Monday, March 30, 2009

"When did you first encounter God?"

He challenged me on the spot. I didn’t know what to say. Stammering ensued. Embarrassment followed. I could do nothing but bow my head for a few seconds and think. Talk about a smack to the ego!

The Boy and I recently visited a priest in a nearby parish to get some answers about my potential baptism. The priest graciously accepted us into his office and helped us figure out what the path for me might be. As we were talking, the priest asked me a question that I wasn’t expecting. It knocked the wind out of my sails so hard I’m still sort of floating there without a direction. His question was valid. My answer was pathetic. But now I’ve had a couple weeks to think about things. If I could live that moment over again, this is what I’d say to his question:

Growing up without a church to call my own, God wasn’t at the forefront of my childhood. I went to several vacation bible schools and to church on a couple weekends with friends. I knew we had bibles in the bookcase at the end of the hallway, and sometimes I’d drag one out to look at the red letters or the watercolor pictures. I’d occasionally ask questions about church and faith, and my parents answered matter-of-factly without much enthusiasm. It just wasn’t a big deal.

In high school, my sister and my friend begged me to go to the local Mennonite Church’s youth group. Reluctantly, I went once. Then I went the next week. Then I had been going every week for almost a year. The youth pastor was nice. The lessons were good. But it felt more like social hour than anything meaningful.

One night after youth group, I sat in my bed without a book to read. I couldn’t find one to reread, so I went down the hall to the big bookcase. Between photo albums and the dictionary, I spied those bibles. My hand reached out to the dusty cover, pulled the heavy book from the low shelf, and carried it back to my bed. I prayed for a moment asking God to open my heart to any passage he thought I needed to hear that night. I flipped the bible open to a random page and began reading the first words of Acts 2. Luke was talking about the apostles being filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit when I got all tingly and scared. The God of the Bible could send fire from heaven, so surely He is more mighty than I will ever be, I thought. That moment was the first time I understood the term “fear of God.” I always thought people shouldn’t be afraid of God: He’s compassionate and loving, right? But fearing God is not like fearing spiders. It’s so much greater. It’s fear of being separated, fear of disappointing, fear of Hell… it’s eternal and supernatural and bigger than my imagination can ever be. And I realized that all at once. That’s why I was scared.

I kept reading. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I was on fire (not literally, sorry). It was a big moment for me, one that I won’t forget. To answer your question, when did I first encounter God, well, when I was 18. When I opened myself up and asked for it. And what did I learn? Be careful what you ask for.

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