I grew up going to Sunday school, praying before meals and asking many questions that were always patiently answered by my mom and dad who are so strong in their faiths. I probably prayed “the prayer” when I was four or five, which meant that Jesus sounded like a nice guy, he was important to my parents, and so he should be important to me too.
Growing up, I felt I had a pretty strong faith; I read my Bible and prayed prayers that meant something to me and I really did trust God with my life. I gave myself rules: no cussing, no gossiping, no saying “oh my god”, dress modestly and always, always be nice. I was the epitome of “the good little Christian girl”. I think I did have a real faith but it became warped as I tried to be the best Christian I could be. Then I entered into my first year of college at Westmont, excited and interested to see how this small, private, Christian school would compare to my large, public high school; how would my faith grow?!
The first semester flew by and, at Christmastime, I broke down. I still kept most of my rules, I still read my Bible everyday, but I felt so detached from God – so stupid. I knew all the answers and I felt nothing. Where was this joy, this peace, this amazing, loving relationship with the Father that the apostle Paul encouraged and that Jesus exemplified? I knew all the answers but I didn’t know God. I went into Christmas break confused and depressed but ready to go home. The day before I was supposed to leave, I had breakfast with Mom: the kindest, gentlest, most beautiful woman I know, who has such a real relationship with God. I hadn’t talked about how I was feeling to anybody, really, and finally over my blueberry waffles I let loose my frustrations. What was I doing wrong? Where was God? What else did I need to do? I felt I couldn’t even ask for God’s help because I didn’t know how to pray! She listened patiently, offered some words of comfort, and gave me the book 31 Days of Prayer by Ruth Myers.
As I started going through the daily prayers at school, I realized my problem was that I DID know all the answers. I had boxed myself in with all the answers and had successfully separated myself from God by giving him an identity that I had created. But how could I go back? If I knew the answers in my head, how could I add the heart? I so desperately wanted to love! So I prayed. (Yes, me!) I sat on my bed in my dorm room and with tears streaming down my face I pleaded with God that he would let me start over, that I would forget my answers, and that he would lead me to have a relationship with Him; a real one that came from my heart that would let me finally give and receive love! At my lowest, God so graciously heard me and lifted me gently, as if I was a very awkward, fragile baby bird who tried to fly too high too soon. He picked me up as though he had been waiting this whole time for me to finally realize that I couldn’t keep it all together, I couldn’t create my own faith! I am still that gangly little bird. God’s dusted off my tail feathers, set me on my gangly little bird legs and is teaching me to fly, HIS way this time. After such a hard fall it hasn’t been easy standing back up again. However, God blessed me by legitimately taking away all my old answers, (I honestly can’t remember them) and giving me a new beginning.
In starting over I wanted to be close to my Father; I wanted to talk WITH him, not at Him like I had done before. So I prayed that He would teach me to pray, and He went above and beyond. This summer he blessed me with prayer; I never felt so close to Him, so at peace, as I did when I prayed for others, and everything, really everything I prayed for He answered in amazing ways. God had fitted me with better wings and I was learning to soar with them, God is so good! Nevertheless, I soon began to go my own way, I began to be proud of my prayer, how it made things happen (notice how God has suddenly been forced out of the picture??) and I tumbled downward, hitting the ground hard. Again. Thankfully, hitting the ground hurts and forces me to need God to pick me up again. Why he loves me so much that He would have to stoop down again and again to lift me off the ground I will never understand but I am so, so thankful.
I don’t have the answers and I still mess up – glory be to God! He is merciful and loving and is teaching me to love – to love his way, and it is so exciting! I guess you could say that I was a Christian who made up her own Christianity, who has been saved, and who is now (as best as she can) following Jesus. As I finish, may I give you my favorite verse as an encouragement and prayer to anyone else who has tried to fly too high? Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may Overflow With Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.