15 years ago today, at age 15, I accepted Jesus into my heart.
I shudder writing that out, since much of my theology and language around spirituality has changed. Beneath that knee-jerk reaction, is an invitation away from my deconstructive ways and towards an appreciation of my past self. I hope the same for all of us — that we may take “a long lovingly look at the real” of the beginnings of our spiritual journeys. Here’s mine.
The Christianity I was raised in was more cultural than about transformation. We went to a small Presbyterian Church in Thousand Oaks, my father led me in bedtime prayers, and I understood the importance of tithing to the church and international causes. But it ended there. After my parents divorced, we stopped going.
At age 9 I was introduced to a spiritual Christianity through the Trinity Broadcasting Network and my charismatic nanny. That’s right, Benny Hinn touching people on the forehead and healing them every day at noon. I am proof that God can use ANYTHING despite itself. I was always skeptical of that culture, but it was my spiritual launching point.
During that time I would hide under my pink quilt after bed time each night with a bible and a flashlight, reading mostly Esther and Ruth on repeat. I had found my mother’s old bible in the garage and searched the scriptures partially out fear of hell, partially as rebellion against my mother, who would poke her head into my room and tell me to turn off my flashlight and go to sleep. At these moments I imagined myself a martyr, but my poor mother just didn’t want to deal with a sleep deprived child the next day. It must have been such an odd thing for my mother to have to manage.
Once I hit high school, I realized I wanted to belong to a faith community. I found it in an evangelical ‘mini-mega’ church located next to the highway. It was large enough to get lost in the crowds — which when you’re an awkward 15 yr-old going to church alone is ideal. There were lots of mainline churches in my town, but all the teenagers had known each other since they were born, so it was full of cliques and long-standing inside jokes. At the evangelical church I felt welcomed and invited to return by a bubbly junior with curly red hair. So I came back. The more Christians I met, the more I found this whole other culture I could become a part of. There were Christian ska and hardcore bands! There were Christian young adult novels! I spent a lot of time in the two small religion aisles at the Barnes N Noble, trying to figure out my new identity.
At 30, I’m still at times mystified by how quickly and deeply I fell in love with the spiritual journey at that age. There was this sense of a cavern of deep longing within me as a child and teenager (and now), and in spirituality it began to make sense. Though I didn’t have the words to grasp it at that point.
15 years ago, it was the night after my mother’s birthday, and I was sitting alone in my room, on my pink quilt, with a young adult Evangelical novel. I already considered myself a believer, but in the book the main character asked Jesus into her heart. I realized that up until that point, my spiritual seeking had been motivated by fear, but I wanted it to be about something else. So I picked that moment, away from the influence of church or others, to say this is what I want. It felt empowering and relieving. The moment felt transcendent yet ordinary.
In the past 5 years around this date, I’d feel a little embarrassed and maybe some shame. There were certain exclusionary beliefs from that time I’m now repentant of (yes, that word). And also, staying too long in past laments gets in the way of genuine growth and new discovery in the present. When I find myself going to that overly critical place, I gently guide myself towards reflecting on what are the parts of this story that I can appreciate, still see in myself, and giggle at a little (I mean, TBN, really?).
I love that teenage girl who sat alone in her room and intentionally vowed into a spiritual journey. That she was independent and critically thinking. Who knew she wanted something more than what was already. Who was a little mystic with her head in a book. Of course she found a home at a mega church. There were some great people there. There was space for her to be a big personality and run around barefoot. There were adults who mentored her in writing and leadership. The youth pastor laid down a foundation for Kingdom of God theology à la Dallas Willard. She was taught to be welcoming and invitational. That 15-year-old worked with what she had — a Trinity Broadcasting Network introduction, an evangelical culture, and a novel. I’m not sure I’d want a different beginning to my spiritual journey.