As a little girl, I read "Pilgrim's Progress" over and over. This particular picture fascinated me. It shows the moment where Christian, the pilgrim on his journey to Heaven, sees the Cross and his heavy burden falls away. Oh, how desperately I wanted this to happen for me. Oh, how I longed for the heavy burden of despair and shame to simply fall away from my little girl shoulders. It never did.
It's not that I lacked moments of conversion. I came to Jesus starting at age four and asked Him into my heart at least a dozen times throughout my childhood. It's just that I never had The Defining Moment wherein I was ushered from darkness to light in a blinding flash. Rather, my moments of conversion seemed to lead to a way of conversion, a road of conversion, a journey of "working out my salvation." But I didn't want this way. I wanted the dramatic miracle! I wanted to be the "poor, wretched sinner" who was saw the cross, fell to her knees and BAM! was instantly transfigured! By comparison, my "testimony" was so boring.
I think I felt this lack because I'd been conditioned to glorify the Grand Conversion Moment. The practice of my evangelical, fundamentalist childhood was steeped in this Big Bang Conversion Theory. Every summer we set up big tents and held rousing Gospel meetings, calling sinners to repentance and baptizing the newly converted in the Pacific Ocean. Everything was revival! and excitement! and fullness of glory...for about two weeks. Then we packed up the show and went home.
It was like going to a party where they only serve appetizers and drinks so you get punch-drunk on cheap wine and leave half-starving, never fully satisfied. I kept waiting to have MY Big Bang Conversion, but all I got were little glimpses--most of them vicariously consumed through watching the grand conversions of others.
Certainly there is a Biblical basis for the Big Moment of Conversion; witness Saul on the road to Damascus, being struck blind, his conversion so dramatic he changed his name to Paul. But I think we do the Gospel an injustice by over-emphasizing a Moment of Conversion over The Way of Conversion. Especially for those of us raised from infancy in the faith, our relationship with God may look more like a Journey of Conversion--more akin to the growing brightness of a dawning day.
I used to wonder why I would ask God to restore to me the joy of my salvation if I didn't know what it was like to be unsaved?
There were, however, definitive blessings to being raised in a devout, Christian home. I believed in God, trusted God, loved God from the moment I learned to speak. Maybe I didn't have the Big Bang moment but I did have moments of pure, childlike faith. I can remember what it felt like to truly believe and to feel God was with me. It's taken me a long time to realize what a beautiful gift it was to have these experiences as a child. I was given the gift of faith. I cannot NOT believe. I believe. That's just the simple truth.
I'm beginning to honor my childhood because even though there were many harmful things, God was still there. Many times, when I have experienced severe doubt, I'm comforted to remember that God was real to me even in my religiously-dysfunctional childhood. Even when I didn't know any better, I knew the most important thing: I loved God and God loved me.
Today, there is a growing divide between Christians. There are those whose rallying cry is "preserving pure doctrine" and there are those whose experiences of God do not fit within the prescribed parameters of orthodoxy. It's easy to take sides.
The truth is that we need each other. I may consider myself more of a mystical contemplative but I have realized that I also need my organized, just-the-facts-ma'm-purists. And they need me. I need the Big Bang Conversion and I need the Way of Conversion. I have spent quite a bit of time deconstructing my Christian faith. Now, the way forward is to rebuild. It is not enough to criticize bad Christian culture. I must also rebuild.
I believe there is a place at the table for all of us.
As I begin to work cooperatively, I'm beginning to feel my burden released. I wasn't meant to walk the conversion road alone. Perhaps the reason why I never experienced a Big Bang Conversion was because I believed it needed to happen to me individualistically, as an isolated, solitary experience. Which is to say, the burden falls away as I draw near the Cross with my sisters and brothers.
May we all be one.