I grew up in a small town, I mean a really small town with a population of around 500 people. If ever there was a town called a Christian town, Prinsburg would be it. Our town had one gas station, one service station, two Christian Reformed churches and a Christian school. Everyone in the town belonged to one of those churches with the exception of a few families that belonged to the Assemblies of God church in the next big town over. Once in awhile outsiders would move in and you would hear some people refer to them as "the heathens down the street" until they either assimilated into one of the churches or left. All the kids in the town also went to the Christian school, there was no public school unless you were bused 10 miles to another small town, but that rarely happened.
Appearances were very important. If we didn't make it to church on a Sunday morning or evening we hid in the house. After church got out, we would wait a respectable amount of time before we set foot out the door so that no one would know we had not been there.
From a very young age I went to Sunday school. I learned all of the Bible stories and memorized all of the important verses. In school this continued. I learned all about God's world, how he made it and how he still interacts in it today.
At home and at school I was taught right from wrong. I learned respect and all about treating other people how Jesus would. As a teenager I learned all of the church doctrine and understood all of the ways a church worked. I attended youth group and learned the importance of prayer and giving to others.
I was raised from birth in a completely Christian environment, surrounded by people holding me accountable and loving me, yet I was completely empty.
I want to say that I know this was not the intentions of my parents, the school or my church. Their intentions were good.
I learned all the technical pieces of being a Christian. I knew what it was supposed to look like, what it was supposed to sound like and how I was supposed to act. Even with all of this knowledge I was frustrated, I was angry and I was alone. I was filled with shame because I knew that inside I was completely incapable of being that person. I was acting. No matter how hard I tried I was never going to be that good Christian girl.
I struggled with loneliness and depression. I started cutting my arms and hiding it under long sleeves. The pain of sticking whatever sharp object I used in my arm felt better than the pain of knowing how much I was hated. I had a very embarrassing suicide attempt at 15. I was embarrassed because I failed.
At 15 I started dating a guy from another town. I was convinced I was in love with him and he was the one who would make me whole. This turned into a long ugly and mess with me trying to get pregnant by him because then no one could ever separate us. Thankfully that didn't happen and my parents were able to create enough separation by sending me to Maui to a Teen Challenge program.
I spent a year and a half there and graduated high school. I learned so many things there that I had somehow missed at home and God did some awesome things in my life. I started to learn about that mysterious thing called "a personal relationship" with Jesus. They put down a strong foundation for me to carry forward.
Learning to have that real relationship with God was difficult for me because I had been given such a thorough Christian education already. I already knew all the answers. Well, I thought I did, it was just hard to break past that huge "religious" hurdle in the way. I struggled even more than some of the other people there who had been drug addicts off the streets with absolutely no knowledge of God.
It took me years to finally understand what faith in Jesus was all about. When I finally "got" it, I was so angry. I was so angry at how satan had so twisted those good intentions.
Now I am looking into the eyes of my four precious kids and I've realized I am doing the exact thing to them that I fought so hard to overcome.
This is the decision I've come to. My number one priority is to teach my kids to pray.
I'm going to teach them different ways that God speaks to us. I want them to know that prayer isn't some carefully assembled compilation of thee's, thou's and amen's. They need to know that prayer is an actual conversation with God and that God really is wanting to talk back to them.
I want them to know how much he really wants to just be with them, to share his love for them and take the bite out of this life for them. He wants to hear from them if they're screaming, crying and confused or having a good day.
I want them to know that he wants to hear their silly knock-knock jokes and wants to watch cartoons and play dolls with them. I'm going to teach them that he speaks in that still small voice and how to hear it and have confidence in it. They need to know he talks to us in the scripture that they just happened to turn to and that song that played at just the right moment.
If my kids don't learn how to talk to and hear from God, then all the other work I have put into them is worth nothing. Everything I can give them will leave them empty.
God is the only one who can change their hearts. He's the only one who can make them whole and fill their lives with joy.
Following all the "rules" of religion won't change our struggles or help us overcome them. Drawing into Jesus, developing intimacy with him is what changes us. That happens from seeking him, not from anything we try to do to better ourselves. We need to focus all of our energy into finding out how to talk to him and hear from him, finding all the different ways he speaks. We need to discover the joy and peace we can have just being with him.
Once we learn to communicate with him he gives us the desire to want to change and the skills we need to actually succeed. That relationship we find is what turns being a Christian from a repressive prison into something fulfilling and joyful.
My uncle has built several small airplanes over the years. He understands how all the parts work and what each piece is for. He knows that the propeller provides the thrust to move it and the wings
give it the lift. He knows all the other pieces that give the plane stability in flight so it doesn't tip or lose control. Knowing all of those things, however, didn't make him a pilot. I'm sure that no one would have questioned him being a pilot if he took them out to his plane and showed them all the parts, explained how each piece works and the importance of those parts. He would be a pretty convincing and knowledgeable looking pilot. But why just pretend to fly when you can soar? Why pretend when we can learn how to feel the wind lift those wings and the freedom and joy of no longer being restricted to the ground? Having that airplane would become a big disappointment and a chore to maintain if all he could ever do is pretend to fly.
I know my experience was not unique. I have no idea where it started but somehow we have been deceived and tricked into missing the most important part of our salvation. Our perception of "flying" became understanding how it works and sitting back in the seat making "buzzing" noises with a fan blowing our hair. Well, if that's all we're planning on doing what's the point of the plane? That is why so many people walk away from their faith. I can be a good and moral person lots of places. What's the point of the church or being a Christian? That real supernatural relationship with God is the point, that's what gives us the ability to succeed at truly becoming more like him.