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Grief AND thankfulness in my conversion story

Lynne Baab • Friday January 3 2020

Grief AND thankfulness in my conversion story

I have three ways of talking about what happened to me at 19. Most often, I say I became a committed Christian then. Sometimes I say I came back to the Christian faith, and occasionally I say I became a Christian then. I may not be clear on how to describe it, but I am so grateful for God’s call to me.

I attended church almost every Sunday of my childhood. My dad was a faithful Episcopalian, and my mom fell in line with his commitment. Because my dad was in the military, we moved A LOT (12 houses in my first 15 years). One of the sources of stability for me as a child was the consistency of the Episcopal worship service. By the time I was confirmed, at age 11, I knew both the Morning Prayer and Communion services by heart.

My parents asked me if I wanted to be confirmed, and I said yes. I had a clear and meaningful faith at that point. I loved pondering the mystery of Trinity. I loved one of the scriptures I heard in the service many Sundays: “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28). I loved the prayer of humble access before communion, complete with crumbs under the communion table:

“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy” (from The Book of Common Prayer). 

Sadly, that moment of confirmation, near the end of sixth grade, was the high point of my childhood faith. At the end of sixth grade, we moved again, and the next couple of churches did not help me develop my faith at all. They had youth Sunday school. No longer was I in church, where I could hear that amazing liturgy, as I had been for most of my first 11 years. Now I was in tepid Sunday school classes where the things of God were watered down and frankly boring.

At 16, I began to volunteer with very young children at church, so I could please my parents by being physically present at church, but avoid both Sunday school and the worship service. It all meant nothing to me, and by 18, I decided I was an atheist. I was determined to live that way, and lo and behold, it didn’t work very well. Despite my growing realization that life without God wasn’t very satisfying, I had lots and lots of questions about Christianity.

When I visited L’Abri Fellowship in Huemoz, Switzerland at age 19 over All Saints weekend, I was astonished to find that my most significant questions about Christianity were answered. I was studying in France at the time, and I left for Christmas vacation in Germany and Scandinavia not a Christian and returned to France three weeks later a Christian. I don’t know when the change happened, but one significant factor was a Christmas eve service in Bergen, Norway. Being back in church, seeing the candles lit against the darkness, hearing the stories about Jesus’ birth, and singing Christmas carols felt like coming home.

On the long train ride back to France, I kept thinking about my favorite parts of the Communion and Morning Prayer liturgies that I had known by heart. Many sentences and whole prayers came back to me, and they seemed so true.

I am so grateful for God’s goodness to me, giving me the strong foundation of those beautifully written liturgies that capture so much biblical truth, and giving me that visit to L’Abri Fellowship where I had so many questions answered. I am so thankful for that feeling of homecoming in the church in Bergen. I am so grateful that Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enabled me to see him and desire to follow him. What a gift. Loving and following Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. How full my heart is.

Did I become a Christian for the first time at 19? Or did I come back to a faith that had been very real to me at age 11? I have no idea.

But I grieve. I feel deeply sad about those Sunday school classes that turned me away from God. I grieve that no one in my teen years – parents, ministers, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, friends – was able to talk about God in a way that helped me grow in faith.

I grieve for the seven years when my heart turned away from God. I wonder how much of my teenage angst would have been different if I had had Jesus by my side and the Holy Spirit giving me strength and guidance. I still live with some of the negative fruit in my life that dates back to those years. How different would it have been if I had been a Christian?

I grieve for the loss of those seven years. And I am grateful that God found me – or found me again – at 19.

Next week Grief AND thankfulness: The role of lament. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting newsubscribers. Sign up below to receive an email every time I post on this blog.

My book on this topic – Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Lifenow available as an audiobook as well as paperback and kindle.

An article I wrote for the Godspace Blog, describing my ten year journey to understand what exactly hope is: Entering the New Year and New Decade with Hope

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