For a long time, I didn’t feel like my story was relevant. Before I made the decision to follow Jesus, I was a pretty good kid, at least by the world’s standards. I was what you might call a goody-goody in school. I did my homework, I made good grades. I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, go to parties. I never gave teachers any trouble. I gave my parents trouble (I did go through adolescence, after all!), but nothing major. I’m pretty sure my parents never felt the need to call into a radio show, go on a talk show, or write to “Dear Abby” saying “I’m at my wit’s end over my daughter’s behavior.” I know I drove them crazy at times, but those times were not much more than my tween and teenaged hormones causing me to pout and stomp and talk back.
I’ve always been “nice.” It’s never been in my nature to make waves. I simply never had it in me to be a troublemaker. I wanted everyone to like me. Not just “most people.” But everyone. As you might imagine, this led to self-esteem problems, especially when I went through periods of my life when it felt like nobody liked me.
Because I’ve lived my life as “nice,” I never thought the story of how I became a Christian had much power. It’s not a dramatic Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus sort of story. But I think a lot of people are like I was. Many of us are “nice people” who don’t see why we might want to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior. I’m doing okay on my own.
By the time I got to college, my personality and the kind of person I was felt pretty much etched in stone. I was mostly content with myself. I was still a nice girl who did everything expected of her. Sure, there were things I did that were stupid. Things I did, or didn’t do, because I was afraid. I didn’t really have much courage. My maiden name was, incidentally, “Coward,” and it really rather fit me, even though I would never have admitted to it.
I did feel, almost subconsciously, like something was missing in my life, but I didn’t really know what it was. I never spent much time worrying about it.
And then I met a guy in college who was, without question, the most pulled-together, seemingly perfect person I had ever met. He was tall and handsome and confident, but he was also gentle and kind. He was incredibly smart. He was athletic. He basically had everything, as far as I could tell.
Somehow, we became friends. My college roommate at the time was a friend of his, and that’s how we met. One day, I remember he was in the house I was living in with my roommate and another housemate. And we started talking. I don’t remember the specific conversation, what led to it, but I remember confessing that deep down, I was really, really insecure.
I said, “I’m not sure why I’m so insecure. I mean, I’m a good person–”
He said something that really startled me, and this is the part of the conversation I’ll never forget. He said, “No, you’re not.”
I was rather taken aback, as you can imagine. “Pardon me? This isn’t helping me with my insecurity problem!”
He laughed, and he explained what he meant. He told me that no one is “good.” Not me, not him, not anyone else. None of us are perfect, and that means we’re all kind of messed up somehow.
He said something else then that I’ll never forget. “It’s why I’m a Christian.”
I sat up and took notice. I knew he was a Christian, and I had kind of idly wondered why. Not enough to ask him, but fortunately, I didn’t need to.
He explained to me – and I’m paraphrasing here – that he was as much of a mess as I was. But thanks to his relationship with Jesus, he was made whole. He was better because of Jesus, and not only that, but God saw him as perfect because of Jesus’ sacrifice for him.
I didn’t really completely understand this, but it was interesting. I had never heard any Christian put it to me that way. I had not grown up going to church. There was a short period in my life when I had attended Sunday school with my sister and a friend of mine, but it didn’t quite “take.” I think a part of me wanted to give my life to Jesus, but most of me held back, for reasons I’ll probably never know in this lifetime.
I even remember that when I was quite young, a friend of mine tried her very, very best to explain the gospel to me, and she was oh-so-frustrated because she couldn’t quite find the right words. I remember at the time feeling bad for her, and being impressed that she knew that much, because I didn’t understand any of it. Today I understand her frustration – she wanted to help her unsaved friend, and she didn’t know how to do it.
Anyway, back to our story…
I told him that what he had just told me was interesting, and I’d have to think about it. He smiled and said, “Thinking is good.”
He left not long after that.
Had I intended to think about what he had told me? Oh, sure. I figured I’d think about it for maybe 15 seconds, and then I’d put it out of my mind and go to sleep.
God had other plans. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
“You aren’t good” echoed in my head over and over. At first, I really didn’t know what he had meant by that. And then I remembered some of the incredibly selfish, rude, and rotten things I had done in my life.
The one that stuck in my head – and this is going to sound silly, but stay with me – concerned my roommate. She had an ancient printer that was really close to biting the dust. She told me, “Please don’t use my printer. I don’t know how much longer it will last, and if you use it, it might die.”
I used her printer more often than I care to admit. I justified it to myself – I had a paper due in like 15 minutes and I just didn’t have time to send it to the next nearest printer, which was in another building, so heck, I’ll use her printer “just this once.” So basically I was saying it was perfectly okay to abuse her printer because that’s what I wanted to do. I was taking advantage of her.
This is just one example, and it’s probably one that most people would think was kind of silly. Oh come on. It’s no big deal. I hear you. It’s what I told myself over and over. But what if her printer had died mid-year? What if she’d needed to buy a new printer or have costly repairs? Just because I was too selfish to plan ahead and send my papers to printers that weren’t on the verge of collapse?
I thought, oh my gosh. He’s right. I’m not good. I may never have been as good as I thought I was.
When I got out of bed the next morning, I called my Christian friend and asked him to come over, because I needed to talk to him.
I told him that I thought about what he had said, that without meaning to I had spent all night thinking about it, and that I had decided that I wanted to be a Christian, too.
I remember his huge smile. He told me that there were two things I needed to do: I needed to pray and let God know that I was thankful for what He had done (both in showing me the way and in sending Jesus to die for me), and that I needed to start reading the Bible. He also introduced me to a female friend who agreed to meet with me weekly to help me understand what I was reading, as well as to ask any questions I might have.
Did I, overnight, become transformed? Yes and no. I was transformed because I discovered purpose. I discovered that the things I had long been insecure about didn’t matter. I learned that God loved me, and that alone was reason to feel secure. It was a heck of a better measuring stick than the ones I had used in the past – how many friends I had, how successful I was at school, how happy I was, how good I looked or how well my clothes fit – because it would never change.
But I did not become perfect overnight. I still struggled with selfishness. I struggled to do the right thing. I struggled to win the war over the temptations I felt to do the wrong things. I did the wrong thing many, many times. I hurt people. I screwed up.
And I thought about giving up many, many times. Only God knows how many times I was tempted to chuck it all and go back to the way I used to live my life. Depending on myself and no one else, doing what I wanted to do, what seemed perfectly logical and reasonable to me. And for stretches of time, I lived as though I hadn’t given my life to Christ.
But here’s what I discovered about God: he pursues us relentlessly. You might not even realize he’s pursuing you. But he is. No matter where you are in your life, God is pursuing you. No, not to punish you. He’s pursuing you because he loves you and wants to be in your life.
No matter how many times I wandered, no matter how many times I convinced myself that being a Christian was too hard and not worth it, God didn’t give up on me. He kept chasing after me. It might be a scary image to you – some great celestial being chasing after you. But in my case, it wasn’t scary. It was insistent and it was unending, but it wasn’t scary. It was as if someone was gently patting my arm and saying, “I’m still here. No matter how hard you try to ignore me, I’m still here. I’m waiting for you to come back to me. I’m waiting for you to let me make you whole again.”
Some people believe that followers of Christ believe in a God who is big and scary and mean and eager to punish wrongdoers. This is totally wrong. God doesn’t want to punish anyone. He just wants the people He created to return to Him and serve Him with their whole hearts.
And how does God want us to serve Him? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Every single one of God’s commandments can be traced back to these two (you can find them in Matthew 22:37-39). They are the ones by which I try to live my life.
One of the greatest reasons I continue to follow Jesus – what we call “being a Christian” – is because I remember how selfish I used to be. Please, don’t try to tell me otherwise. I was a very selfish person. At times, I still am. Selfishness is probably my greatest temptation, the one I have to fight the most. Before I gave my life to Christ, I selfishly pursued whatever seemed acceptable to me. I was nice and polite and didn’t make waves, but I also sought to have my own way all day and every day.
Now that I have Jesus in my life, I realize what a deadly sin selfishness is, and I recognize it as such. I’m still selfish at times, of course. But now I recognize it. If my selfishness has hurt someone, I try as hard as I can to make it up to that person. If my selfishness has hurt only God, I ask for His forgiveness. But the biggest difference God has made in my life is that I both recognize and – usually – can successfully avoid selfishness.
I’m still not perfect. I won’t be perfect until I am standing face to face with Jesus in heaven. I don’t believe I’m better than you. In fact, I know I’m not better than you.
You might say, if you’re not a Christian, “but you do. You think you’re going to heaven and I’m going to hell.” Not true. I know I’m going to heaven. I have no idea what will happen to you. That is up to you, not me.
But to me, the best thing about being a Christian isn’t knowing that I will spend eternity with my heavenly Father, as wonderful a prospect as that is. The best things include knowing that I am never alone. Knowing that I am loved, no matter what I do and no matter how badly I’ve messed up. Knowing that whenever I try to help someone, in any way, I am working in the world the way God intended. And knowing that no matter how devastating my selfishness can be and has been in the past, it no longer rules me.
That is why I am still a Christian, and why I will continue to love and serve Jesus forever more.