I’m sitting on a church pew at 6 years old beside my best friend as we anxiously await the pastor to give us the cue to rise from our seats. I tap my heels up and down out of pure excitement while giving her a reassuring grin. The microphone releases the sound of our names. We push ourselves up off our seats and walk through the door to the right of the stage. We giggle together at the top of the stairs at the thought of sitting through the rest of the service with wet hair. Our laughter is interrupted as he calls her name first. She walks down the stairs but looks back at me just before she reaches the water for encouragement. I smile wholeheartedly, watching intently as she is submerged in water. I clap along with the rest of the congregation when she emerges once again. Clean. Saved. I get a knot in my stomach when I realize that it’s my turn next. My name is called. I slowly walk towards the water taking careful steps down the stairs. The water is cool on my feet. I feel the t-shirt that I’m wearing begin to stick to my skin beneath it. The pastor places one hand on my back and the other covering my own tiny hand holding my nose so tight. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” A whoosh of water covers my head as I’m dipped backward. My body is lifted from the water to the greeting of cool air on my face. Clean. Saved.
At this moment I should have felt God’s presence in the most overwhelming way, but the prickling cold of the water as I entered the baptistery pool was more stirring than what I felt in my heart. I went on to live the next 10 years of my life putting on the most convincing front. I was a good kid. I did what I was supposed to do. I went to church every Sunday. I participated in every church event and organization. I was kind and helpful. I was going through the motions in the most perfect way, but He wasn’t alive in me. My heart was a place for me and for me alone.
I started high school and life got busy. Basketball took up so much of my time, and I began to craft up excuses as to why I couldn’t go to church each Sunday morning. Along with those excuses I began to form my own opinions of religion and what it meant to be a Christian. I started to question God. What made Christianity the end all be all religion? Why was this one religion true and every other religion false? This is where the foundation of my faith began to crumble. Piece by piece my feeble wall of faith would fall into the abyss of this world. One piece fell when I lost my best friend to the black hole that is high school. A few more fell when I watched other Christians spew out hate to non-believers and friends that sinned differently than they did. Pretty soon my faith resembled the rubble in the aftermath of some horrific natural disaster, and I had no intentions to rebuild it.
High School came and went, and I continued to drift further and further away from God. Honestly, I never even thought of Him. I was tackling this world all on my own, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I made bad choices, and allowed those around me to influence my decisions. When people would ask me about my faith, I would lightheartedly brush off the question with some nonsense about being a good person. As if that was all that mattered. God watched me throughout the entirety of this mess. He knew me, and He knew that I had to come to Him on my own terms and no one else’s.
Fast forward to the close of my sophomore year of college. I had it all. A great man by my side with more ambition in one finger than most will ever obtain. Friends, new and old, that surrounded me with adoration. A college major that I loved and loved pursuing. My life was perfect. Golden. But why didn’t my heart reflect my life? I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled. God knew this. He was about to make His move. I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I be happy? Why didn’t I feel joy when I looked at my life? Many days and nights were spent sorting through thoughts in my head that attempted to explain away this constant weight on my heart. Little did I know that the explanation was right around the corner.
It was a morning just like any other. I woke up early and sluggishly got ready for my 8am class that I would most likely be a few minutes late for. I pulled my typical Greek yogurt breakfast from the refrigerator and sunk down into the couch to watch a few minutes of TV before heading on my way. It was raining, so my 45 minute drive to school was a bit more dreary than most days. The water droplets pouring down onto my windows made the early morning feel even earlier. I turned my radio up just a little louder to increase my alertness. Nothing was unusual. Nothing had happened the night before. Everything was exactly the same as it had been the previous day as I made the exact same drive to the exact same destination. There were no triggers, but I felt different. Like something was pushing against my chest…against my heart. My body felt tight, restricted. My breathing turned shallow and an overwhelming feeling came over me. I felt Him. For the first time in my life I actually felt the presence of God within me right there, alone in my car. I began to cry. My body gave way to an uncontrollable, gasping sob as it could no longer contain the emotion that filled me. This is what was missing from my existence. He was the missing piece.
I would like to say that, at this moment, I did a 180. I would love to tell you that, from that second on, I lived for God and only for Him, but that would be a lie. I struggled. I still made some bad decisions. I still did some things that I am not proud of, but He was working on me. Crafting me into a beautifully, imperfect creation. He never gave up on me…not once. Even throughout the time in my life when I had completely turned my back on Him, He was still there. He had a plan. He still has a plan, and He’s still working on me. My Christian journey has been a rocky one full of ups and downs, belief and disbelief, faith and fear, but I came out on the other side. I am still clean…still saved.
So the point of all of this isn’t just to read a cool story of redemption. The point of this can be summed up in three parts.
- Realize that He is there, always. He’s working on you and crafting you into exactly the person he intended for you to be. Even in your dark times, even when you are not there for Him, He is there for you.
- You don’t have to be in a church sanctuary to feel God. Sometime’s that’s just not what He has in store for you. Humans are stubborn by nature. We think we can take our own paths. As ridiculous as that is, we truly believe it. What we don’t realize sometimes is that He is in complete control. His hand is guiding our every move, and His plan for us is so much greater than our own. If you find yourself running, it’s only a matter of time before He stops you in exactly the spot He had picked out from the start, even if that spot is in a car on the way to an 8am.
- You don’t have to be perfect to lay at His feet. You are a constant work in progress. There will always be things that you struggle with, and that’s okay! Our God is FORGIVING. You are not a lost cause because of your past mistakes. He can wipe you clean! There was a man on a cross that proved that to us.