“Did you grow up in the church?” “When did you meet Jesus?” “When were you baptized?” “When did your faith become your own?
My personal favorite, “When did it become real to you?”
I think this is a valid question, but it has a complicated answer.
I grew up as a pastor’s kid. I knew all the right things to say at the right time. I knew how to coach other people on the right things to say at the right time, from a young age.
I sometimes joke with people who ask if I went to Bible college (I don’t think they ask because I appear well-taught in a moment, but probably because I said something that was very wrong ;)) that I didn’t need to because I was a Baptist. (This joke is only funny if you have ever attended a “Bible-Teaching-Baptist-Church” — as opposed to the other churches that don’t bother with the Bible? . . . sarcasm . . .)
This question, “when was it real” has stuck with me for the last few days. What I think people are wondering is this: When did faith mean the right thing to you? When did you understand that God is good and we are broken, in need of a Savior? When did you correctly weigh the amount of brokenness in our world? When did your heart break? When did Jesus become the answer to heal you?
I love baptism because it is one of those cool solidarity moments we get with Jesus. We go under the water — Jesus died — our old life dies. We come up from the water, soaked — Jesus rose from the dead to defeat death — we get saturated with the New Life that comes from Christ. That moment for me happened when I was 17 in a hot tub in Allyn, WA. My husband (then boyfriend) Richard baptized me with our small group. That evening set into motion a series of moments with Jesus that, to this day, concrete the hold the Creator God has on my heart.
But it wasn’t the first time I was dunked under water with special words said.
I was in 4th grade when my whole Sunday School class and, more importantly, my best friend decided it was time to get baptized. My dad dunked me in a freezing cold fountain. I got lots of congratulations and my family went out to eat to celebrate.
Did I understand what it meant to follow Jesus with my whole life? No.
Did I even understand, at 9 yrs old what life was or that pain existed or that people fail? No.
Was it real?
You know when you are a little kid and you are convinced, to the point that no level of logic can change your conviction, that you can learn to fly?
Be it happy thoughts, an iron man suit, or just good ole fairy magic, you know that flying is in your future.
You’re sure that Santa comes through a fireplace to bring you the most special Christmas present, clearly the one your mom and dad said no to.
You are convinced that the world revolves around you. You are actually unaware of a world beyond you. And, your world, as you understand it, is VERY real.
Just because an adult does not recognize something as real, does not mean it is not very real to a child.
In my case, looking back, there is no way I understood the impact a Redeemer God would have on my life. But, I loved the God I understood.
I didn’t yet understand that I had a need for a Savior. I didn’t realize that my heart was broken and would break God’s heart.
I was young and loved my community and believed God was for me.
There was a time later in my life that I walked away from that belief and even renounced it.
But, the God I have come to trust is a God of New Things. He is a God of New Life. He is a God of Resurrection.
Something has to exist to die. And, it has to die to be brought back to life.
My old self (the one that died when I was 17 in a hot tub in Allyn) includes the child that loved a Santa God and the young adult that blamed Him for my pain. It includes the parts of me that still distrust Him and turn my back on him.
My new self is the part that wants desperately for the Redeemer to come near to me in my brokenness and to see the brokenness around me made whole.
Choosing Jesus has never been about a moment that changes is for good. It has been about Goodness that changes every moment. And allowing God’s Goodness to change the way we view everything is how we bring Heaven here.
It has always been real.
God doesn’t want something from us. He simply wants us.