I qualify for a ‘churched’ kid.
I was gradually conditioned from Day 1 to believe in God and it feels like it’ll take a paradigm shift to get me to unbelieve it. I guess that makes me churched. And like most churched kids, my ‘testimony’ is the clichéd learning-to-own-my-faith story, as in I eventually adopted my family’s faith sincerely as my own.
Unsurprisingly, that transformation went hand-in-hand with my venture out of the country, far from the people who raised me to be Christian. I came to England, went to church for the first time without my family, and simultaneously immersed myself in the predominantly secular, uni-student life. One of the many things I learned in that wild first year was something that I think I had known all along.
It’s one thing to believe in God, but it’s another thing to have total faith in His character – to believe in what He has done, what He does now, and what He will do because of who He is. “Do you still think it’s enough to just believe that there is one God?” (James 2:19).
Once I came to that realization, my family’s faith became mine as well. I saw the value in having a personal relationship with God. It became a God-and-me picture. I prayed about personal challenges I faced. I strived to recognize the moments in life when I felt like God was testing me. I read the Bible, thinking of what applied to me and what I lacked spiritually and behaviorally. I rarely had the guts to tell someone about things that I struggled with, but at least I had grown aware of my struggles and felt the need to, by God’s strength, overcome them.
But looking back, I gamble that this transformation could’ve happened sooner if I actually made genuine friends with other Christians. First year, I was perfectly comfortable to have bonding time remain within the confines of Sunday morning church. Luckily, one of my flatmates was Christian and our conversations were, for me, like heavenly glimpses into what it’s like to share your faith with someone else. I might be ‘churched’ but, to stray from stereotype, I didn’t have many Christian friends growing up.
And I realize now that, although it’s valuable to have a personal relationship with God, there’s a danger in putting too much emphasis on the relationship rather than God Himself. I don’t have a deep, theological reason for it. It’s just that, recently, I’ve come to believe that the God-and-me picture is too ready to slip into just me.
Second year, I pursued those authentic relationships with fellow Christians and, through that, I discovered the real source of spiritual growth. I guess, for me, if God has ever ‘spoken’ to me, it’s been through the things that my Christian friends have said or done, things that have called me out on poor behavior, that have exposed my lack of faith, demonstrated the graceful love that I lack. It’s that community, that full body instead of tiny unconnected dots, that speaks to a God-and-us picture and puts less emphasis on the self.
C.S. Lewis says, “If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing… Every individual would appear connected with each other.”*
When I look back on my personal history, I recognize moments when I needed that support of fellow believers. (I was lucky enough to have such caring, understanding non-Christian friends). But I now feel more motivated to seek authentic relationships with other Christians and ultimately try to perfect that God-and-us picture.
*C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: Harper Collins, 2012), pg. 180