What if your life was about to change? Many of us must long for it. It’s a big theme in kids’ fantasy adventure books. Have you ever wondered if it’s quite as easy as it sounds?
Almost five years ago, as a 40-something progressive nonbeliever with a Ph. D. and a career as a college professor, I was in the car with my husband and son one morning, looking idly out the window. I don’t recall that I was thinking about anything in particular, when I suddenly heard the voice of Christ, saying unmistakably “Come Serve Me.” I sat quietly, stunned, for a few moments, then turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to have to become a Christian.” He pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped. “What did you say?” he asked incredulously. “I’m going to have to become a Christian.” I might as well have announced that I was moving to Mars.
I was raised to despise the church, to hold Christians in contempt. After all, they just blindly followed a bunch of irrational beliefs, right? I knew that some of my colleagues were Christians, but I had never gotten close to any of them, and had never talked to anyone about how one could be a thinking person of good conscience, and a faithful Christian as well. I assumed it was impossible. And yet, it never occurred to me to doubt the call I’d heard. It was overpowering. I didn’t know enough about Christ at that point to know that He had this, that I could trust Him. I was going to convert, but I still thought I was going to do it on my own.
My new life started two weeks later, in the baptismal pool of the church I had picked at random. My husband, son, and brother-in-law sat in the congregation that day, still stunned, as I was, and while I knew they were happy for me, they had no way of accessing the joy I felt. My husband, I knew, was frightened that this turn toward Christ would render me unrecognizable to him, and him to me.
Don Everts and Doug Schaupp’s book, I Once Was Lost, lays out five stages a nonbeliever must go through to turn to Christ in today’s postmodern world. Number 1 on the list? Trust a Christian. This struck home for me, as I had experienced the hostility and distrust between my own secular liberal community and those “other” Christian types first-hand for most of my life. Now I had the faith, but was an outsider to Christian culture.
At first I didn’t trust a single Christian. Not one.
Over the next few years, as I attended worship and made friends in the church, I wrestled with my new situation at every turn. I found obstacles everywhere, and I was angry. Hey, God! I have gay friends, transgender friends! Why are you so hostile to them? Hey, God! The planet’s in crisis, didn’t you notice? Why are these foolish Christians putting their confidence in right-wingers who don’t seem to care? Hey, God! I’m a feminist. What do you have to say about that?
You get the idea. We moved to Colorado for a few years, and I checked out church after church, polite and cheerful on the outside, an angry misfit on the inside. What if I had not walked into yet one more church, now skeptical again, and more defensive than ever? But that church was the one. That pastor felt like he was taking my hand every Sunday, reaching it up…up…up past the heights of the nave, and handing it over to Christ, whose touch week by week would dissolve what only minutes before had felt like an insurmountable obstacle to my ever becoming a true Christian.
One by one, I let my angry issues go. I didn’t solve them. I didn’t fix them. With God’s help, I simply let them go. “Trust me,” the Lord said patiently, over and over again. The more I have, the more my relationships have grown stronger, and the more energy I have to focus on others.
As I grow in my faith, it is harder and harder for me to remember what it felt like to think I was really fine as a nonbeliever. What I appreciate at this stage in my journey is how hard it can be for many different types of people to come to trust in Christ. I don’t know if the culture gap between liberals and Christians is getting wider in our society, but it certainly seems that way. I pray that those on both sides can trust each other, and explore the obstacle course of the culture gap for the set of worldly hurdles that it is.
Matthew 14: 26 says this well. “And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a spirit,” and they cried out in fear. But straightway Jesus spoke to them, saying “Be joyful, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Claudia Hauer has a Ph. D. in Classics, and teaches in the liberal arts at St. John’s College and the U. S. Air Force Academy. She had an overwhelming conversion experience five years ago, and is just now learning to tell the story of her faith journey.