I remember the day distinctly because my brother and I had just finished capturing a frog and a salamander. We had created our own make-shift eco-system via a green bin in the garage. I remember kneeling by the bin as I watched my pastor walk up our drive way and exchange the necessary greetings with my parents. What is he doing here? I thought. To put this into context, at the ripe age of 7 my pastor coming to our home was equivalent to Leonardo DiCaprio coming to our home. It doesn’t happen. Maybe slightly more within the realm of possibilities, but it still didn’t happen.
We all went inside and my pastor sat down with my older brother and I at the kitchen table, while my parents watched on from the kitchen. He proceeded to pull out two small booklets that explained the “plan of salvation” to my brother and I. There was a dark cloud graphic for sin, and a caucasian/blonde Jesus in the sky looking down on the world. As you flipped through the book, it explained how the dark cloud could be removed when we excepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Our pastor took us through the booklet and then asked us if we wanted to accept Jesus. Considering that the dark cloud did not look very pleasant as an alternative, my brother and I both said yes. We signed the back page of our booklets and saved them to remember the day we got “saved.”
Now as you might be able to tell, this experience had a great effect on me, but not necessarily a positive one. My parents had good intentions that day, and overall their good parenting pays off later, but at that moment I was only more confused about spiritual life. But I saved my booklet, and periodically took it out to look at my signature.
As I grew up I discovered that 1) I didn’t like church at all, and 2) I signed the card and said I wanted Jesus but I never really felt like I liked who He was. I knew the basic truth of the gospel and I knew I was supposed to love Him for dying for my sins, but I didn’t. I went to church as a pretender…and I felt guilty. I was supposed to be a believer, I signed the card, yet here I was, a fake.
My family was a part of a Baptist church and so occasionally my father would try to corner me about baptism. That was the next step; my profession of faith in front of the church. I would always tactfully redirect the conversation, so as to avoid my horrible secret. There was no way I could fake a baptism.
When 6th grade rolled around, that’s when things really went downhill. I suppose that’s probably when it goes downhill for everyone. Middle School was horrible and I was pretty depressed. I under went some mild bullying due to my overall awkward appearance and personality. It seemed like everyone suddenly couldn’t wait to be a teenager, while I still longed for childhood. I hated church. I hated being a part of the “youth group” and every sunday I would consider pretending to be sick so I didn’t have to go (you can only play that card so many times). I would pray the salvation prayer in my signed booklet every year at VBS, and occasionally at church to make sure I was “covered.” But those words were only fire safety in my eyes. I recited them as an incantation.
During this time I read, A LOT. My favorite thing to do was be shut up in my room for 24 hours reading a book. And I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. I would have given anything to be able to live in Narnia at that time instead of the real world. I related so much to Aravis in The Horse and His Boy, who felt so trapped in her circumstances that she ran away from home to find Narnia. Now I knew that the story of Aslan dying on Edmund’s behalf at the stone table was no coincidence. I knew that Aslan was an allegorical Jesus. So why did I like Aslan better? I used to ask myself, and knew it was wrong to think it. The only times I felt fulfilled as a person were when I was engrossed in a book. I was mad at God. I was mad that my reality did not line up with the wonder found in the black and white pages.
Fast Forward to 7th grade. My youth group went to this church camp in Panama City every summer called BigStuf. That last sentence should give a couple hints to the fact that this situation was far from perfect. But its funny how God seems to grab our attention in the most unexpected ways. I went on the trip because some of my friends from church were going. This was the beginning of the Son of righteousness melting the White Witch’s ice-cold hold on my heart. Amidst the awkward co-ed encounters, fun on the beach and late night card games, I also heard the Word of God in a new way. The speakers at this event talked about Job and his suffering. They talked about how Jesus wanted to invade every area of my life and give it meaning. They talked about how loving God was so much more than attending a building once a week and listening to a sermon.
My mind was flooded with ideas about God that I had never had before. I began to hope for hope, and realized that my ideas about God’s love and His compassion for me were utterly insufficient compared to how the Bible said He loved me. Into the wardrobe I went.
Too embarrassed to admit that myself and my signed card were a sham, I did not tell anyone on the trip that week what God had done inside of me. But I felt that something was different. When I returned home I shut myself in my room and got on my knees in complete silence. “God I know I have prayed this stupid prayer a thousand times and it made no difference…but I want You now. I don’t know what else to say. I want you for real. Show me who You are.”
So I can tell you that at that moment I did not deeply understand the weight of my sin and it’s effect on my life at that time. Heck, I didn’t even have a very deep understanding of the gospel itself. But I can tell you that since I left my room that day in 7th grade I have never been the same. Hope flooded my life, and I have never stopped learning and growing in my knowledge and love for the Lord. Sure, there have been some low points, but that has not changed the fact that God has used everything in my life to draw me into His presence.
After that day I discovered that the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school was only a scheme of the Enemy to distract me from the vibrant, bold, and dangerous Man born in a feeding trough over two-thousand years ago. The real Jesus was more like Aslan than I had ever imagined, and better because while Aslan was the allegory, Jesus was the substance. He was just like the kind-hearted lion; present in every story, and always walking along side me in the dark. He had borne all my sorrows, and He had been aquainted with all my grief. Oh how sweet it was to discover the best friend in all the world! All I had to do was remember Him, and the curse of this underworld was broken.
You see these Narnian stories had already softened the soil of my heart for the seed of the gospel long before I knew it would be planted. When I met the real Jesus I recognized Him. And He was so much better than I could have ever dreamed. The words of Scripture finally became words of life to me as the Lord opened my mind to understand it’s depths.
This is what I would pray He do for you. I hope I do not need to be too forthcoming in some of the points I raise in this post in regards to signing cards, sunday school, youth group, etc. Some may say: “Your story is proof that these things work!” My response to that is quite the opposite. God drew me to Himself in spite of the church programs, the signed salvation card, and the massive youth camp with the big stage and flashing lights. God is not constrained by flawed systems. He gets our attention one way or another. All of those things certainly did not help me later when I began to try to work out what salvation meant practically. I will let the story itself be the indictment. I wanted to share my my experience so that others could come to see the glory that may come in awakening our imaginations to good stories. Let us not lose sight of how the wonder of child hood can be used for the glory of God. As C.S Lewis said;
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them have at least heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
If you have any feedback about this post you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.