears. Romanianus brought out one of his bushel baskets and I filled the bottom of it with the stolen pears.

"Come on," I whispered, waving to the guys in the darkness. "Let's do it!"

Marcus squealed with delight. "Look at this! It's all ours! For free!"

Juice dripped from my chin as I ate one of the stolen pears, all the while looking for movement from the neighbor's house. Nothing.

"Let's go," I said, tossing a core into the bushes, "or we won't be able to carry it all."

Peer Pressure
I didn't steal things because I was poor or hungry. My parents had enough money to buy plenty of food and clothing and a good education. I wanted to steal just to see how it felt--and to get in good with my friends. In fact, we had stolen far more than we could eat, and got rid of the evidence by feeding the pears to Marcus' pigs. After all our fun, I sneaked back into my house, tiptoeing past my mother's darkened bedroom. Everyone was asleep.

I gripped my pillow and laughed into it. That was fun!

Later, Not Now
A few minutes later, I stopped laughing. It wasn't funny anymore.

Guilt. Guilt pounded on my head. I kept pushing it back, refusing to let it in. They're just some dumb old pears. Who cares?

More guilt. I had done other bad things in my life, but I never felt so bad afterward. I pushed the guilt down. Push, push, push.

Morning dawned. The guilt was still there making my head hurt. I walked by my mother's bedroom. Again I heard her praying for me to become a Christian. Again I whispered back at her, "Later, not now."

Weeks and months passed by and I got into more trouble while trying to impress my friends. How does a person get away from a guilty feeling? I decided to run from it.

At age 28 I moved from North Africa to Rome, Italy. My mother followed me, praying all the while. I hated the sin and the guilt. But how could I live without my sins? I liked them!

My father finally became a Christian and was baptized just before he died. Mother hoped I would change too, but by then I didn't care.

Once again I moved on -- this time to study in Milan, Italy. Of course, my sins followed me, piling up guilt and sadness inside. I didn't like my sins so much anymore.

Pick it up and Read
One day I was hanging out with my friend Alypius. He could tell that I was feeling down, so he gave me some time alone. I went to the garden where I could be by myself and let out all my frustration.

I felt like I was going to explode. I threw myself underneath a fig tree there and wept. "God, will you always be angry with me?" I cried. "Can you ever forget all the bad things I've done? Can I do it now, God? Can I clean up my sinful life now?"

Before I had told God, "Later, not now." Not anymore! I wanted God now!

I lay on the ground, tears streaming down my face, glad that no one was around to see me.

Suddenly, I heard a child's songlike voice. "Pick it up and read. Pick it up and read!" I looked around. No one was there.

Again I heard, "Pick it up and read. Pick it up and read!"

Could this be a new kids' game? But there were no children around me.

I quit crying and got up off the ground. I thought maybe the voices that sang, "Pick it up and read," were from God. So I walked back to Alypius who was waiting where I'd left him. I grabbed the Bible that was near him and read from the first place I turned to. I couldn't believe my eyes!

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don't think about how to satisfy the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14).

That was it! I knew I could be free of my sins! I saved my place in the Bible and turned to Alypius. "Alypius, I am ready to follow Christ!"

Immediately, I went home to see my mother. You should have seen her face! For that matter, you should have seen her jump! I was so used to seeing my mother on her knees, I had no idea she could jump and pray like that!

She prayed, "Oh, God, you did even more than I asked. Praise God!"

My sadness and guilt turned to gladness. I became the first person in the world known to write an autobiography (a book about myself). I didn't write about what a good boy I was either. I even wrote about the pear tree! Then I wrote about Jesus and how He forgave me for all of my foolishness.

Everyone liked to listen to Augustine speak. Students wanted him to be their teacher, and he is still known today as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all times.

Augustine's autobiography is called Confessions, and even though it was written about 1,600 years ago, you can still find a copy of it in your public library or on the internet.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

  1. Augustine's mother was persistent in prayer! She prayed every day that he would come to love God, but it was many years before her prayers were answered. What have you been persistent in praying for?
  2. God doesn't always answer "yes" to our prayers when we want him to. Sometimes He says "no," and sometimes He answers "not now." Have you experienced times when God's answers to your prayers were better than the answers you were hoping for?
  3. Have you ever done something you know is wrong just to impress your friends? How did that make you feel inside?
  4. Augustine's mother and his friend Alypius both shared their faith with him. Are there people in your life who have shared their faith with you?

  • Suggested reading:
    • Ten Boys Who Made a Difference by Irene Howat (Christian Focus Publications)