When I think back over the years of being raised in a Christian home, with loving parents that understand and accept me, who are proud of me and have always taught me about God and His love for me, I can understand why people would think that I am a Christian because I was brought up that way. I can understand why people think that I am joyful because I am a positive person. I look at the glass half-full (I always have) and I see how someone could think that I am just a friendly, happy person that doesn’t really have need of much proof or that I am simple and don’t require much thought to believe what I believe. I can understand that someone could look at me and think that I just simply have childlike faith, that I don’t read or know much about philosophy, or that I don’t have much of an understanding about the way the world works or about politics or other religions. I can even understand how someone might look at me during worship and think, “She’s just feeling the music”, “She just likes to dance and sing”, or “She’s just an extrovert that feels comfortable on a stage.” Why I am the way I am is just a little something that I want to expound upon today.
I was brought up in a Christian home. I have always been a part of a church – even before I lived in Texas when my family was in Paris and London for my dad’s job. It’s just the way I was raised. However, I never felt God. I never felt Him, understood Him, loved Him, or knew Him. In fact, I was very afraid of Him. I was afraid of the largeness of who He was. I was afraid of the things He thought of me, the way He was looking at me down from Heaven. I was afraid of the things He would say to me because I didn’t feel comfortable with Him. Even in elementary school, I was afraid to die. I was afraid of being before Him and not knowing what to say or do, having nothing to prove that I was good enough to be saved or go to Heaven. I was too afraid to move or pray or think about it. I didn’t love God, and I thought I never, ever would.
However, one day, my mom told me that when she was a little girl, she didn’t love God. She questioned how she could if she didn’t know Him. She then prayed and asked Him to help her to love Him more. This got me thinking. First, I was amazed that my mom had explained my exact experience without ever knowing that was how I felt. Second, I had never tried this before. I wanted to believe Him if He was real. I wanted to know Him if He was real. I wanted to love Him if He was real. I have always had a little bit of FOMO, so I was willing to test this out and see if it would change anything.
What’s funny is this really only opened the door. I began to have a thirst for knowledge, to really want to understand the things I felt I believed, though nothing really had changed. Even though I didn’t really understand much, I had a deep desire to, and I was open. Then, I ended up meeting a girl who hosted a Bible study at her house through her Methodist Church. She invited me to it, and I started to go. Every Friday for 2 and a half years I would go to this group with friends and read the Bible, ask and answer questions (typical group discussion stuff), and hang out. As I kept going though, I began to realize that no one (especially me) was really learning, growing, or changing that much, and it didn’t really seem that anyone had a desire to. One day however, in our Bible study through James, I was really struck by James 1:23-25: ”Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it–not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it–they will be blessed in what they do.” I realized that it’s not just knowledge that is supposed to fill me up, back me up, and make me strong in what I believe. It’s practically acting it out.
I ended up leaving that Bible study because, among other reasons, I wanted to really try this. I wanted to see if I could learn and grow in a way that was actually according to the Word that I was supposed to act out. And for that, I had to separate myself. This was an extremely difficult decision as all of these people were truly my only friends at the time, and when I soon realized that they simply moved on, I was left totally and completely alone. I was on MySpace at the time (yeah, this was 2007), and I was so beyond depressed. Depressed enough that I was afraid to hold knives in the kitchen because I didn’t know what I was capable of doing to myself. I felt I had nothing to live for and there was no purpose to my life. I was super friendly and “happy” at school, where no one would know there was anything wrong, but at home, I was completely despondent. Then one day, I got fed up with everything. I was on MySpace, looking at my old friend’s pages and comparing myself to lives I didn’t have, reading about and seeing pictures of how they had moved on without me and were having fun, and I had had enough. I turned off the computer and ran upstairs to my room. I sat on my bed and I talked loudly and openly to God. I remember saying, “God, if You’re real, this is how I feel right now…” and proceeded to explain every single detail of my life up until that point. I explained how lonely and angry I felt. How unimportant and insignificant. How passed over and ignored. How it seemed I didn’t have what everyone else had: boyfriends, cool clothes, exciting experiences, and unique/funny personalities. I spoke out loud until I couldn’t think of anything else that was hurting me. Then, I was silent.
What happened next is something I can’t really explain adequately, but I know that it happened and it marked me. I heard God. For the first time in my life. And I didn’t hear Him say anything spectacular. It wasn’t Scripture. It was a three word sentence that I had never heard anyone else say before. “Delete your MySpace.” That was it. It wasn’t outside of me. It was inside of my head. However, I knew that it wasn’t me that said it. I would have never thought that due to the fact that my MySpace was all I had. That was my one link to my friends, and really, to culture and community in general as every day after school, I would just come home and immediately get on the computer. The only thing was that it had been killing me. Slowly but surely, I was becoming more and more isolated, even though this thing was supposed to keep me more and more connected to the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had a decision to make; a risk to take…and I was going to take it. I let go. I immediately went downstairs, and almost without thinking about it, I did it. I deleted all I had left in my life that described and held who I was to a whole bunch of people who didn’t really care, and I decided to take a chance on Someone who I didn’t understand or really know how much He cared. This was the beginning of change for me. Instead of spending time reading or hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions and experiences, I started to read, and I mean really read, what the God of the Bible had to say. I read with openness and a willingness to learn and listen and believe and trust. I wanted to hear what He had to say and was tired of trying to figure things out on my own about Him. If I was going to take steps in this direction, I at least had to understand what that meant. I had to give Him a chance to change me. I had to let Him in, and be willing to embrace whatever that looked like. That is, if I was going to be intellectually honest as a seeker.
This is when more and more prayers began to be answered. I was genuinely wanting to know the answers to my questions and I was expectant to hear them. I was also willing to accept what I heard. I’m not talking about from my Pastor, or from my parents. I’m talking about straight from God’s Word to me. People have their opinions and their independent conversations. However, if this Bible was something that God had truly given me to know and understand who He is and what He is like, I was going to open myself up to learn as much as I could from it, while allowing myself to truly think it through. I didn’t understand everything, but I believed and I wanted to learn more, so I prayed for God to give me an opportunity to learn more of His Word. Then, almost a week later, a leader in my Youth Group at church reached out to me for ice-cream. She told me that I stood out to her, that she saw me as a leader, and that she wanted to offer the opportunity to disciple me if I was willing. I so was because I knew this was the answer to my prayer.
We met every week for 16 weeks to go through the book of Romans in the Bible. For the first time, I began to really understand who Jesus was. I learned what His death meant for me. I used to think that talking about Jesus’ blood was gory and dramatic, and that the phrase “Jesus died on the cross for you” was super cliché. I didn’t think that “sin” was that big of a deal. I wanted to learn more things about the Word of God that were more important and that I could really grab hold of. However, being open to God and God’s Word, I learned that my philosophy was wrong. Jesus’ death was not some isolated incident that I could move on from or ignore. This was a one-time act that my entire life, and truly the entire purpose of my life hinged upon. My life has no meaning apart from His death on the cross. Why? Because there is nothing, and no one that can save me or make my life complete on this earth. Save me from what? My deep seated longing to know why I’m here and where I’m going. I can live a normal life – a monotonous, day to day, simple life. However, where am I going? When this is over, what’s going to happen to me, and will what I did here mean anything at all? Will it last?
Then there was the sin thing. I hadn’t done things that were that bad (obviously, as I already said, I was raised in church and in a Christian home. I was public schooled, but never did or wanted to do anything crazy). I wondered why sin was such a big deal. Then, I learned that everyone has sinned (lying, cheating, stealing, being jealous, hating), and that no matter how small it is or who it was done against, every time we sin, it is not really against another person. It’s against God Himself. We are disobeying His law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments. The only thing is, we can’t keep it. If you think about it, no one, no matter how hard they try, is or can be perfect. It’s impossible. Romans 3:10-18 says that there is no one who is good, no one who has ever fully followed these commands, and no one who can.
Then, here comes Jesus. He is fully human, yet fully God (I’m not asking you to think about or question the philosophy here, but to be open to the possibility). He says that He chooses to die. That no one can take His life from Him, but He willingly and voluntarily lays it down. Out of love. Why? What does that mean for me 2,000 years later? If He is perfect; if He fully and completely – perfectly fulfilled the Law of God in His life on earth, then He can choose to be my Sacrifice. He can choose to die so that I can experience forgiveness from my sins and be free from having to fulfill a Law that I was never, ever even close to being able to fulfill. And why did I have to fulfill it? Because if I didn’t, I was going to die in my sin. I had no hope. Nothing I could do was going to be good enough to save me from my destination, which was dying separated from a perfect God who could not accept me in my imperfection, no matter how much He loved me. So He died. He died. He died for me. If He was the One to die, then if I could believe and accept His sacrifice, nothing could ever separate me from His love again. And He gave me time. He gave me the time and ability to listen and learn so that I could fully come to believe and accept Him. He always has and He always will.
It’s been 10 years since I first began my real walk with God. I was raised in church, but I wasn’t a strong follower until I met Him for myself. Until I heard His voice for me. Until I realized that He wasn’t mad or disappointed in me for not knowing Him, but in love, He was waiting until I was willing enough to let Him show me. And that wasn’t the last time either. I have been set on a (day to day) lifetime of discovering more of who He is. I read the Bible every day, not to gain knowledge of it or facts and figures, but to really know Him. To know His character and what He thinks, how He thinks. I talk to Him every day, and I have heard His voice many more times over the years as well as had many more and more impactful experiences with Him. Each one better than the last. And I have fallen deeper in love with Him than I thought was possible for myself. I didn’t know I ever would or ever could, and yet, I am now the one leading worship, singing songs of genuine adoration and love to a God that I have never seen. But I know Him. I feel that I know Him better than I know my best friend on earth. And I love Him.
You may not understand fully what all this means, but I want you to know that I believe what I’ve written here wholeheartedly. This is not jargon, or these are not cliché or meaningless words, but words that have been crafted out of a heart that believes. And I want you to know for yourself what I know. That I am saved and set free from loneliness and fear of being alone. If you are in a place where I once was, give yourself the freedom and ability to seek Him. Even if it means cutting other things out of your life. Otherwise, how will you ever really know if you aren’t willing to give Him a chance to show you? You never know until you seek.
“What I say to you in the dark (privately), tell in the light (publicly); and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops [to many people].” – Matthew 10:27