In order to join my new church, I had to write a personal testimony or “Gospel story.” The process was surprisingly difficult for me, for reasons I’ll talk about later because I think others will relate. But I finally submitted it this weekend. It’s nothing revolutionary, but I thought I’d share a slightly edited version of it here.
Please note that a testimony and a statement of faith are two different things (thanks to Alanna for helping me articulate this). If you have questions about who Jesus is to me now or why I became and/or remain a Christian, I’m happy to talk about it – and may write another post along those lines.
When I was ten years old, I responded to an altar call in Sunday school at my Pentecostal church. I had attended church for as long as I could remember, so God, Jesus, and salvation weren’t new concepts to me. But that morning, my Sunday school teacher asked whether we were sure we were going to heaven if we, say, died in a car accident on the way home. I wasn’t, so I prayed the traditional sinner’s prayer along with my teacher. Although I mainly did so as spiritual insurance, I think it was somewhat genuine. Two years later I decided to be baptized, and was happy about it.
Outwardly, my teen years were pretty smooth. I was a people-pleasing good girl who prayed and read the Bible regularly, went to youth group, and didn’t drink, smoke, or sleep around. I was so busy with school and activities that I didn’t have much energy to question or wrestle spiritually, but sometimes the weight of the works-based theology I lived under was overwhelming. One night when I was seventeen, watching TBN with my mom (did I mention I grew up Pentecostal?), I “rededicated” my life to Christ. I don’t remember my reasoning, but I have a lingering impression that it was less about guilt over sin and more about being spiritually exhausted and at the end of myself.
Contrary to stereotype, I didn’t go crazy in college; it was actually one of the most intense periods of my faith. Also contrary to stereotype, I thrived spiritually at a big, bad public university. I developed relationships with Christians of different backgrounds, like my Catholic roommate (who’s still one of my best friends). After a couple of years of heavy involvement at the Baptist Student Union, I felt at the end of myself again. I was aware on a new level that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t holy and could never measure up to God’s requirements. I couldn’t reconcile that with constant messages about holiness and walking ever-narrower spiritual roads. Around that time, someone invited me to a Reformed University Fellowship large group, and the things I heard there turned everything back right side up for me. I wasn’t crazy – my sinfulness was real, but Jesus hadn’t come to hold me to a set of rules. He came to earn God’s favor for me. I didn’t have to worry often about my salvation – it would hold because Jesus doesn’t lose His sheep. It was the first time in my life that I fully understood and appreciated grace. While I believe my faith was real before then, this was a major turning point.
I got married when I was 25. I had met my husband at RUF and was basically in love with him for several years before we started dating. For our first few years together, I was so in love and thankful to be with him that I failed to notice how one-sided our marriage was. While I wasn’t a perfect wife (who is?) and now wish I’d done some things differently, he routinely neglected me and put his hobbies and interests ahead of our marriage as well as his relationship with God. The message I got from church and Christian books was that if I just submitted more and prayed harder, God would change his heart and set our relationship right. Things got steadily worse until I was exhausted, depressed, and felt more alone than I ever have. I felt like a powerless non-person, a blank slate only existing to serve others’ needs and be what everyone else – including God – wanted me to be. Eventually I decided I couldn’t live that way anymore. I started going to counseling and believing that God loved and valued ME, myself, and created me on purpose. That He didn’t intend for me to endlessly pour myself out to the last drop… not because I was a woman, and not because I was a Christian.
This soul work was put to the test in November 2009, when my husband confessed to an affair. I was completely devastated, but still loved him and wanted to work things out. He waffled, left briefly, and then agreed to reconcile. While I was totally committed to the marriage, in the aftermath I set a much higher bar for how I expected to be treated. So, six months later, he told me he had cheated again and was no longer interested in staying married to me. He left that night, and my divorce was final a few weeks after my 31st birthday. During this worst time of my life, I have never felt closer to God. I knew in my soul that He was grieving with me and wasn’t okay with what had happened to me. I was heartbroken and all my plans had turned to dust, but I felt God’s presence and a deep conviction that He was still at work and would bring good out of my suffering. From day one I wanted to use my experience to comfort and advise others in similar situations, and I still try to do that, mainly through my blog. It means everything to me when people, especially other divorced people, tell me they were helped by something I wrote. I don’t know much about God’s plans for me, but I know that’s one of the reasons why I’m here.
I started my post-divorce life overflowing with hope even as I grieved, but that hope has faded. I believed that after this long (four years), I’d have an amazing new life with a fulfilling, purposeful job, a relationship with a wonderful Christian man who would love me as Christ loves the Church, and maybe even a family. That’s how God turns ashes into beauty, right? Instead, I’ve made no progress in my career and still lack a bright and shining purpose. I haven’t had a close relationship (even a platonic one) with any guy, and hadn’t even been on A Date until this year. (Many other Christians I know have divorced and remarried in this intervening time.) I’m 35 and am slowly accepting that I probably won’t have kids. I doubt increasingly how much my story and experience are worth after all, because people want a happy ending. I have an active, fun life and more than my share of loving friends, but the years the locusts ate have not been restored, and I’m no longer sure if they ever will be. I don’t really know how to cope with that anymore, so I have trouble imagining how others can be encouraged by it. My intimacy with God has suffered as I try to find a positive framework for a future that might always fall short of my hopes.
However, God has definitely provided for me this year by bringing me to my new church. It’s a place where you can be loved, valued, and useful regardless of your gender or demographic, where people aren’t afraid to admit they’re broken, where people are dreaming big dreams for themselves, each other, and our city. I’ve wanted to belong in a place like that for a long time. I’m excited to be part of it and hopeful for how God might use it in my life.
About Brenda W.Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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