I was brought up a Christian, but wait! Don’t write me off just yet.
As a child I was brought along to church every Sunday (I would say dragged, but that would be untrue, I really enjoyed coming to church. There was singing, people to play with and often biscuits). We read from the bible. The pastor talked a lot about how the Holy Spirit was important. How it removes the futility from life and death. For as long as I can remember I have seen and heard people using all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I knew they had it because I could hear their gift of tongues – weird sounding languages that I didn’t understand. I saw them using the Holy Spirit to heal people, to prophesy and guide people to safety during disasters.
I thought this was normal, until I realised that it wasn’t and then I often avoided talking about church. The Sunday bikkies had not done my waist any favours, I was the most out of tune voice in the choir and my church friends didn’t go to the same school as me at the time. I was trying to fit in with my peers at school so I didn’t really show much interest in having the Holy Spirit for myself. You see, the Holy Spirit is not something your pastor or priest can give you. It comes directly from God. Which I felt made it harder. I could pretend I was a good girl for people. I couldn’t pull that on God.
But then came September 11, 2001 and my teacher made a throwaway comment about the ‘End of the World’. That is when I decided to ask for the Holy Spirit. I put God to the test and prayed. I screwed up my eyes and clasped my hands and kneeled by my bed. But nothing happened. I tried again the next night and the next, whispering so that no one would hear me, so no one would know if I failed. Eventually I realised I needed to take a risk, that real faith was letting God take control. I asked a friend to pray with me, in the open, with other people around. I did the same actions – kneeling, clasping hands, squeezing eyes shut, but I did more than that. I focused on God. I ignored everyone else. I didn’t care what people would think of me.
Soon, I felt the words I was saying change. I heard different sounds, and they were coming from me. I stopped, and then started again. The same thing happened. I went for a walk to be by myself and test this out, just to make sure it wasn’t a trick. From then on close friends and family noticed a difference, I was happier, nicer and I didn’t care as much about fitting in. All of a sudden I knew God existed.
As I got older, people obviously questioned my faith and my beliefs that I had the Spirit of God. I tried to tell them about how I knew, but they would say ‘speaking in tongues is from the devil’ or even worse – ‘you just make it up’.
I studied science. I dabbled in psychology. I had read about our brain’s amazing ability to reconstruct and manipulate, about our need to conform, to justify our behaviour – so doubts rose. I am not that self-confident as to trust my own judgement. I didn’t want to be a fool, blindly following something I had heard from birth.
During this time I listened to very smart people telling me that there is no God, and other very smart people telling me that there is a God. My brain hurt and because I didn’t know what else to do, I prayed about it. I figured if God wasn’t real nothing would happen, but if He was, maybe I would get a sign. I prayed using the language I had been given when I received the Holy Spirit. Only this time the sounds coming out were completely different to all the other times – like it was making a statement: ‘I’m here, I’m real’. It was all I needed. No way was I making this up. I kept thinking ‘hallelujah’ and trying to say it in English, but when I turned the prayer on, hallelujah just never came out.
So when I tell people I was raised in a Christian family, this is what I really want them to know: that while yes I heard about God and went to church every Sunday, I didn’t just adopt these beliefs as a second-hand faith passed down from my parents. I don’t attend church because I hope God is real or because my friends and family do. I don’t even go for the biscuits and singing anymore.
Everyday I make a choice to follow Christ. With my experiences I would be a fool to do anything else.
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