I am a born-again Christian.
For most of my life, that reference would elicit an eye-roll and usually an immediate gut reaction to keep my distance. You know those people – the ones who try to shove their religious doctrine down your throat as they hit you over the head with their Bible, all the while telling you all the reasons YOU were going to Hell. They did not show one ounce of what they preached in their day-to-day lives and always left me with a horrible feeling about religious people in general.
Today, that term has a different meaning for me and I’m happy to add it to any description of who I am now. So let’s go back a little to see that journey!
I was raised in the church – christened Lutheran and later baptized in my teens at a non-denominational church. It was in my teens that I first accepted Jesus as my Savior. I was very active with the church at that time – choir, youth group, Sunday school and helping out with church activities. My family seldom missed a Sunday service. And yet outside of church I never spoke to my friends or others about my faith and I don’t remember reading the Bible much or even praying.
It was my senior year of high school that I began to walk away from religion. It started with normal things at that age – mostly having to do with my own personal preferences and priorities. I spent most of my 20s living life on my terms. I saw no need for church and questioned the hypocrisy of people I saw who were “religious” and applied it in general to all people of faith. We married in the Church, as that was important to both of us, but I had no plans to make it a regular part of our lives.
I spent most of my 30s focused on my career and the goals I had set for myself – to work hard, earn promotions, raises, titles and accolades. I built strong work relationships and traveled often. I had a shelf of awards and a nice paycheck coming in. Life was grand!
Or was it?
See with those promotions and raises came many long hours and piles of stress. As years went by, I looked at my life and wondered where I was going. I had a strong marriage and great friends, but I felt completely disconnected. I struggled with depression and it showed in my interactions – both at work and in my personal life. I withdrew from my friends, was often moody with my coworkers and let’s just say my husband got the brunt of my venting! I thought that having a great career and the ability to live comfortably would mean a happy life. I could look at my accomplishments and feel like my life meant something. But that isn’t what happened and I knew I needed a change.
My 40s brought a change in my work priorities! I began to step back from management, all the special projects and all the travel. I didn’t lose my love for the work, but I knew I had to make changes in the priority that it was taking in my life. I used some of the down time to participate in volunteer projects. Yet that soon turned to a larger commitment and after a few years, what began as fun soon turned into another source of stress and was not as fulfilling as I had thought it would be.
It was two years ago that I truly started to wonder what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I happy? I had so much and still felt empty. I could feel myself being drawn back into that same depressed state that I had tried so hard to leave behind. I was functioning, and going about my days trying to act like there was nothing wrong – but it’s hard to keep that up for any length of time.
And still, I was searching…
Out of the blue one day, my husband suggested visiting a church service. It surprised me, because he and I both had our issues with organized “religion” and hadn’t felt that church fit into our lives. He had picked up the Bible again that year, which to me seemed more on the side of his growing love for reading, history and educating himself than anything else. Yet I could tell that it was affecting him in a positive way as he completed each chapter. A friend suggested a local church for us and we set the day to attend.
We enjoyed that first service, and the next one and the next. The Pastor was very passionate and humble and we would leave each service feeling uplifted. We began to sit in on Bible study classes and had conversations at home about what we had heard or were learning. We began reading the Bible – but with a different set of eyes and a new heart. As weeks, then months went by, I could feel changes in myself – nothing I could put my finger on specifically, but simply a well-being. I felt more at peace than I had in a very long time.
I soon began to see that people of faith are not the same as those who are simply religious. And, as we grow in our faith so grows our want to be better people. And yet that doesn’t mean all of our faults just go away. Sometimes we don’t live what we believe and these are the things we try to grow in.
Two years later and life is still a daily challenge – but with a difference.
While I always “believed” in Jesus, I had no real relationship with Him. Heck, I didn’t even know what that meant. But when I opened up to Him, and put my trust in Him and the plan He had for my life, it was a type of peace I hadn’t felt before. I can go to Him with my worries and fears and find true comfort. I can speak to Him in the midst of chaos and He helps me to find calm. I am not perfect and will never be. I did nothing to deserve His blessings and I’m sure that daily I disappoint Him in some way. And yet He loves me anyway, unconditionally! This is what had been missing in my life all those years.
This year has been a bumpy and challenging journey and I expect that won’t change for a while. Yet I know that I will get through it, I will learn something from it and come out a stronger person! And I can thank Jesus for that! Amen!