Two weeks ago I got the email below from a reader named Robert. We have emailed back and forth a few times since, I tweaked his original email to make it more ‘blog friendly’, he has read it, and he has graciously allowed me to publish it.
Enjoy, it truly is worth a read.
I have been reading your blog for a while but have never commented before.
If it’s OK, I would like to share a bit of my personal story with you. I’m not sure why but I think it may help some of the other readers who lurk on blogs but never comment because they don’t want the attention or debates about beliefs.
I was born into a Christian home (guess I should mention that I am in my late 20s right now) and, for as long as I can remember, I attended a Bible believing church with my family.
Until I was around 24 I totally walked the Christian walk and talked the Christian talk while very rarely questioning anything I was taught in church. Sunday morning services, Sunday School, Wednesday night, VBS, youth camp, etc. I happily did it all and did it with a great love of the faith, my home church, my family and God.
That is until the doubt set in.
“What if none of it were true?” I began to ask myself as I struggled to keep up appearances and act as if nothing in the world bothered me.
“What if the faith me and my family loved were nothing but a myth?”
“Had I been living a lie?”
“Would I feel better if there were some bit of evidence out there that would prove I was on the wrong path?”
“Would I feel better if I had good reason to ditch the whole thing, ditch the idea that I was a sinner in need of a savior so I could begin living my life on my terms?”
So anyway, I did what I thought was the reasonable thing and I nursed my doubt. I read books by atheists, read atheist blogs and websites, began talking to people from outside the church and, most importantly I thought, began asking serious questions about the faith to my parents, my pastor, church elders, and so on.
While some of these people had great answers that would appeal to quite a few people, I remained personally unconvinced that the faith was either sound, reasonable, or logical so I walked away hoping to never return.
A surprising thing happened when I told my parents, pastor, friends, etc. that I was done with the faith forever and that was, that they did absolutely nothing. No shame, no shock, no judgement, no rejection, no shunning, nothing. In spite of what I had been given to believe about how people who deconvert are treated, I was shown nothing but love and respect.
In fact, after about two months of not showing up at church, my dad came to my apartment to talk and told me that he understood my struggle, that many people have struggled similarly, that he, my mother and everyone else at the church was praying for me, that they all loved me, and that they were all praying that God would lead me back in His time.
I was pleasant and respectful to my father and I thanked him for his understanding but said that my mind was made up and that I was never going back, ever.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I became an atheist but I was a full-fledged non-believer in every regard.
If there was a god out there I didn’t need him and I was completely happy with that kind of freedom.
That’s how it went for a few years and my life was as good as it could be.
My friends and my parents would invite me to church all the time, especially on special occasions and holidays but I always politely declined telling them I was better off without it.
This all changed when, for some reason, I accepted an invitation to attend an Easter service before a big family dinner at my parent’s house.
“No harm in that” I thought. I used to love church, I still got along with the people I knew from the church and, in spite of my newfound lack of belief, I never grew to harbor any animosity toward the church whatsoever.
So I walked in, much the same as I had countless times before, sat down with my family, and prepared to listen to my first sermon as a non-believer.
“What would it be like to hear a message from the pulpit, yet not have to care?” I wondered.
So I sat, daydreaming, looking at my watch, playing on my phone, wondering if it would be a good idea to sneak out pretending I had to go to the bathroom.
“Blah, blah, blah”, the pastor droned on. This could not end soon enough.
Until the altar call that is.
“Finally it’s about to end” I thought when he said, “If anyone wants to feel the love of Christ, they need to come forward right now.”
“Love of Christ?” I mumbled under my breath.
“Hell no, I don’t need or want the love of Christ, I am doing just fine on my own”
Before I knew what was happening I was halfway down the aisle, walking toward the preacher.
“Do you want to feel the love of Christ, right here, right now?”
“No.” I thought as the word “yes” came out of my mouth.
“Bow your head and pray with me.”
I bowed my head to avoid making a scene but I was not going to pray along. I didn’t want to and didn’t need to.
“Father God, I pray that your Holy Spirit will move this young man to accept your gift of salvation. That he will lay his sins, his troubles, his past, his wandering, his doubt at your feet and walk out of here this morning a new creation.”
Then I felt it.
It’s hard to explain what I felt but it was something I had never felt in church or anywhere else, ever.
Love, peace, joy, warmth…I couldn’t, and don’t know if I ever will, be able to describe it.
The lesson I learned on Easter morning is that, despite what I thought at the time and how well I played the Christian game, I was never more than someone who merely attended church.
I knew who God was but I never knew Him.
I knew who the Holy Spirit was but He never moved me.
I knew who Jesus was but I never truly trusted Him.
The long story short here is that I am now convinced that growing up in the church doesn’t matter, calling yourself a Christian doesn’t matter, going through the Christian motions doesn’t matter, and what you know in your head doesn’t matter.
The only thing that matters is the calling of the Holy Spirit and how we respond to the calling when we hear it.