I grew up in the Christian world. The one where you do everything and anything Christian. Christian school for 13 years. Church since the womb. Youth group since middle school.
The kind of world where you know the Bible back and front, you know the classic “I’m praying for you” and “praise God!” in the good and the bad times. The Ten Commandments you have memorized. The right answers you know how to say.
This unfortunate lifestyle I like to refer to as the mind religion, not the heart relationship. I’m not mad or ashamed of the way I was raised- I learned core values that I still have, and really did feel supported and surrounded by people who loved me. The problem was I thought I knew it all, and because I spent so much time surrounded by Bible class and youth group, I never really imagined that it went beyond what I knew. What I knew was empty, boring, repetitive, and dry like toast.
After grad, I wanted to do one thing: travel. I was accepted to YWAM in England, though I only went to meet people and travel (after all, I thought I had God down pat). When I arrived, I was quickly shaken to the core.
People I met loved God because, well, they simply loved Him. They didn’t emphasize rules or the right things to say, they loved God because they knew Him. I realized VERY quickly that the God I thought I knew was not the God I saw and wanted. At first, I began to resist everything. I was afraid God was going to call me to be a missionary somewhere far away, and I was also ashamed that I missed the point for my entire 18 years.
I remember one night I was reading the story of Jonah, and something clicked. Sobbing on my knees in my dorm room, I promised God that I would stop running, and I was shocked and delighted to find that in that moment, I didn’t have to get up and search for Him. I crashed into Him: He had been chasing me the entire time. From that moment on, He began to speak, and I began to hear Him. The Bible became alive, as if I never read it before, and prayer wasn’t just something I did before I ate.
For six months I went on a rollercoaster of emotion, a wild adventure involving living on a sailing ship on the Mediterranean, crazy stories of his faithfulness and divine encounters, and repetitive God moments. In that half a year, it was as if a tube was placed between my head and my heart, and suddenly following Jesus wasn’t just something I claimed to do, it became my identity. It changed me.
However, when I got home, I fast slipped into a pit of self-pity and homesickness. I quickly discovered that my friends were different, my home was different, and my former life was different. All I wanted to do was go back to life overseas, where God was so easy to hear and life was stress-free. Four months after being back, I was again sobbing on my bedroom floor. I was about to start university, but I felt lost.
Life was HARD. I felt like I was tested and failed. The passion I had was gone, I was deflated, and I felt like a fish out of water. I would cry myself to sleep because of loneliness and frustration. But I knew that I needed to begin to live a life different from what I had before, and I begged God for a second chance. It still is hard for me to hear God, and to seek after Him wholeheartedly without getting distracted by life.
Slowly, God began using me at school, and I got to reap rewards from sharing about him to classmates. He put burdens on my heart for the city, and he placed wonderful and encouraging friends in my life. Sometimes I remember the life I was living before, one consumed with the rules, church on Sundays, the emptiness, and I cringe. I am so thankful for the faithfulness of God, and for the relentless way He pursued me in my ignorance.
He redeemed me from the rules and facts that dictate a religion, and connected all my head knowledge to my heart, sweeping me up in the beauty of a genuine relationship with him. I’ve learned that following Jesus has nothing to do with a religion- it’s a relationship, woven into the fabric of who I am.