February marks the 25th anniversary of when I started to follow Jesus Christ. Though I was raised in a Christian home and my parents afforded me the opportunity to attend Christian schools, I had deliberately walked away from God. I remember being angry with God about a number of things and saying rather defiantly at one point “I don’t need you. Would you just leave me alone for one week?” I was 12 at the time. I still went to school and occasionally attended youth group gatherings with some of my friends. But over the next several years, I continued to drift further and further away from God. By the time I was 15, I regularly used my paper route as an excuse and attended worship rather infrequently. Without glamourizing the path I chose, suffice it to say that I crossed boundaries I wish I had never crossed during that time. I got along with people. I stayed involved at school and in sports. I got decent grades. As far as most people were concerned, I was a good kid. But I was empty inside and I knew it and I felt it and I couldn’t fill it.
It wasn’t until the fall I turned 16 that I started to hear God calling me again. He spoke in a variety of ways to get my attention. Looking back, some of it was even humorous. I remember taking one of those career tests that they give in grade 10 and discovering that the one occupation that somehow fit all of my criteria was “minister.” I’m still not sure how that happened. The school counselor was quite excited; me, not so much. Back then I would have been very easily convinced that they had accidently given me someone else’s results. One of the more poignant ways that God spoke to me during that time was through a friend. I remember saying something about how I believed there was a God, but that I didn’t believe the biblical story. My friend who had been sitting next to me responded “I think you’re wrong, but I still love you.” I had no clue how to handle that type of love. And through my friend, I started to see ways that God had been with me all along, even though I wanted nothing to do with him.
Though I don’t remember the exact day, I still have a poem I wrote in February 1989 that expresses some of the change that God was working in me during that time. One couplet reads: “I don’t care how weird I sound/my savior have I found.” There is more to the story and to how God worked through a variety of circumstances over the next couple years to lead me toward himself and eventually into a call toward ministry. (Yeah, God’s humor is not lost on me.) And thankfully, there is much more to tell about the ways that God has continued to make himself known and has continued to work his grace into me in the 25 years since then. Some of those stories are joyful. Some of them are painful. Some of them I talk about quite freely; some of them are more personal and only a few friends have heard them.
As we enter February this year, I am drawn back to that space of remembering when I first believed this story of a Creator God who loves us, has redeemed us, and promises to make all things new. And I am finding something sacramental in doing so: remember and believe. In remembering what God has already done in me, my faith that God will fulfill his promise to make all things new is deepened. Somewhere this month, though I am not sure how yet, I plan to set aside some time to celebrate and say thank you to God for staying with me, even when I wanted nothing to do with him. Somehow a joyful feast of some sort seems fitting.
I share this glimpse into my journey as a way of raising a number of questions for us today.
- What’s your story of God’s grace at work in you? Do you take time to mark or remember significant moments on your faith journey?
- Does remembering and telling your story serve to set an example for your congregation as to how to pay attention to God’s work in their lives?
- What room do you give within worship or other settings for those in your congregation to tell their stories of God’s grace?
- How might a story-telling culture in our churches create room for others to discover and hear for the first time that God has been walking with them, even though they had not noticed him before?