Sometimes you just need to start at the beginning to tell the story of your faith, and this is where I found myself recently while having lunch with a friend. We often have conversations that dip in and out of our shared Christian beliefs. However, today, she asked me specifically about becoming a Christian.
The initial response to that question is an easy one. I was seven years old and attending a Sunday evening church service with one of my childhood friends. At that time, my family’s church attendance was irregular, so the McNair family always invited me to join them.
Although my faith journey began when I was just a child, my memories of the evening remain vivid, and that pull to surrender my life to Christ was unmistakable. My small act of obedience in that moment also had a profound ripple effect. Not only did I secure my eternal salvation but the trajectory of my family’s spiritual life also was changed. Of course, there’s more to the story.
Stops, Starts and Detours
Lots of living happens between the elementary and college years, and my path to spiritual growth was bumpy. As I entered my teen years, my walk with the Lord grew stagnant. I still went through the motions of going to church and Sunday School, mostly because my parents made me (for which I’m now grateful), but my focus turned increasingly inward.
While I periodically experienced moments of spiritual renewal, those feelings were dimmed by what I saw as hypocrisy among the “church folk,” primarily other teens in the youth group. Watching the same people rededicate their lives to Christ each summer at camp and then quickly return to worldly behaviors jaded my opinions. Unfair, I know, but a pretty accurate reflection of my spiritual immaturity. I’m not sure why I believed the actions of others should hold weight over my decisions or guide who I needed to be in Christ, but if I’m honest with myself — and I’m trying to be — it was more about justifying my own sin.
By the time I set foot in college, I pretty much had left Christ behind like a little memento of my past. While a student at Texas A&M, I occasionally would go to church, and if you asked me if I believed in Jesus, my answer would have been an unwavering, “Yes.” However, there was little in my life that actually confirmed my faith, and sadly, my striving and search for significance happened without thought of what God might desire.
While I have many fun memories of college and developed wonderful, lifelong friends along the way, those good times often were marred by bad decisions and too much alcohol. However, the passage of time allows for poignant reflection, and in those places where I’ve felt twinges of regret, I now can recognize God’s hand lovingly leading me back to Him.
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”
– Jeremiah 32:40 (ESV)
God Wastes Nothing
Oh, the blessing of hindsight! While outwardly I appeared to be pulling away from God, there remained a piece of me that kept returning to my faith. This appeared in expected behaviors, like joining and becoming involved in a local church, as well as odd rationalizations. For instance, during my senior year in college, I started to think about how my actions reflected on my testimony. As a Baptist, would I cause others to stumble if they saw me drinking alcohol? Well, my initial solution to that dilemma was to become a Methodist, and when I think about that now, I can’t help but laugh!
Denominational differences aside, the Bible is extremely clear about drinking to excess (Ephesians 5:18, Romans 13:13-14, Galatians 5:19-21, to name a few) and on this point, my sweet Methodist friends and I both were acting contrary to God’s Word. While I never changed my church affiliation, the thought process—however wacky—shows a personal searching that continued to intensify. In small, incremental steps, my faith was on a path to growth.
Growing in Faith: One Small Step at a Time
While I might be painting a pretty shadowy picture of myself, in truth, my rebellion looked fairly typical and, sadly, mirrored several other “good” kids I knew. Although my toes were skimming the edge of my faith, I still was living a pretty worldly lifestyle. However, the Lord works in mysterious ways, for sure, and youth camp eventually brought me full circle.
Given my early aggression regarding youth camp conversions, it’s somewhat ironic that camp played a pivotal role in resetting my spiritual course. For two summers, I served as a camp counselor at my home church’s youth camp, and I attribute these experiences to the final leg of my spiritual wandering.
Serving as a camp counselor broke something loose in me, and on a hot summer evening at Latham Springs while alone under the stars, I asked God for forgiveness, as well as renewal. Slowly, my life began to look different. Not perfect, mind you; I still had (and have) plenty of stumbling left in me. However, in each small step, I created a life that hopefully honored God a little more each day, a life that reflected a growing desire to deepen my faith.
Even in the Wandering, God is There
While I wish now I hadn’t given my parents so many opportunities to strengthen their prayer life, I’m thankful to know they were praying for me. My future, including the man I might one day marry, was understandably top of mind for them. Interestingly enough, at roughly the same time I was graduating college and wrestling with who I was in Christ, my future husband re-entered my life.
Doug and I went to different high schools in the same hometown, but we attended the same church and had been friends for several years. Our little love story is too long to include here, but suffice it to say, God used Texas A&M University and, again, that darn youth camp to weave our stories together and ultimately draw us both closer to Him.
Pleasing God Does Not Mean Perfection
My BSF group leader made that statement a few weeks ago, and it’s a powerful reminder. Even those mentioned in the Bible as heroes of the faith had failures, and the truth of that resonates deeply with me.
Everything about my life is a work in progress, but how thankful I am to serve a God that loves me unconditionally and never stops pursuing me.
The person I am today looks far different than the young woman I once was — Praise God! I don’t say that out of embarrassment of my past (well, maybe a little), but as I’ve gotten older, it’s more about thankfulness and gratitude for the grace of a Heavenly Father who helped me grow in my faith in spite of personal sins, fears and failures.
And for me, that’s the point of this post, as well as this entire blog. The above statement is another one shared in Bible study, and it’s one I continue to ponder. Looking back helps me look forward because it reminds me of God’s faithfulness.
Return from Your Wandering
If you’re in a season of wandering, perhaps wondering how you can grow your faith and live a life that honors God—or maybe you know someone who is—I’d offer you these words of encouragement:
– No sin is too great for His love and forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). It requires a response on our part, but He meets us wherever we are.
There are no “right” words. God knows your heart, as well as your needs. “Prayer is an opportunity to invite God in and allow Him to meet our deepest needs.” – Timothy Ateek, Breakaway Ministries.
The video below from Breakaway Ministries is an excellent resource for understanding and prioritizing prayer. Although Breakaway’s target audience is college students, many of the teaching topics have relevance to all ages.
Below are two simple ways we can point others to Christ:
My journey began with a friendship. The McNair family invited me to church; God did the rest. I’m eternally grateful they made space for me.
No one can argue with your story. When prompted, share with others how you have seen God work in your life.
For those who have trusted their hearts and lives to Jesus, salvation is secure. However, life, even for the believer, can include detours that lead to shallow faith and disobedience. But the good news is that God is always there, and He meets us wherever we are to lead us back into His presence.
Growing in your faith, returning from a season of wandering, happens a step at a time in simple acts of obedience. If you don’t have a relationship with Christ, if you have never trusted Him as your Lord and Savior, then start here. If you are a believer that has wandered, come home. Find a church; seek prayer from Bible-believing men and women; and pray. God will be there to meet you.