by Bethany - New York City
Getting saved when you are 7 years old is both a blessing and a curse. It's something like having chicken pox. The earlier you are exposed, the fewer complications you experience in the future. Imagine chicken pox are like sinful culture.
At the time I got saved, I was already in a church environment. I had a stable, loving home and amazing friends who had similar upbringings. I lived at church! I loved it all. To me, it gave me not only a sense of beauty in this world, but also a place to belong. That was until I hit puberty.
When the hormones overtook me, so did the obsessive compulsive disorder. Suddenly, my stable environment was not so stable. Everyone had always liked me. I had never been so ignored. Because I felt isolated, I became awkward. As I began to seek the approval of those around me, I had less and less faith in myself. I became stranger as the years wore on: writing novels in class, animating when I was supposed to be concentrating. I was moving further and further into my own imagination and away from those around me.
I have a lot of respect for my church at home. To this day, they continue to do wonderful things for humanity and my parents. As wonderful as it was, I won't say it was without its issues. Living in a small town, you are in constant contact with the same people. The same people you go to church with will also be those at your school. You can't escape running into people at the supermarket who you know from church or work or the other supermarket down the street. It isn't easy to disconnect. The same people who ignored me at school became the same people I would see Sunday at church. I was never physically mistreated. I was made fun of, but never too severely. I just got used to being ignored. The only attention I could warrant was largely negative. The second I expressed myself in church was the second everyone would call a committee over to speak with my parents. They thought I was troubled for being an artist and noticing things that no one else did. Regardless, I never felt like I belonged.
Though I deeply considered it, I never gave up the title "Christian." But I became rebellious and defiant of the church in general. The "church people" (as I began to call them) were irritating to me. I didn't see how they could be so optimistic all the time. It seemed so fake to me. How could the same person say that our God is inclusive, but only accept certain types of people to socialize with?
The older I grew, the more I began to cling to the world. I moved to New York for school and fell in love with the culture. Everyone here loved me! It was as if I were finally where I was meant to be. Never having felt such a strong sense of belonging, I began to turn to my friends who did not know Christ for all the advice I could get my hands on. It seemed to make sense. Maybe I was just more like Solomon, I thought. Maybe I was just a very worldly person. No one was ever going to change that.
As the years wore on, I began to subscribe to the philosophy that as long as it wasn't hurting anyone, why should I not participate in it. I began to abuse alcohol, have casual sexual encounters and worship at the feet of my own body. I climbed so high in the social ranks, I began to think I had finally "made it." I was my desired body weight, I had a great group of friends who I partied with constantly, my plays were becoming popular, I was acting, and most importantly, I had a great boyfriend. I did not want for anything, but I still had an unshakable emptiness in the fear of losing it all.
(Mostly the boyfriend.)
Two years later, I am a sobbing wreck after having broken up with the love of my life. In the past, the way I dealt with heartache and pain was by re-invention. I would always pick myself up, have casual sex, drink a lot and explore myself. All my friends cheered me on as they saw my pathetic attempts to self-improve. I tried to move on in any way imaginable. This time it was different. I missed the person. It was as if he had died.
"You look great!" they would insist, "There are too many men in this world for you to get all worked up over this one guy."
I remember this making me furious for several reasons. It was my first real glimpse into what love means to our generation. I began to understand why divorce was such a constant pattern in our society. After all, if your partner no longer makes you happy, why stay through the complications? I fell victim to the advice of the lost; those just as lost as myself.
Almost as an afterthought, I decided to revisit church. It was my last possible option. Believe me, I resented it, but I could find no relief elsewhere. People would try to welcome me at the door, I would set them up as cheesy and over-enthusiastic. People would sing and move around during worship, I would sit still. I was there for one reason and one alone: to get help from God. This continued for several weeks. I gave the sermons attention as they were practical, but even when I felt something, I would try to minimize it. I had always enjoyed listening to Carl Lentz preach, but I didn't care for all the bright, fancy stuff of worship. That was until he preached a sermon I will probably never forget.
When we got on the subject of "Dig a Little Deeper," it was as if God had come and kicked me in the face with the inevitability of my salvation. Until that point, I had always thought that my relationship with God was about me. I used him as one of the many things that created my identity. All my friendships, relationships and interactions had been rooted in the world. Much like the abused Bible rolling around in the bottom of my bag amidst a sea of pens and tiny notebooks, I had thrown God into a convenient corner to use when I needed him.
I began to pray and seek His guidance. I was still lazy and stubborn at first, but not as unenthusiastic. Gradually, I am beginning to have opportunities placed at my feet that I could never imagine. Instead of being a part of my identity, God is now my identity. While I can't say I have ever fully won the battle, I am hoping to win the war against the evil one. Slowly, the things of this world lose their luster. They become less and less amazing as I find my way to a true calling with the one who loves me.
I send hope and love to my ex, my family, my friends and everyone I've ever wronged by not explaining to them how beautiful God's grace really is. I'm still figuring this thing out. But I am hopeful that if I persevere, I can relax and ease into God's plan for me to further his kingdom.
While I still have scars, I am thankful for the chicken pox of my life. Though the exposure was late, I know I will be a stronger Christian. I am by no means asking you to sin, but I am asking you not to regret your past. We have such a wonderful God that he can take the old, dead viruses of our sins and use them as a vaccine to make us stronger.