Some people might think if you were raised with faith that you don’t really have a story about your relationship with Jesus, but I think everyone has a story about who Jesus is to them, and more importantly, about who they say Jesus is.
My understanding of Jesus has evolved tremendously in the 41 years I’ve been a Christian. The closer I am to Him, the more I grow in Him, and the more I learn about Him.
To me, Jesus was first judge. Then he became my savior. He became knowable, then He became my friend and my guide. In the hardest time of my life He was my breath when I couldn’t breathe on my own. He was the light in my darkness, helping me walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And then He became my healing and my strength. After a time, when life got easier, Jesus became familiar; maybe too familiar. I had to remember who He is, and who I am in Him. Now I’m striving to make Him my sole purpose.
I was born in a family where faith was important. My mom and dad raised me in the Catholic church where I learned some important things about faith traditions. At this time in my life Jesus was judge; the one who set the rules of right and wrong…who expected me to keep those rules and feel guilt when I didn’t. Some of this perception was because of what the Catholic church taught, and some of it was true. Although Jesus is our judge, there is no condemnation when we are His. He so much more than that.
When I was nine my sisters took me to a Campus Crusade rally where I learned that Jesus died for my sins and I had to deliberately accept Him as my savior to have eternal life. I remember repeating the prayer asking Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my heart. I knew it was real and I was certain of my salvation. I also knew it was an important thing that happened, but I was only nine years old.
I didn’t know what to do with Jesus next.
When I was in high school some friends invited me to youth group at a local Baptist church. This is where I learned that Jesus could be knowable—that I could have a personal relationship with Him. A mentor came beside me to teach me what the Bible said about Jesus. In reading the Bible I learned who Jesus was and started to understand how faith worked. That mentor and my friend’s invitation laid a strong foundation.
I spent the next ten years developing a friendship with Jesus, testing out what I learned and seeking His will for my life. I learned that when I ask Him, He will show me what I need to know and what He wants me to do. I also learned that having a husband who shared my faith was very important to me, so I waited for Jesus to guide me to the man I married. Together we grew in Jesus, developing the deep roots we needed to get through the biggest challenge of our lives. Jesus guided us each step of the way.
And then everything we thought we knew was tested when we tried starting a family.
We experienced five years of devastating losses. I nearly died three times. We had five miscarriages, and our first-born son died when he was two weeks old. This is when Jesus was my breath. I couldn’t do it on my own, so Jesus gave me the strength and help to take the next breath…and eventually the next step.
It wasn’t easy walking through this valley of the shadow of death. I thought that being a Christian meant that my life would be easier than it was.
He challenged everything I believed and lovingly, patiently guided me to understanding that a life of faith wasn’t a guarantee of an easy life—but it was a guarantee that He would be there to help me. I often wrestled with Him, yelled at Him, and ignored Him. But I knew I couldn’t recover from all those losses on my own, so I eventually sought forgiveness for blaming Him for my losses. Upon receiving a strong sign that He forgave me, I clung to Him for dear life.
It took me a long time to heal from the grief of all that loss. I spent a year just reading the Psalms because I could relate to the pain the psalmists experienced. I also needed the reminder to turn to God in my pain. I read my Bible, seeking answers in the Word, asking questions in the margins of my Bible, and hearing answers from God. The more I turned to Jesus, and the more I relied on Him, the more healing I experienced. He became my strength. To this day He is only reason I can function beyond that grief. Jesus was the light that showed me the way.
In His presence, my marriage remained strong, and I eventually came out of the darkness.
Then God gave us a wonderful son through adoption, and a special reminder that we, too, are His adopted sons and daughters whom He has chosen, pursued, and loved—and He will never abandon us.
In the ensuing years, when life got easier, I became too familiar with Jesus. Not in the sense that I knew him well, but that He became a habit. An empty ritual. I lost the joy that comes with being close to Jesus but I was reluctant to seek it because I didn’t want to experience the kind of pain that brought intimacy with Jesus before. I thought that being close to Jesus could only come through tragedy, and I couldn’t handle any more grief or challenges, so I became complacent. Stagnant. And then sick.
I developed an autoimmune disease and again blamed God for what was happening. And again He reminded me that I could endure if I would only draw near…that I can experience His love and His presence when I choose to be close. I also learned that I can be close to Him because I’m choosing to be—I don’t always have to go through something hard to seek a closer relationship with Him. I also learned that for me, if I’m not seeking Him he may allow a challenge in my life so I remember to draw near.
Now I’m daily striving to put Jesus first. To remember who I am in Him. To seek His purpose for me as I continue down this path of life. He is continuing to challenge me and often asks me to step out of my comfort zone to share stories of His love and His healing with others. And I continually fight with Him until I see that he is right and remember that He will help me.
I remind myself often that being in His presence is so much better than being on my own. It’s filled with more purpose, more passion, and more meaning than I could ever find within myself.
Everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for the next step, the next adventure, the next experience with Jesus. He continues to show me who He is, and challenges me with the same question he asked Peter: “Who do you say I am?”