Written by A. Riley Vallier.
January 17th, 2005. The baby is dedicated to Jesus on the front steps of a church, family circling her protectively. She’s insulated in the safe world of Sunday school and animal crackers. She’s not supposed to ask questions. She’s supposed to already have all the answers.
July 16th, 2009. “If God made me who made God?” A four year old girl asks in a gray room that smells like lavender and quiet. Her mom laughs and buries her in a hug. “I don’t know, honey, but you have such good questions.”
April 2nd, 2010. A five year old girl huddles in a prayer circle, neck stiff from bowing so long. Ten kindergartners, under the encouraging eye of teen VBS leaders, vow to give their life to Jesus. The girl does the same. When she gets home, she slaps a cross magnet next to her drawings on the fridge and tells her dad she’s saved.
January 27th, 2013. The girl is eight years old – old enough to be baptized. To declare a lifelong faith in the eyes of 500 congregants. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” She holds her breath for a moment, then emerging from the water to cheers and screams. For years, she will consider this day her spiritual birthday, the moment she became a Christian.
That girl is me.
I was born into a protestant Christian family. My childhood was praying before dinner and storybook Bibles and various cross-themed crafts. My childhood was spent in a church. Yet I didn’t understand what a Catholic was, much less a Muslim. My childhood was knowing I was saved and shutting down the questions.
I was not a Christian then. I did everything “right:” I never swore, never listened to music that wasn’t worship, or read romance novels, or watched PG-13 movies. And I was not a Christian then. My world was a bubble that I thought would never pop.
Spoiler alert: the bubble popped a long time ago.
But I am a Christian now.
And here’s why:
I believe if my faith couldn’t survive the natural questions and examination that all people go through, it wasn’t true faith. It was blindly following in my parent’s footsteps. It was their religion, their relationship with Jesus, and not mine.
Much as you can’t see the stars unless it’s dark outside, if you never doubt, how do you know you really believe?
If everything was smooth sailing how could I know if my faith could withstand a storm? If my life was sunshine then how could I know if Jesus would shelter me from the winds and rain, like we always sang about?
So when did those storms come?
June 2018. I was thirteen, that reckless and beautiful age. The world blossomed at my fingertips. It was a time of discovery.
But the cost of knowledge is the loss of innocence. Mine was stolen by the internet and ruthlessly dirty-minded peers.
Everyone around me didn’t take Jesus seriously. They called religion stupid, and they found the God I worshipped ridiculous. And I began to wilt. Was I ridiculous, too?
I still remember the first time I wondered if the church I grew up in had been a lie. I wanted answers; I wanted proof.
The doubts crept in, but I was ashamed of them. I thought I wasn’t saved anymore. I thought God would reject me, toss me aside, because I no longer possessed that childlike faith He asked of me.
No longer was I a “perfect” Christian. And I beat myself up for it. “You enjoy alternative music so much – why don’t you listen to the worship station anymore? You have anxiety because you don’t trust God enough. It’s all your fault. Stop your questions.”
The doubts grew, swelling like a black and desperate tide in my chest. Along with it festered shame. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I had to wrestle.
Like Jacob and the angel, I spent that summer wrestling with my questions. It was a time of growing pains, the stretching of my faith from childish innocence to true belief. And my faith survived the questions I’d been scared to ask.
I am a Christian now. I have wrestled, and I still wrestle, and I am not ashamed anymore.
I hide my faith sometimes. I don’t always let “this little light o’ mine” shine – I hide it under the bushel on occasion, for fear of being left out or misunderstood. I wish I was more confident in my faith, and I pray about it all the time, but for now, I’m okay with being imperfect. I’m okay with being scared and human and bending to peer pressure sometimes. Because I am still His child – even if I forget from time to time.
He does not.
I doubt. I lose the path. I question and question and question. I plead with God. I bare my soul to Him.
I live in this fallen world, and I am totally broken.
I am not ashamed.
Faith without doubt is blind. And there is no such thing as perfect.
So find your own way. And take your time. God can wait. No matter how broken you feel, he’ll never stop loving you.
A. Riley Vallier is a daughter of the King, a nature lover, a writer, a deep thinker, an absolute weirdo, a theatre kid, a sci fi geek, a history buff, a runner, an obsessive almond milk honey latte drinker, and a curator of fine taste in music.