Thursday, June 12, 2008

Testify

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.
—Barry Lopez


I was talking to someone the other day and they kept referring to their "own personal testimony." The thing that bothered me about it was that they never shared it with me (I guess that's why they call it personal). That bothers me for two reasons: 1. I'm nosy 2. It really could have touched me in some way and I think sharing it is the least they could have done. I know your testimony is usually an intensely personal thing but I don't think its a excuse to keep it a private thing. I think its a special sort of arrogance to assume God changed you just so you would be happy. God changes things, its what he does (when he's not creating them). Your personal testimony is not yours, its God's.

Having said that it occurs to me that I haven't shared my story (in its entirety) with you.

I got saved when I was six or seven in a church in South Georgia. I don't remember much about it. The pastor's name, the prayer I prayed, the feeling I had - all lost to time. That always created a problem for me. You hear people all the time talk about how God radically changed their lives. I spent years embarrassed by the simplicity of my "conversion experience."
Over time I began to doubt if I was ever really saved. It seemed to me that being saved is something you would remember. It was on a little mission trip doing some revivals with a pastor that God began to show me the truth of my testimony. The pastor we went with had a nasty habit of asking you to get up in the middle of a service with no prior warning and give your testimony. I knew I had to come up with something. As I began to think about my story I began to pray. That was it, I prayed. Why, because I am saved. It occurred to me that God had saved me from the things others had been delivered from, he just did it before I had the chance to be hurt by them. I'm convinced I was saved the minute I stepped out of the pew as a child, but I also think its something I grew into. As I grew God grew. When the world pushed to increase its influence over me God pushed back. I am his - always have been.

Before I get into this next part I want you to know that I love the church. It was the church that introduced me to Jesus and when I turned away it was the church that paved the way back. That said, I think in all my years of attending church I never really got a clear picture of who God is. They tell you a lot of nice stories in Sunday School. You hear a lot of pretty sermons in "big church." They paint a picture of a God who is nice and fun. A God that gives, and God that defends and protects. Its a picture that is altogether accurate and beautiful. The problem is that it is also incomplete. God gives, but he also takes. He is merciful, but he is just. They tell you how simple it is to be saved, how basic the gospel is. They often fail to mention that God is infinite and we are not. They don't tell you that God will do things you won't understand and if you bring it up they tell you to have faith. The church likes to shy away from difficult questions. The thing is, life is difficult. When my dad died I was not equipped to handle it. I had no framework through witch to understand a God who would let that happen. How could God be good and my dad be dead at the same time? I couldn't make sense of it. For me it became an either or sort of thing. Either God is good or my dad is dead. Every minute of every day I know dad isn't here. Its hard to have that kind of certainty with God. I didn't know what to think or feel. Doubt and confusion created an emotional void, anger quickly filled it.

Most of the rest of the story is contained in earlier post so I won't go through it again. The important thing to know now is that I know God is good. Not because good things have happened in my live but because God had allowed me to see more of his heart. I see it in my community. I realized how and to what extent in a recent conversation with someone I hadn't seen in like ten years. She lost her husband several years ago and asked how I dealt or deal with dad's death. I told her that I have great friends and that I leaned on them really hard. She asked how they helped and without thinking I said,"they leaned right back." I meant it in the Forrest Gump, don't sleep with our heads in the mud, sort of way but it made realize that the thing that helps me the most is not their strength. Its their vulnerability. I want to know I am not alone in my pain and doubt. I want to feel normal. Not having a dad makes me feel like an outsider, an orphan. I need to know how God changed you because it helps me understand how he changed me. I need to know that my story is your story. The only way that can happen is if we both tell ours.

1 comment:

Luke said...

When we tell our stories, we envy each other less and less. Thanks for sharing. I can't imagine walking the journey you've taken. Absolutely loved the Lopez quote, too. I think this day and age's church is beginning to realize the power of first knowing our story, and then second, telling it.