I was born into a Christian family and grew up going to church. Some of my earliest memories are from church: Sunday school, worship, and then the sermons. The sermons were difficult for me. They were long, they meant a lot of sitting and furthermore I couldn’t understand any of it.
I understood the basic fundamentals of the faith. If you had asked me why we went to church, I might say, “God wants us to.” If you asked me why Jesus’s death was important, I could tell you, “Because He died for our sins.” That’s what I knew. I knew it because I was supposed to know it, and I knew I was supposed to know it.
I thought about God sometimes. I knew there were some people didn’t believe in Him, and the people who did believe in God went to church. Did I believe in God? I asked myself this question a few times. To figure out if I believed, I experimented. I would pretend I didn’t believe for a few minutes and see what that felt like, then I would go back to believing. When I didn’t believe, I felt empty. I looked around at all the people next to me, singing and lifting their hands. All these people had something, they had a connection. I wanted to be like them. I wanted there to be a God. I wanted a Heaven. So I decided to believe.
After deciding this, I thought about God off and on through my elementary school years. When I first believed, I imagined what Heaven would be like almost every night before bed. As I grew older, I lost that childlike belief. Going to church was another ritual that people who believed in God did.
When I was in 3rd grade, I received my first Bible. It was a “pocket-size” pink Bible with a yellow butterfly on the cover. (I still own and use this Bible to this very day.) I also had a Student Life Study Bible my mom gave me. Being an avid reader at the time, I started reading the Bible right away. It was difficult. I picked random sections, but that didn’t work. I tried reading it start to finish like a regular book, but I gave up after Leviticus. Instead of reading the actual Bible, I decided to read the study notes in the Student Life Bible –– this particular Bible had lots of little commentaries written in the margins and the ones I liked gave real-life scenarios and then explained what a Christian in that situation should do. Even though I was still very confused about this whole “reading the Bible thing,” reading the notes gave me an understanding of what the Christian life was all about.
I had knowledge, I had convictions… and I had nowhere to start. I was too shy to ask people about God so I kept all of my questions to myself. Wasn’t I supposed to know everything already? What kind of Christian has questions?
At this time, I had just started sixth grade which meant I was in middle school youth group at my church. I did not like the middle school youth group very much because I was shy. Even though youth group wasn’t my favorite thing, God still used it as a turning point in my faith journey. There were two large things that were the start of me finally turning my life to God.
The first thing was my youth leader setting up an event called Question Night. For the next few sessions, he passed out index cards and pencils and told us to write any questions we wanted to ask. It could be a silly question, or a big question or anything in between. These questions were completely anonymous, and he set aside a special night for him and all the other youth leaders to answer them.
The night came, it was one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever been to in my life. They answered my questions and questions from my peers that I had wondered too. My biggest takeaway from the night is that it is okay to ask questions.
Now I had new knowledge. But, as I was going to learn, knowledge wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to know about God. It wasn’t enough to go to church. It wasn’t enough to be a good person. All of that effort, everything I could try to learn, simply would never be enough. So that led me to the second big thing.
My youth leader organized a night in prayer. Instead of playing games and hearing a sermon, we spent the night on our own with stations available to us. We could go on a prayer walk around the church campus, listen to worship music, journal, or talk to the leaders. I decided to go on a prayer walk.
As I walked through the campus, I tried to pray but it was so hard. I felt I couldn’t pray. I hadn’t been a good Christian. I didn’t read my Bible enough. I barely even thought about God. Obviously He was disappointed in me. If I was ever going to be someone worth God’s time, I needed to shape up.
I came back from the prayer walk crying. My mom and my youth leader were worried because they hadn’t known where I was. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt a turmoil inside of me. I came home and listened to some Christian CDs. I felt very aware of God. I know He was there. I remember telling God that from now on, I would try harder.
I tried to start a daily devotion but felt frustrated. I kept forgetting to do it and when I remembered, I felt guilty about forgetting. I was a mess. One night I was reading my devotion book, and read four different devotions but they all spoke to me. They said, “tell Me everything, tell Me about your sins, don’t put on a show, I love you, don’t hide from Me.” I remember saying, “Jesus, I’m trying, but this is just so hard.” I started crying again.
Then, I let go. I told everything. I whispered about all the ways I thought I didn’t measure up. I cried until I had no tears. I felt a huge release, an emotional catharsis and above all, peace. Yes, peace. But not a superficial type of peace and not a temporary state of relaxation. True peace that could only come from above. It was amazing. I felt warm inside. I felt safe. I could rest now.
After that experience, I felt more motivated to pursue God. Not because I felt guilty, but because I felt loved. I told my mom about this and she gave me some resources. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, then I got a prayer journal and started writing my own prayers.
I slowly starting growing and trusting in God. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it. I’m still not perfect, because I am a mistake-making human being—but God forgives me when I mess up and guides me back on the right path.
Now I have been striving to be as rooted as I can. I want to keep learning about God, reading the Bible, and worshiping.
And this is where I hope you come in. Now that I have shared a bit of myself, I want to help you. I am not a pastor nor have I been to seminary, but being a young person myself, I remember very clearly what it is like to be you. I know what it’s like to have questions. I know what it’s like to be confused about faith and just plain frustrated.
I want you to grow in your faith. I want you to go from being a kid who goes to church to a young Christian who loves God. I want you to be more than a church kid.