My Quest Of Faith: A Testimony
"I remain embittered at the establishment of it, the reputation built on the tongues of those who abhor it, but amidst my crimes—those against my own heart—I sit idle. I feel forever in their company, as I once felt forever in His."
-From the pages of my diary, 3.24.14
I grew up jaded about my faith.
My earliest memories are of the reflection of sunlight through multicolored stain glass, how it cast triangles of red and green along the worship room floor. I would gaze at them throughout sermons, trying not to fall asleep on my mother's arm. Since preschool, I had attended a Christian private school with my older sister, one that my family made an effort to be heavily involved in. My grandfather was a reputable deacon of the church and my cousin, the worship service singer. In my young mind, there was little difference between church and school, especially considering the steeples that were visible through my classroom window. My friends and I attended Bible class every morning, chapel every Thursday afternoon, and were expected to go to Sunday school each weekend with consistent vigor.
Faith was entwined throughout our education as less a subject of study and more the core of it, the foundation from which all other learning sprung. Among my peers, the go-to accessory at the early age of seven was a fashionable Bible bag, its contents a monogrammed New King James edition, highlighters, and animal crackers. At school, I believed in whatever I was told to believe in, and at home, I left my thoughts of faith with my backpack by the door. For over a decade, the same mantras of W.W.J.D., "What Would Jesus Do," were drilled into me, even though many of my classmates used it as a tool for judgment and an excuse to get what they wanted from others.
My parents were always encouraging and imbibed warmth in the Bible stories they read to my sister and I, but as I grew older, I became wary of what it all truly meant. The lessons we were taught in weekly sermons never seemed to transfer over into our daily lives or percolate through our behaviors until a sudden change occurred, the way I expected they should. With every passing year, friends turned to bullies. Chapel became the social hour when crushes could be made known to each other, a subtle passing of notes from pew to pew. Vulnerable and often pensive, I watched from a silent corner as the world seemed to shift from my perspective. When my bullies outnumbered my friends, which resulted in their parents snubbing my parents, my sister and I moved to public school and left our childhoods behind.
For years, I tried to bury my past entanglements with commercialized religion. I sat through weekend church services begrudgingly, sinking lower into the pew as my old classmates filed into the rows behind my family and I. A persistent cloud hung over my perception of Christianity because of the experiences I carried around with me in shame. I hated my past and the people that were a part of it. At the same time, I was increasingly becoming aware of the cliché my faith was to many others. I took notice of the people around the world who often weaponized Christianity, warped its values for their own gain, and transformed it into a thing of laughable hypocrisy. Wanting desperately to abandon my past and feel, for once, like I fit in, I began to go in search of other things to anchor my life to and became silent on all things pertaining to faith.
I remained this way throughout my time in college. I sought love and friendships from people I knew would encourage me to shirk my family's values, but in the inevitable heartbreak that followed, I kept my faith as a backup for comfort and respite. I moved away from home, adopted new patterns of living, and my relationship with my family became increasingly strained. Among the friends I now dubbed my new family, I rarely spoke of my faith, but when I did, I faced unparalleled criticism. Even though I choose to respect all individuals’ religions and those without faith, among the people I surrounded myself with, it seemed painfully more difficult to respect me for mine. When my new lifestyle wrought great difficulties and even greater criticism of how I chose to cope with it all, my beliefs became my secret, something sacred and wholly personal, as I didn’t want to become so jaded by others' opinions that I stopped believing entirely.
But this time last year, that all changed.
Consumed by an environment in which I could no longer recognize myself, it took me months to realize that I was being abused by someone who claimed to love me, and the friends I thought were my family could barely muster up a few words in my defense, so weak was their own perception of love. In my devastation, I began to look around me at the people I knew, the places we went, and the memories we were making that never seemed to be worth the guilt. I saw the faces of the people who called themselves my generation, and it seemed to me that every day, we were living a catastrophic lie: destroying ourselves for fun, psychologically hurting each other because it was trendy—ignorant and driven by the basest kind of desires and doing it all as if we didn’t know any better, as if our parents wouldn’t cringe at the reality of who we’d become.
It was mind-numbing.
So I went home. And as I grew accustomed to the loss of those relationships, I began to retrace my life. I spent time with my parents, searching for something inexplicable, and turned back to my childhood, where my quest of faith first began. When I could no longer stand the burden of my past, I carried it to the doors of a community I had often heard of from others, one that seemed welcoming and indiscriminate. In my best clothes, I sat myself down in a pew for the first time in what seemed like lifetimes, and in the shadow of all my former selves, I forced myself to listen to wisdom greater than my own. Severely uncomfortable and suspicious of every word, I forced myself to listen to all the lessons I had shunned in my youth and with every breath, little by little, the restlessness inside me stilled. Even though it still felt uncool to believe in God, to me, the hymns that were sung that day were forgotten lullabies at a time when I most needed to be reminded of childhood.
It wasn't a sudden epiphany or magical fix of all that was broken, but I realized in that moment that faith would always be more to me than a Bible verse in an Instagram bio or a trend I’d eventually cast aside. I knew, at the core of who I was, that if I didn’t live my life a certain way, I would be wasting it. I would be continuously trying to save myself from perils too vast to overcome alone. Above all else, I knew that my life wasn't given to me freely. It wasn't mine to do with as I pleased, satisfy every desire and hope things worked out for the best because I did good things and was a nice person along the way. I looked back at the life I'd already lived and began to notice God's handprint in everything. I had just been choosing to ignore it because ignorance was easier. To a live a life of faith, you have to look at yourself in the mirror.
With every passing day, I slowly began to familiarize myself with the feeling of peace, and after several months, subtle hope. I reread stories I had abandoned to my childhood coloring books, made friends that once intimidated me for their seeming perfection, and conditioned my mind to rewire itself so that I could try to live a better life, so that I could break old habits that only led to pain. I still felt the weight of my guilt and of all of the burdens I carried, but somehow, whatever I was doing, however small, felt worth it. My shame lessened and my joy for life grew. Even so, I remained silent.
The pieces of my life slowly began to meld together, and I kept my head up, fighting to regain stability. Everything shifted back into place, and I watched myself take hold of the power I had lost, growing stronger every day and seemingly invincible. I applied for more jobs than I thought I could feasibly handle, and when I was hired at each of them, I somehow managed to balance them anyway, then rose to successes I never believed were possible. I made new friends that taught me more about life and love than I'd ever known, who showed me kindness and loyalty and made me proud to stand beside them. I grew closer with my family and began to appreciate my upbringing for the first time in years. I no longer held resentment for the people that made me face the reality of darkness—more than anything, I was grateful to them. But still, I remained silent.
And I'm sick of silence.
I'm sick of being afraid of the joke I could become, of being politically correct in a society that frowns on talking about religion, one that believes the very word "religion" has a negative connotation. I'm sick of feeling like I need to prove something, like I have to have immeasurable knowledge of the Bible so I can defend myself in faith-related arguments, like I need to possess a reason why. It's taken me all my life thus far, but I finally realize that there is no explanation, and I need no defense. These days, I spend my time looking back on all of the vast obstacles I have overcome, and the miracle of it is facing my reflection now with pride, knowing I am becoming the person I always strived to be—and that is solely because of my faith. Because of a single understanding: I am loved. No matter what I say or do, I am unconditionally and irrevocably loved by someone who endured indescribable abuse so that I could be brave enough to write these words.
Someone who, despite the mockery his name has become, remains an overwhelming force in this world thousands of years after he died.
Because of his love, I get the honor of living an extraordinary life, and in the simplest of exchanges, I tell my story. So here I am. I'm writing this thinking I would never be able to put it into words and terrified to proclaim it publicly. But I’m a writer, and this is my journey, perhaps the most important one of my life. This is my testimony, and as I look onward to a year much brighter than the last, as I look around at a life that astounds me for its abundance of love, joy, and forgiveness, I leave it here for you—for everyone—with the hope that if, one day, you see a lighted path, you'll take it.
As for me, at my church, the motto is “Love God, Love People, Change the World.”
With these words and all those yet to be written, that’s what I intend to do.