* Dr. Bob Wicklein

Professor (Retired), Dept. of Career and Information Studies

Dr. Wicklein’s Spiritual Journey – I grew up in the small mid-western town of Mt. Olive, Illinois. My house was the same place that my father had been born in and lived in until his death. My life was very traditional as compared to today’s standards of moving multiple times. Life in Mt. Olive was based around agriculture and small manufacturing operations. In particular, agriculture seemed to be dominant because we were always surrounded by growing crops and the various products that they produced. It would seem that living around all this “life” would instill a perspective of purpose and order, the ëgrand circle of lifeí, but this was not the effect for me. I could not recognize any such grandiose plan that made sense or provided me with direction. Life in Mt. Olive was relatively simple; you went to school, graduated, then got a job, and lived happily ever after. Even though I didn’t have a very broad perspective of life, I knew that there had to be more to living than what I had experienced. My solution to my search for meaning was to join the U.S. Navy.

ëIt’s not just a job, it’s an adventureí was the slogan of the U.S. Navy at this time. I wanted a life that brought more than I had experienced in Mt. Olive, and I thought the Navy would be an ideal place for me to begin my investigation of purpose. In 1969 the Vietnam War was in full swing, with every passing day news reports brought us full color perspectives of life and death in Vietnam. For me, the thought of war was not something to avoid but rather something that might bring me a degree of significance that was deeply missing in my life. I volunteered for Vietnam helicopter service and I soon found myself training to become an aircrew member aboard the largest helicopters in the U.S. fleet. All of this was radically different from anything I had experienced in the past, and I was sure this would provide me with a true sense of importance. Eventually, I was given the opportunity of serving my country at a point of crisis. In 1972-73 my squadron was involved in “Operation End-Sweep”, seeking the removal of explosive ocean mines in the harbors of North Vietnam. All of this was supposed to provide me with a sense of purpose and direction yet I still had a strange, empty feeling about my life. Whenever I would honestly evaluate my life, I had to admit to myself that something was missing; it just wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be. The circumstances were certainly different, but the effect was the same as before – meaninglessness. There had to be more.

It was during this time that a fellow sailor asked me if I had ever considered the claims of Jesus Christ. He talked of having a personal relationship with God and how the Bible was God’s way of communicating truth and purpose. His claims were rather radical for me because I had always thought of the Bible as just a collection of stories and myths that had no basis in historical truth. Furthermore, my perspective of Christianity was that of little old ladies participating in “wish fulfillment exercises” as they prepared to die. It was indeed strange to me to have a young serviceman share about his personal faith in God. His probing questions led me to investigate the claims of Jesus Christ for myself.

It was during this quest that I came to understand that to have real meaning in life I needed to know the true author of life. The Bible quotes Jesus where he said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) The way, the truth, the life, these were the very things that I had been seeking. I didn’t want false hopes, I didn’t want any more games – was this the authentic meaning to life that I had been looking for? I came to understand that I had been separated from real truth and meaning in life because I had chosen my own way rather than allowing God who created me to be the center of my life.
Not long after that, while in my barracks at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, I said a simple prayer to God. I told Him that I knew I had sinned against Him by trying to be captain of my own life. I asked Him to come into my life, to take away my sin, and to help me to live my life according to His purpose, not my own. After expressing that to God, I knew that He came into my life and saved me from my sins. I felt a great sense of relief as if a load had been lifted off my shoulders. I was excited about reading my Bible and discovering the purpose for which He created me.

Since then, I have come to know God on a personal level, not through hearing voices or having emotional experiences, but in the calm clear leading of God’s word and spirit. Central to me now is the study and application of scripture and related materials, prayer, relating to fellow believers in Jesus, and a desire to engage with other people on how they can find purpose and meaning for their life.
Since becoming a Christian, I’ve had my share of challenges and problems; I’m certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but God has always helped me through life’s troubles. Through Godís love and guidance, my search for meaning has been more than satisfied. Jesus said, ìI have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Wow, now that’s an adventure!