by Kelly Johnson
When I was growing up, I sometimes felt like I didn’t fit in at church. I never doubted God’s love and presence, but I didn’t feel very good at being a church kid. I wanted to be a good Christian, but I didn’t know if I could ever be like the “good Christians” I thought I was supposed to emulate.
As an adolescent, I participated in a training program on sharing my faith in the most effective way. Effectiveness, in this case, was measured by the number of people who made a decision to be “saved” at the end of the presentation. Turned out I was really good at it. I memorized all the lines and the Scriptures easily. I was a naturally persuasive person, and I wasn’t afraid to speak in front of people. I was chosen to be the youth representative who performed this newly acquired skill for the adults. They put me on a stage and had me do my thing in a role-play. I remember feeling very torn. I enjoyed the accolades I received from the adults, but I simultaneously felt like the biggest fake in the world.
On one hand, I knew all the things in the scripted presentation were true. On the other hand, I would never in a million years share my faith with one of my friends in a mechanical, hard-sell, fear-provoking way. It simply wasn’t me. By that point in my life, I had already experienced the joy and privilege of seeing some of my friends come to know this amazing God that I loved. Any part God allowed me to play in the process was based on my love for my friend and through sharing my faith authentically, something that meant everything to me. They in turn saw that I was excited about God, they saw me find peace in the storms that were erupting in my life during that time, and they wanted to know more. They saw in me, and also in my mom, a real-life relationship with Jesus. I didn’t have to sell them or scare them. I just shared what I knew to be true for me, with no strings attached.
But I was confused. I committed myself to God over and over again, thinking that I hadn’t quite gotten it right because I still wasn’t like “them.” I wanted to be a “good Christian,” but some of the religious people to whom I was looking for guidance seemed to have ideas that didn’t feel right to me. I acted one way with my “church” friends and another way with my other friends, trying to be who I thought everyone wanted me to be but only succeeding in feeling guilty about the ways I could never measure up, the ways I didn’t really fit in with either group. I was, in many ways, too wild and free-spirited to fit in with the “religious” kids and yet too crazy about Jesus to feel at home with the wild kids. Like many adolescents, I didn’t know which one was the “real” me.
This is no condemnation of the churches where I began my journey with God. I learned to love God’s word in my adolescent church home and I am grateful for the many ways I was nurtured within that community. My point is that I was confused about who or what I was called to obey. God never meant for me to be a carbon copy of the religious people I saw around me. God never intended for me to change the way He made me in order to become some sanitized version of myself that appeared holier and more proper. I was simply called to follow Him.
I eventually found my way to a different understanding of obedience. More accurately, God was patient with me as He slowly revealed what I needed to hear in order to begin to understand the connection between obedience and peace, the connection between a habit of obedience and the freedom to be exactly who God made me to be.
As I have gotten older, I am coming to understand this: the obedience for which we are created is simply a daily, minute-by-minute conversation with the God who made us and loves us. “What next, God?” “Now what, God?” “I can’t do this alone, Jesus.” “I’m sorry I messed up again, God.” “I’m scared.” “Thank you for these blessings, God.” “Help me to help them, Jesus.” “I love you too, God.”
It seems the path to peace is found through relationship rather than religion, just as Jesus said.
Kelly Johnson is a counselor, writer, speaker, and advocate. She leads a weekly Bible study and serves as chair of the board of directors at a local shelter for the homeless. Married to her high school sweetheart, she is the mom of two college-age daughters. Kelly writes about life, faith, and her newly empty nest at kellyjohnsongracenotes.com.
Photograph used with permission from, and copyright of, Michelle Lenger.