Following Jesus from Cradle to College

by Bella Gamboa, JE ’22

Veggie Tales, C. S. Lewis, and a familiarity with the most repeated pieces of Biblical advice: they all become moments of connection between people who grew up in a Christian home. There’s a certain feeling of familiarity when someone else also knows the words to “Barbara Manatee” or has memorized Bible verses for Sunday school. Such connections are frequent when growing up as most people who attended youth group in high school had Christian families. Even many Christians I’ve met in college come from a Christian home. But I have always felt different toward those (mostly adults) who came to Christianity later in life, generally independent from (or even in spite of) their families. I envied their radical experiences of God that led them to give their lives over to being followers of Jesus, Christians.

When  growing up, I would regularly re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, and C. S. Lewis has always been one of my favorite people. I’ve attended church for as long as I can remember. I have listened to Christian rock music for so long that I can mark the progression of the genre from the radio to Spotify. For my entire life, my family has prayed together before we go to bed (and even since I moved away, my dad will pray with me when I call home). As a result, Christianity has become like a deeply ingrained habit, as natural as brushing my teeth twice daily— my faith is inextricable from my childhood and upbringing, and Christianity has shaped my perception of the world and my own life.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. […] I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith

I struggle with Christianity’s pervasive influence on me. I am careful to actively practice Christian faith and not just passively receive of a sort of cultural faith — I ask questions, debate, read, consciously choose to attend youth group, read the Bible and pray. Any one of these things, or all of them, could easily be lost if I stop making an effort. most of my peers from high school weren’t giving up Friday evenings and their Sundays to go to church or youth group. I also feel moments where I would rather just go to sleep than read the Bible and pray. But even as I continue to do all these things, I sometimes felt resentful of what appeared to be my lack of agency in my faith, and often I was envious of others’ stories of conversion.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. No matter what struggles they faced in their faith, they had that moment to turn to and consider, to comfort them; I had nothing of the kind. I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith, which I had continued to maintain but without the same sense of intimacy with God I had enjoyed earlier in my childhood. Although I decided in high school to honestly reckon with my faith, to determine that I would myself (not as my parents’ daughter or member of my youth group or baptized child) practice Christianity, I had a nagging sense that my decision was inevitable because of how growing up Christian has shaped me. Was my faith legitimate, or as legitimate as that of those who converted later in life?

Recently the meaning of the word “practice” (as in practicing Christianity) has become clearer to me and eliminated my envy towards those who did not grow up in a Christian home. That moment of conversion I so envied in others’ testimonies is not the crux of what it means to be a Christian. As Jesus says, “‘If anyone would come after [Him], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Him]’” (Luke 9:23). Even after one makes the great choice to be Christian and follow Jesus, one must make countless other, smaller, everyday decisions in the lifelong process of following Him. Christianity is not about a momentary acceptance of Jesus as Redeemer, but rather an ongoing effort to actively follow God and, to use St. Augustine’s word, cleave to Him. Gaining a better understanding of the “daily” nature of faith has both comforted me and strengthened my relationship with God. It has been the most obvious facet of my increasing spiritual adulthood.

But in Christianity, adulthood cannot simply be a matter of maturity and wisdom. Jesus clearly has a special love and esteem for children, so Christian adulthood must in some ways resemble a return to childhood. Children are able to love quite quickly and completely (a three-year-old once called me her “friend” after a five minute conversation), and we are called to “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Children are used to surrendering control to their elders, because they understand that adults are better equipped to navigate life. Similarly, we must learn to relinquish control over our lives to God, which is not a simple or easy task, but a necessary one. Finally, there’s a childlike sense of wonder that finds extraordinary things which older people often don’t even consider; we should try to nurture such a wonder in our lives, because it helps us to better understand the glory of God as reflected in His creation.

While entering and growing in adulthood, let us consider what to retain from childhood and how to change and grow up as we continue to walk with God in faithfulness for every small decision, each day.

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