I was born with a table of faith neatly set in front of me. A family full of ministers and involved laity.
People like me don't have conversion stories.
Most of us didn't "see the light" - and in the United Methodist Church? The church of my upbringing? We are baptized and later confirmed . . . not "saved." So most of us don't have that "second birthday" feeling about embracing our faith like some people do. It's a difference of terminology, yes, and you could argue that the confirmation experience in the Methodist church probably feels like the "saving" experience in other churches . . . but I don't remember my moment of confirmation.
What do I remember?
I remember praying when my dad had a heart attack. I was an 8th grade student at the time. I remember standing on the porch telling God that He'd better fix my dad and get him better or I would never talk to Him again.
So I must've believed that God was there. Right?
Sometime in college, when I really did have a sense of faith in God, I became disenchanted with the way people around me were talking about Jesus.
Notice that I didn't say I became disenchanted with Jesus.
No. It was how people were talking about him. Like they were gossiping about him. It bothered me because in my deepest heart I had known Jesus as something close to me rather than far . . . and so many of the words people were speaking made me feel far from Jesus.
He was King Jesus. He was going to fix things and make them perfect. He was going to come and get the people who didn't agree. He was going to separate the good people from the bad people. He died, and didn't we all feel sorry for our original, inborn, involuntary sin???
Back up about 5 years before that. I'm in my early teens and I'm all alone in the cavernous sanctuary of my home church in Knoxville, TN. All alone in there. But I'm not alone. In fact, I can almost see this presence of God hovering around me. But I didn't have a sense of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit being these separate things, or even things I could pick and choose apart from each other. It was just a Holy Presence. And it was close to me. Where did that go? That feeling of closeness?
I felt like all of these talkers were trying to name drop about Jesus.
But I didn't understand the feeling at the time. Hindsight is always better. I just knew that I didn't want to talk about Jesus anymore.
Everybody was talking about Jesus - they were trying to out talk each other . . . like a holy upon holy competition for being the most connected to the savior. My husband has a memory of sitting in a class amongst a gaggle of religion majors in college and being horrified at the bitter arguing and condescension he witnessed between them. Words of discord flying in every direction.
With all of that baggage weighing down the name of my old friend . . . my Saving One . . . I just didn't feel like I could talk about him anymore. I still talked about God. I still talked to God. But I didn't talk about Jesus for a long time.
It's always the same with me - it takes something meant for little children to teach me different.
A few years ago, still ankle deep in these feelings of disappointment and separation, I ran across this song in a hymnal while looking for Christmas tunes for a children's choir. I'd forgotten all about it.
"Jesus our brother, strong and good . . ."
Jesus had been like my brother. My human connection to the Person of God. And I can remember recovering a glimpse of that familial comfort when reading "The Shack" during grad school.
It was almost like having him whisper in my ear, "I'm still here, Sarah. I'm not so untouchable. Don't let them scare you."
"Johnny was born with a steeple over his head."
The song might as well say, "Sarah was born with a steeple over her head."
I got it wrong. And other people got it wrong. And we're all going to get it wrong again and again.
But Jesus is our "brother strong and good," and he teaches us how to forgive. We forgive ourselves and each other. We forgive whole institutions that have let us down.
I have a secret to tell you . . . . I still don't pray to Jesus.
I pray to God.
I pray to God because Jesus, the very best and first of my teachers, taught me how to pray . . . and he told me to pray to "my Father who is in heaven." Incidentally, Jesus also taught me about the kingdom of heaven and loving the least of these - but that's a story for another day.
What I do?
I do talk to Jesus. And I talk about Jesus when I feel that the Holy Spirit is nudging me to do so. But I do that carefully and always try to do it honestly.
I do look to the example of Jesus.
I do praise Jesus just as I praise the rest of the Trinity - because I don't know where I'd be without all three of my closest loved ones.
Jesus didn't come here to fix all my problems or make my life perfect. I still have panic attacks. I still have family problems here and there. I still have bad days when I'm grouchy and judgmental. I still have bad stuff happen with my health, my car, and sometimes work doesn't go well for me. But Jesus is always there with me. The whole Trinity is always there with me. Father guiding me. Spirit helping me. Jesus teaching me.
It's ok, friends, to be a person who has struggled with what on earth should be said of Jesus. We can struggle with Jesus all we want. He won't mind. God and the Holy Spirit are ok with it, too. I'm pretty sure. You can check the Bible if you want. A few affirmative examples come to mind.
When little children ask me what I think of Jesus, I tell them, "He's my teacher who loves me."
He's my brother who teaches me.