“I lied all the time. I lied to my church and my parents that I was a Christian. I led Bible studies at school, I led youth group, I sang in church, I even became baptized in my church. I had to give a testimony in order to become baptized. So I made up one.”
Everyone has stories to tell. They may be about something particular, such as an intriguing adventure or a painful experience, or they may be about something more cosmic, such as an attempt to make sense of life or a struggle with suicide. Our whole lives, in fact, are stories. They are stories of our first gropings, of how our loves developed, of how we have come to make something of ourselves. For Christians, the stories include an account of how faith was acquired and how it has matured.
The following story is based on an interview I had with a former student of mine at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. The first question I asked her was, “How did you get started on your faith journey?” The next question was, “What happened next?” I recorded the interview, transcribed it, then edited it for readability.
I told "Emma" that I would not reveal her name. I did this because I wanted a full and honest account with all details intact, perhaps even one with more pain than joy. I have changed her name plus the names of anyone she mentioned. October, 2003
Department of Philosophy
Wheaton, IL 60015
I grew up Southern Baptist, very strict Southern Baptist. Everybody had to sit in the same pew every week, and if we got up to leave, we got spanked. My family went to church every Sunday, every Wednesday was prayer meeting, we went to youth group. My parents were very focused on bringing us up right, making sure we knew the Bible and wanting us to become Christians as well, which was their ultimate goal.
As for me, I didn’t like Christianity. When I was little, every time I was in church, I hated being there, because it seemed so strict and it seemed so cold and distant. I didn’t enjoy anything about it and I didn’t understand it, either. To me it was all these stories. Nobody explained the purpose of them for me, and nobody cared about me. It wasn’t about the relationship of me with other people, it was just about, “You have to believe in these things.” It wasn’t about, “Let’s form a relationship with you and let me minister to you and tell you about the relationship you have with Christ.” To me it was never a relationship with Christ. That was never the intent or experience I had. I didn’t see that.
When I was twelve, I went to camp. I remember everybody around me was becoming a Christian, everybody was answering the call that the pastor was saying up front, and everybody was going up front and crying. I didn’t want to feel left out, so I did the same thing, but I didn’t really understand it, nor did I care about it. I just wanted to fit in. I went home and told my parents, “I made a decision to become a Christian.” My family was excited, but inside I was dead because I didn’t care.
When I was thirteen I had to have major surgery, because I had kidney disease and bladder disease. I lay in bed after the surgery saying that if there was a God I didn’t want any part of it, because I couldn’t imagine a God causing a thirteen old kid to go through so much pain. I didn’t feel loved by anybody, especially by some ambiguous God. I didn’t want it. I remember telling God, if there was a God, that I hated him. I hated Christianity, and I never wanted to be a part of it. I made a decision then to live my life for myself.
I was not an ideal child. I was really angry. I had outbursts of anger, and my family didn’t know how to control me. My mom cried because she could not understand where so much hatred came from. She could not figure it out. She was like, “Are you angry at me? Who are you angry at?” I screamed and I yelled and I hit walls and I hit people. I was angry all the time.
The anger came from hurt and emptiness inside, because I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. I was pretending to be a Christian and a pastor’s kid and believe what my dad believed, but I didn’t. I didn’t understand the gospel message and I was angry about that. I was hurt that nobody was taking the time to talk to me about it, to make sure that I did understand it.
I lied all the time. I lied about everything¾to my parents, to my friends, to the church, everybody. I lied to my church and my parents that I was a Christian. I led Bible studies at school, I led youth group, I sang in church, I even became baptized in my church. I had to give a testimony in order to become baptized. So I made up one. I became a member of my church eventually, and I had to lie about that, because I wasn’t a Christian then, either. I lied to my parents about where I was going and what I was doing. I lied to people at school, because I wanted to be accepted so badly. I didn’t want them to know I was supposed to be a Christian because I was the pastor’s child. I didn’t like myself and I didn’t think anybody else liked me for myself, so I made up who I was. It was a double life.
This was all through high school. I was very depressed and very lonely because I didn’t have friends. I had people that I spent time with, but it was only at school. I kept people at a distance. I didn’t want people to get to know me.
I smoked a lot in high school. I was around drinking a lot, and I drank some, but not a lot. I never got drunk. I was very loose with guys. I never had sex, but I made out a lot. That was because I wanted to be accepted and loved. I didn’t feel that I was getting that from my dad, so I went to guys. My dad and I had a very bad relationship in high school. In the second semester of my senior year, my dad and I clashed heads big time. He hit me across the face a lot, and he threw me into a wall one time. I never forgave him for that until about a year ago.
In my senior year of high school, everything came to a pinnacle. The depression and anger and loneliness piled up. I tried to commit suicide several times. One time I tried to drive my car into a tree, but for some reason the steering wheel wouldn’t move. Another time I took a little handgun my dad had and put it up to my head and pulled the trigger. I thought there were bullets in it, but there weren’t. When the gun didn’t go off, I felt relief, but also frustration because it was like, “I’m such a loser that I can’t even kill myself properly.” The third time I took a bottle of aspirin. Apparently, you’re supposed to take it slowly to make it work. I took it all at one time and just threw up.
Three days before I graduated from high school, I was alone at home. My parents were away the week before my graduation, because it was their 25th anniversary. I was feeling upset about that. “Nobody’s going to be here for my graduation party. My parents aren’t going to help me with it.” Actually, I was feeling selfish.
My brother called me that night to see how I was doing and to check up on me. He asked me why I didn’t sound very happy. Outwardly I was always very happy and outgoing, and everybody thought I was the happiest girl, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be. My brother wanted to know why I wasn’t acting very happy or excited about anything. So I told him a couple of things that were going wrong, that school was hard, that mom and dad were away, there were some guys who were being mean, I didn’t know where I was going to go to college, stuff like that.
He said to me, “Emma, why don’t you just have faith in God?”¾as if God was going to work things out. I lost it when he said that. I have never lost it before on anybody. I have always been, “Oh, yes, you’re right.” I screamed at him how much I hated God and how much I hated the idea that I always have to have faith in God, that he’s going to work things out, because he had never worked anything out for me. I went ballistic. I cried and I screamed.
I was on the front porch at this point. We lived in a small town, so everybody came out on their front porch and were watching. This was 11:00 at night. I was screaming—“I don’t understand that. Nobody has ever explained it to me. Nobody cared to explain it. Nobody has loved me enough to tell me this.” He was really quiet for a long time.
Then he said, “You know, Emma, you’re not really a Christian, are you?” I said, “No, I’m not. And I don’t want to be. Christianity is just about rules and things like that. That’s not what I want. Life shouldn’t be like that.” He said, “You’re right. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s not like that.”
He told me to go get my Bible. For my eighteenth birthday my parents had given me a new Bible. That’s the last thing any nonChristian girl that’s trying to pretend to be a Christian wants for her birthday, especially her eighteenth birthday. They gave me a red letter edition Bible, with nice leather and my name on the front. I went and got it, and my brother started going through Romans, but I was not paying attention to him. I didn’t care to listen to him.
I put my Bible on my lap and looked down. Since it was red letter, something caught my eye. I don’t know where it was, but it said, “And Jesus said, ‘Come, follow me’.” I thought, “Oh, that’s weird. That’s stupid.” So I flipped the pages and it happened again. It went to another Gospel and said the exact same thing, “And Jesus said, ‘Come, follow me’.” I thought, “Oh, good grief, that’s weird. Why is this happening?” I thought, “Okay, if anything happens in three’s, it’s true. It’s got to be true.” It was almost like tempting God to do that. I said to myself, “Do it. I dare you, God. If this is true, if you’re real, do it again. I dare you. I’ll believe you. If I see it one more time and it says that, then definitely I’ll believe in you.”
I flipped the pages again, and it said the exact same thing as on the other pages. It said, “And Jesus said, ‘Come, follow me’.” I was totally floored and I just sat there for a long time. I started listening to what my brother was saying about a relationship with Christ and how he cares for us and wants a relationship with us instead of all those rules, instead of, “You have to live your life this way.”
I started understanding it. For the first time it was like a light that went on in a completely dark room. I finally had come to a point where I understood. And I believed it right then and there. I tempted God, I tested God, and he showed me. He showed me that he was real and that he wanted a relationship with me.
After we hung up, my brother called my parents. I was petrified of doing that, because I had lied to them all those years and was scared of what they would say. He called my parents at 2:00 in the morning and left them a message. He said, “There’s something you need to talk to Emma about.” I think my parents were scared I was pregnant, because they thought, “Oh, no, Emma told Tom she was pregnant. Now we have to talk to her.” They came home, and I told them. I said, “I have to tell you I lied to you for a long time. I wasn’t really a Christian, but now I am. I want you to know that.”
My mom was excited, my mom was really pleased. My dad was happy, too, but I think he was more disappointed in himself that he hadn’t caught it, that he hadn’t seen I was hurting inside. I think he was also hurt that I had led the life of a pastor’s daughter and not believed in any of it. I had even led people to Christ. I knew the gospel, I shared it with people, and people believed it. But I didn’t believe it.
After that, I got my act together and went to Trinity. I stopped spending time with the bad crowd I had been with, I devoted more of my life to the church¾my heart was in it, as opposed to before when it wasn’t. I began reading and studying the Bible. Also, I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking, I stopped giving parts of my heart away to different guys. I became more of what a godly woman looks like as the Bible describes it in Proverbs 31.
Later I went overseas to be a missionary and had a very bad experience while I was there. I worked in an orphanage as a caretaker, and I taught English and music. Actually, I was kind of a mom to the orphans. I loved it. The children were the biggest joy of my life. I grew closer to God. I read through Isaiah and a lot of the Old Testament books. I gained strength and comfort from that, because I was there by myself and no one was there to encourage me. My relationship with God was amazing. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to God. But some unfortunate things happened.
The people in the country I was in were very hostile toward Americans. There were times when I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk out of a building or the marketplace alive. People threw bricks at me, they hit me in the street. And the director of the mission made some very unwanted advances. I was staying at his house, him and his family’s house. I didn’t feel safe there anymore, so I decided to leave and come back to the United States.
That was difficult because of the kids. They couldn’t understand why I was leaving. They didn’t understand that I had to leave. They were crying. When I was trying to walk away, they wouldn’t let me leave. The image of a little boy clinging to my arm and leg burned itself onto my soul. They were desperate for a parent or somebody to care for them and love them as I had.
After I came back, I started thinking—“Why in the world was I there just to be ripped away from the kids? Their life is hard enough, why did I have to cause them more pain?” I started thinking more about that. “Why would God take me there and then have those bad things happen?” It was evident that God’s hand was involved throughout the process of going there. But I couldn’t understand why he would take me there and cause that much pain to those kids as well as to myself.
I went through a deep sorrow period. I spent about a month crying. Then I turned angry and cold toward God and toward his hand in the whole thing. I decided I wasn’t going to be a Christian anymore, because I was so hurt by the whole experience. I told God out loud I didn’t want to be his follower anymore.
That lasted for about six months. I thought I would be better, I thought I would be more freed. But it was much worse. I was super angry all the time. People at Trinity noticed that. They asked me why I was so angry and why I was so mean, and I couldn’t explain it. I could explain it, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to tell them I stopped believing in God. I fell into an alcoholic stage, I drank all the time, and I smoked a pack a day. I didn’t care about anything. The whole Christianity thing sucked. I wanted to get thrown out of Trinity.
In May of that year, I had a bad episode with drinking. I woke up and couldn’t remember what had happened the night before. I remembered where I was, finally, but I couldn’t remember anything that happened. I drove to my parents house and cried and cried with my dad. I told him about my experiences overseas. He didn’t know that was the root of my drinking. So I explained to him that whole thing.
My dad encouraged me through scripture and told me he would not stop loving me. He encouraged me to dwell on the things God did for me. God protected me from many people, he protected me from Satan and his demons. Third World countries are heavily oppressed by evil. You can actually see the evil moving in the shadows of the dark. It’s the scariest thing, because you know you saw something move, but you know it wasn’t supposed to move. There were many times God protected me. I would be walking through the streets at five in the morning, and there were times angels walked with me, supernatural things I can’t explain.
I was humiliated about the drinking the night before, not understanding what I did. I knew I was doing wrong. I knew I was living away from God and realized that my life needed to be more reflective of my salvation through Christ. And I needed hope. So I got back to reading scripture. I read through some of the Gospels and looked at the account of Jesus.
Since then I have tried to dwell on those thoughts of God’s protection. That’s the hardest part for me to continue to believe, because I was so attacked by Satan while I was away and so attacked by evil that it stayed with me. For months I had nightmares of things that happened while I was in that country, of demonic possession. I woke up sweating and feeling as if there was evil all around. Every night before I go to bed now I pray that God will be in my mind while I sleep. That’s something I’ve had to become in the habit of doing.