You know what’s got to be one of the hardest things in the world to do? Admit to yourself that you have a problem. That, in and of itself, was my problem.
In the summer of 2010, my friend Sarah invited me to come to Camp Lebanon, a Christian camp, with her. I remember being nervous about going since I would only know one person, but I signed up anyways. The week was full of crazy games, loud songs, and this odd quiet time everyone was calling “devos.” The food was great, the new friends were fun, and people accepted me with open arms. I remember especially enjoying canteen time when the snack bar opened. The first night, Sarah and I found our way to our cabin, Denmark. We were greeted by our camp counselor, Emily, a woman unlike anyone else I had ever met. Emily was patient, smiley, and so full of joy it almost freaked me out. Throughout the week, Emily would spend evenings reading to us from a book, talking about how God made us, loves us, and desires to be in a relationship with us. Growing up in church, I assumed I already had this relationship, so I didn’t think much of it until one night at Chapel during worship. I glanced up during a song to see Emily smiling to herself, eyes closed. She seemed so lost in the song to notice anyone else in the room but the God who saved her. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a Christian. I felt like an outsider looking in on a beautiful, intimate friendship between a girl and her God. And for the first time, I wasn’t content with where I was spiritually. In that moment, God began a work in me to show me that I was separated from Him, but I just wasn’t quite sure why.
That night at Chapel, seeing Emily so captivated, made me tear up so I made my way out of the room. Before I knew it, Emily was right there next to me asking what was wrong. I shared that I thought I was a Christian but I didn’t feel like I actually loved God. I did not know God, but I wanted to. In fact, that night I began to question if God was real at all. Emily told me to hold out my hand and wiggle my fingers back and forth. “How does your brain tell your hand to move like that?” she said so simply. The fact that God created me so intricately amazed me for the first time that night.
Growing up, I was heavily involved in every kind of church activity one could imagine. I taught Sunday School, mentored a small group of junior high girls, was a Tribal leader in my youth group during my senior year, and looked forward to teaching Vacation Bible School each summer. I had been on two mission trips and was always encouraging others to do the same. By the world’s standards, you could say I was a fairly good person. I didn’t drink, do drugs, or sleep around. My 4.0 GPA and near perfect church attendance were the badges of honor I wore on my sleeve. My parents are still happily married in a world that has made this a precious rarity, and I grew up in a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. From the outside, my life was as perfect as a life could get. Despite all of this, I couldn’t explain the feeling I had that something was missing. And inexplicably, over time, I grew a little bit tired of being nice, of going to church, and trying to be a good person. I wasn’t seeing God give me the things I thought I deserved for “serving” Him. I would never have admitted it then, but I thought my life could go in a nice direction with or without Him.
College rolled around and since ‘Christianity’ wasn’t giving me what I thought I deserved, I decided it wasn’t a huge necessity anymore. It was not high on my priority list to get involved in a campus ministry or a local church. After all, I had my church back home and that was good enough, right? I was ready for “the college experience” and was secretly thrilled to be on my own, making my own decisions. Thankfully, God didn’t let me wander too far. The night I moved into my dorm freshman year, campus was buzzing on the walk back from Blue-Rah, Stout’s pep-rally for all of the freshmen. My roommate and I were joking around with some girls we had met on our floor when I noticed a pair of bare feet walking a few steps ahead of me. Curious, I whispered to my roommate, asking what her guess was for why he was doing it. Before I knew it, my roommate had pushed me forward and I was walking next to him. We got to talking and a few days later, I found out he was a Christian. Coincidence? I refuse to believe it. The friend I met that night brought me to a campus ministry, Street Level, that I am still involved in four years later. I met other Christians who believe and trust in God like my camp counselor Emily did. They talked about God like He was real! Seeing people worship a powerful and loving God made me want to know Him personally too. As I started going to a local church, Jesus Fellowship of Believers, I realized why I had the feeling that I was apart from God. I was apart from God because of one thing: sin. It was at Street Level that I understood the gospel for the first time: Jesus came to earth and died for my sins, that I could be with God one day if I trusted in Him. All by the grace of God, I was able to see sin in my life for the first time. Embarrassingly enough, I realized that I am not a good person!
God opened my eyes to show me that living for myself and for the fleeting pleasures of the world will bring nothing but emptiness inside. He has revealed sins I tried to justify to myself, or never knew existed in the first place. I have become aware of how wicked my heart truly is. The thoughts I have sometimes, admittedly, are splattered with impurity, jealousy, discontentment, and genuine malice. The pride that kept me from accepting Jesus in the first place is still as real as it ever was. In those vulnerable times of conviction and repentance, I began to understand the reality and power of what Christ did for me. I’ve realized that no thought of mine is evil enough to undo what Christ did on the cross. I’ve grown reliant on and desperate for those daily quiet times in God’s Word that I, unfortunately, never took seriously back at Camp. I’ve learned about what it means to be a faithful member of a Christian community and a diligent servant for God and man alike. And just now, as I’m writing this, I am reminded that God was with me the whole time, leading me to and preparing me for the moment I would truly let Him have control over my life. I understand now that the reason ‘Christianity’ wasn’t working for me before was because I didn’t see the sin inside me. I now know that being a Christian is not just being a good person. It’s about recognizing and turning from your sinful nature, and living to glorify the only One who can save you from it. Today, I know why I go to church on Sunday mornings. I know why I say I’m a Christian. It’s because I have chosen to believe in God and the promises He makes in His Word. It’s because I am overjoyed that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is alive in me, molding me into something entirely new for His glory.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!