I can only travel back as far as around the sixth grade to recall my earliest memory of the church experience. My friend had recently been asking me if I was saved and I suppose I had an idea of what it meant because I remember telling him that no I wasn’t. He was very agitated by this and I remember him telling me, “I don’t want my friend to go to hell”. I cannot recall exactly how I felt about this statement. I probably didn’t really understand what he was talking about or why I should be condemned to such an awful place because I wasn’t “saved”, whatever that meant.
At some point, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to a youth group with him one night. I reluctantly agreed and that night we headed off to the big pink church only a few minutes from my house. I was extremely uncomfortable and frightened by the whole ordeal. I was not a very confident and outgoing person growing up, very different than the person I am today. My agitation did not subside as we arrived and sat on the floor with about 100 other kids or so. The youth pastor appeared before us and asked everyone to open their Bible’s. I sat there with my hands in my lap listening to the russel of pages around me. Beads of sweat began to appear on my forehead, desperately wishing I possessed one of the large thin paged books. I think someone handed me a copy but I then had no idea how to find the page he was speaking of.
The pastor began to speak of hell and how one can save themselves from eternal damnation. “Do you want to spend eternity in hell?” he asked us. “You can save yourself from this fate right now if you choose. One moment of embarrassment is worth saving your life.”
He began to look around the room and told us to nod our heads if we wished to be saved. My friend began to poke me in the back urging me to give the sign and reveal myself as the boy they were able to reach. I could feel my shirt stuck to my back from perspiration and my chest began to pound as the young man who had all the answers was slowly reaching my vicinity with his eyes. There was no escape, the impressionable bait was trapped with nowhere to go but towards the direction of the saved.
The pastor’s eyes met mine and I nodded. He had me stand up and walk to the front of the room. Every ounce of blood in my body rushed straight to my face as 100 pairs of eyes stare directly at me. I kept my head pointed directly to the floor and stood at the youth pastors side. I could hear none of what he said, only my internal background noise of terror. Someone then led me out of the room so I could be saved. I sat at a small table in a private room and began to repeat the words that were spoken to me. I had no idea what was going on, or what the words meant that I repeated, I just didn’t want to go to hell. My heart continued to pound and I grew more and more flustered with each word I could not pronounce. Finally I was told congratulations, I was saved.
Upon leaving the room people began to congratulate me for the glorious occasion. I tried to smile and act as if I shared their joy but really all I wanted to do was break down and cry. As my friend’s parents drove us home I could feel the wall of tears building up around my eye sockets. Finally I got dropped off to the safety of my home, I burst through the front door, and the explosion of emotion came forth.
My mom grew furious as I explained the events which took place. Being the protective mother my mom is, she then immediately called the youth pastor and gave him several pieces of her mind. I cannot remember exactly what words were said but I think the argument was based on the methods used to bring someone closer to Christ.
For the rest of my childhood and teenage years, whether I knew it or not I always associated church with fear. The few times I attended church, I would hide my face believing that I would be found out as the one who wasn’t saved. The pastor would suddenly stop the service, point his finger and say, “You there! Have you been saved?”
As I sat there avoiding the pastor’s gaze, I pictured God up in the heavens shaking His head in disapproval. He was not a warm and loving God, he was an angry God, angry at all my sinful ways and my disregard of embracing a Christian life. The only way to make him happy would be too accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior and attend church on a regular basis. By not accepting this at each moment I was taking the risk of dieing the next day and spending my eternal life within the depths of hell.
I began attending church after my injury and even after I felt like I personally bonded with God the day of my accident, I was still uncomfortable and afraid in church. I remember one instance in particular were the reverend began to preach frantically about accepting Jesus Christ in your life. “It’s either now or never” he said. He envisioned some Angels hovering over someone’s head. I began to imagine him looking over at me and seeing demons hovering over my head. Once again my heart began to pound wondering if I should give into my fear, put my head down and make my way to the front just like I did back in six grade. I fought the urge and stayed put.
Over the past year I have dove into the mysteries of the universe and questioned what God is, where God is, and how I can find him. I by far do not have all the answers but I feel as if I understand God more now than I ever have in my entire life. I no longer fear God and picture him shaking his finger at me in disapproval over my inability to commit to a certain religion. I no longer feel that life is a tryout to see who gets a ticket to heaven and who does not. When I die I will not find myself walking up a winding staircase which arrives at a golden gate where my eternal sentence shall be decided. I no longer live in constant fear and question whether I’m good enough for God. No matter what we do in life, each and every one of us is one with God, but it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to embrace God’s presence. It is impossible for God to get angry because God is the ultimate symbol of purity, love, and joy. God is an indescribable, infinite presence that cannot be understood or envisioned. God is you and I, God is the seen, the unseen, the imaginary, God is existence.
After a long break from church, I decided to attend once again this past Sunday. For the first time in my entire life I attended church without fear. In the past I have let fear control me but this was only because I did not understand. I thought the only way to find God was to commit to something blindly with no understanding of why. As I sat there in church I felt at peace with God. I felt that peace because I was breathing in and out his glory. I was experiencing his presence all around me and most importantly inside of me, not because I repeated a few sentences or answered the call of a preachers words, but because I realized God has been inside of me all along. All my life I have searched for God outside of myself without even realizing he was right under my nose the whole time.
Sunday morning I closed my eyes and felt the energy of God as hundreds of people sang His praises. The people in that church found God in their own ways but this is not necessarily my way. However, this does not mean we cannot come together and share the glory of God. Even as the pastor began to talk about judgment day and how we will all be held accountable for our actions one day, I was not shaken nor stirred. I personally know God and I am quite certain he would not let me suffer for eternity.
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