I think we’re afraid of boring faith. Boring faith doesn’t sell books or movies and certainly doesn’t hold an audience at a youth group testimonial event. It doesn’t create a buzz around us and it isn’t generally the topic of many sermons. No one ever wrote “The cross and my homework” or “Finding Jesus after many years of thought.”
At the purple church, we celebrated the radical transformations that took place when people met Jesus. We cried with the young woman who told of her past abortion and reconciliation with her parents. We amen-ed the man who had quit smoking crack cold turkey because he heard the Gospel. Christians, like everyone else, are suckers for a blockbuster.
Being surrounded by people who celebrate dramatic changes, I thought my own story was boring. My family was a Christian family. We moved a little bit and my dad and mom went to counseling. My brothers and I spent afternoons playing together with neighborhood friends. The worst thing I struggled with (other than general apathy) was watching a PG movie when my parents told me I was not allowed to. I lied a few times and got caught a few times. But other than those minor infractions, I didn’t have the same compelling story. I prayed to “receive Jesus into my heart” when I was five and it’s not like I was a heroin addict or prostitute before that. When people asked me what difference my faith made in my life, I did not have a real answer.
I think a lot of Christian kids struggle with that. I know I personally wanted to rebel, to stray, to react against the perfect suburban life that I lived. And by making my struggles a little bigger or more dramatic, it was as if I had. My story became one of lies, to a great extent, of changing my story to pretend I had been such a terrible person that it was a miracle Jesus accepted me, but not terrible enough for people to judge me. That is the key to a good testimony: share a few struggles, embellish them to legitimate the grace you experienced, but remain within the acceptable boundaries. For girls, it is easy to mention an eating disorder- something many of my friends claimed to share. I think out of my twelve friends who claimed it, three could have been legitimately diagnosed. But no one would share that she was having sex with her boyfriend. For boys, I have heard testimonies of struggling with lust and peer pressure to drink. But again, no one would admit to bigger sins like looking at internet pornography or masturbating. But our stories all ended the same way, when we found Jesus, we quit doing such terrible things.
I think we also neglected to think about the amount of guilt and shame that our peers with great testimonies faced. By exaggerating my story, I was envying something that I should not have. I spoke with a friend of mine recently whose college girlfriend had gotten pregnant and had an abortion. It’s been a long time since that happened but he regularly deals with the guilt. The girl who cuts herself or with her finger down her throat in the cafeteria bathroom probably isn’t thinking, “When I find Jesus, this will make for some compelling sermon.” As Christian kids, we do not realize how lucky we are to have avoided much of the truly scarring events of these “great” testimonies. To experience a change like these people have requires many years of pain and loneliness. In my aggrandizement of my own story, I trivialized their suffering.
At the same time though, by changing my own story to one of sudden transformation, I lied to everyone around me. It is not the dramatic change that I want to hear about- the cold turkey quitting of heroin or the desire to leave a gang after twenty years because you found Jesus. I don’t even like the people who say that after they found Jesus, their entire lives got better. They usually don’t. My friends who were having sex with their boyfriends before they found Jesus, generally do the same thing, at least for awhile, after their conversions. The people who drank underage before their conversion generally still drink. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to quit being depressed and self-critical. It took months of work and I still see a counselor and take medicine. Our adoration of these sudden change stories is drawing an unrealistic portrait of faith.
If faith was only about getting us to be good people rather than the bad people we were, no one would care. And no one would want to join. I certainly wouldn’t. I don’t think Jesus died for my sins so I could quit using curse words and lusting after anyone. I do believe he changes us- but I didn’t suddenly quit resenting my perfect, talented brother. It took years. But none of us want to admit that we still hate ourselves or others, that we still judge other people around us, that we are not the perfect people deserving grace and mercy. We think that the only compelling thing about Jesus is his ability to turn someone’s life around 180 degrees. We don’t believe people will want to know a God who turns us a few degrees at a time, and even then doesn’t force us to be different.
It’s as if somehow we don’t think the mere fact that Jesus has invaded our lives is exciting enough.