“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ – 2 Corinthians 5:17
I was fifteen when I first heard about Jesus. Now, I know what you’re going to say, ‘a person growing up in the Bible Belt who hadn’t heard of Jesus? How is that possible?’ Well, it is. It’s not that I had never heard of Jesus so much as that I hadn’t heard about Jesus. I knew the name, but it was like knowing of Abraham Lincoln or something-I knew the facts and the common stories, but they didn’t mean anything to me. My family went to church up until I was about eight but, really, show me an eight year old who actually pays attention in church! I knew Bible stories, but only because my mom had gotten me a huge book of them to keep me quiet and awake during the service. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know about Jesus in any meaningful way. It took meeting some very good and caring friends to get me to learn anything beyond what you can find on a Christmas TV special. I’m not going to go into too much detail about them here because I don’t want to get off track, but I experienced the type of ‘transformation’ the verse above references. It wasn’t my personality that changed so much as the way I saw everything around me and, by extension, saw myself. Here are some of the ways my life changed when I first became a Christian:
First, let me start by telling you what didn’t change. Here’s one thing-I didn’t ‘get morals’. I had morals before, and roughly the same ones about how to treat other people that Christianity teaches. I keep hearing some people say or imply that people who don’t have a religion can’t have morals, and that is completely untrue. I had parents before, and those parents taught me values before. Also, it’s not as though the ethics of relationships are unique to Christianity! Many of the world’s religions teach similar things about how to treat other people, even if worded differently. Christianity happens to be the faith I chose, but I don’t pretend that we have the monopoly on knowledge of God. I don’t really have to be agreed with; In fact, I am often the first to defend the rights of others to live and believe whichever way they feel led, provided no one is being hurt. Some differences might be hard to swallow at first, but they’re certainly not as important as loving our neighbor as ourselves, with everyone as our neighbor.
Besides, it’s not like I was a huge troublemaker before! I didn’t *kiss* anyone or even have a real boyfriend until I was seventeen so I didn’t sleep around, haven’t committed any crimes beyond traffic tickets and I still have never been drunk. I’ve actually always been kind of a goody-two-shoes, although I don’t like to admit that. 🙂 I’m just naming these things because they seem to be the ones I hear about most often. I do have somewhat of a ‘potty mouth’ sometimes and have definitely lied, but I’ve never really understood the fixation some people have about sexual things being more important than a person’s basic attitude toward themselves and other people. *Shrug* I guess you could say that I also struggle with not judging others…
I didn’t find a quick fix for my problems, nor did I have an assurance that I wouldn’t have trials in the future. In fact, it was pretty much a guarantee that I would. The assurance was in that I wouldn’t be alone when I did.
I didn’t check my brain at the door. One thing I’ve been asked is how someone who’s as intelligent as I am can possibly be a Christian. Do I really have to tell you why this is offensive? 🙂 I understand how some of the anti-science, anti-academia, anti-questioning-anything-your-leaders-say things you’ll hear out of some people seem like Christians don’t think. I completely agree, those things don’t sound very thoughtful. However, I think you will find people who do not think for themselves in pretty much any group. It’s more of a personality trait than anything else. I have never stopped asking questions, and probably never will. Anyone who knows me knows that I won’t ‘just shut up and drink your Kool-Aid’ just because someone tells me to-in fact, being told that is likely to make me even more persistent! What’s great is, I don’t have to stop asking. Some Christian groups do teach the sort of strict ‘uniform thinking’ mentioned above, but that’s certainly not all of them. The Bible never claimed to be a science book or complete history text anyway. Besides, there are other types of intelligence. Faith can meet an emotional need, which IMO is every bit as important as an intellectual need.
And, well, let’s see you try to get through the book of Deuteronomy-most of the Old Testament, really-and still think Christians are brain dead…:)
Here are some things that did change, that were added to my life:
I finally had a connection to something outside myself, and larger than myself and the world I can see around me.
It was finally beaten into my head that ‘it’s not all about me’. I had concern for and connection to the rest of the world’s people before, but this bond became even stronger. That doesn’t mean I liked everyone or everything, but it does mean that I began to see the whole world as my neighbor as opposed to just my ‘inner circle’ or those I could see around me.
I finally stopped having to know absolutely everything. Growing up, I couldn’t stand the idea of something being beyond my comprehension or not being ‘kept in the loop’ . I guess you could say I was a typical teenager, thinking I knew everything and that my reasoning was flawless. I put tremendous pressure on myself in this way; I always did very well in school but didn’t think I had much else going for me. Proverbs 3:5 says to ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.’ I don’t take this to necessarily mean that we shouldn’t try to make sense of things, but that we should understand that there are going to be things that are not for us to know at this point in time. This might sound simplistic, but it really brought a relief. For someone who was as strongly driven by academics as I was, admitting that it is okay not to know something is a major feat. Even now, sometimes I drive myself insane trying to understand things…why people are how they are, etc…but then I remember the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. “Now we see things imperfectly, as in a poor mirror, but then we will see in perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely just as God knows me now.” (1 Cor, 13:12). Now, I know what you’re going to say…’how do you know the Bible is even true? There are so many contradictions in it, so many things have been found to be false.’ But like I said above, the Bible is not a science book. There is a difference between ‘truth’ and ‘fact’, as the parables and mythology that has been passed down through the ages will show. Even if you put no stock in the Bible or Paul at all, what he says still makes sense. There are some things we just aren’t going to know in this life…and anything that can drive that through my thick skull can’t be all bad! That leads me to the final (and biggest) realization:
It seemed as though I finally had a name for an essence, a spirit, that I had known was there all along but couldn’t identify. I think I always felt that there was some sort of higher power ‘out there’, that there was something that kept the order in the universe. I can’t emphasize enough how comforting it can be to believe that it’s not all up to me and that there is some sort of pattern, some sort of reason to the the world and our lives. It certainly has not been smooth sailing, definitely. I will be the first to say that I’ve had it rough at times and that I’ve considered tossing it all . I’ve had some times when I felt I’d be better off without my faith or thought God deserted me. I seriously thought He hated me; few things will make you feel farther from God than depression, especially the kind that comes with mixed bipolar states. However, through the caring of some good friends, I began to see again that He never left me. Just as I originally came to know and believe, I was shown the way God cares for me through the care from other people. There are too many people to thank, so I guess they’ll just have to know who they are. On this tip, I will end this essay with one of my favorite Scriptures:
‘And now abide in faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.’ -1 Corinthians 13:13