I am in a clearing, a clearing in the middle of a vast, thick, nearly impenetrable forest. Behind me there is little evidence of the path I have created to get to this place, just the smallest of openings, nearly hidden by undergrowth and the slender branches of trees. Cutting through the forest was a difficult task, but not unpleasant. I felt comforted by the close confines of the lush greenery. There was much within the forest to sustain me, so I did not go hungry and I was never thirsty. Now that I have reached this clearing, however, I feel different.
Though I was comforted by the shelter provided by the trees, the sudden openness, while overwhelming, is also joyously freeing. I can run and tumble and play in ways I was not able to before, secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing I can injure myself on, here in this clearing. And though I never went hungry during my time in the forest, the hard work of travel has left me famished, but here, in the clearing, miraculously, there is a meal laid out just for me. Most amazing of all, however, is that though I had journeyed (I thought) alone through the forest, when I arrive in the clearing, where there is enough light and enough space, I can see that I was not alone at all.
I cannot properly describe my heart’s movement of late. There aren’t any concrete words I can put to how I have felt and what I’ve thought in the privacy of my soul that I can write here. My closest approximation, in finding my love for God and for his Son, is this idea of a long journey through the forest and finally coming upon some miraculous clearing. I have somehow discovered it, or perhaps it discovered me.
I have actively avoided identifying as a Christian since middle school. Actively. As my awareness of the world, other options in worshipping God, and the grave injustices perpetrated by so-called Christians grew, my desire to be other grew, too. Besides that, I didn’t come from a particularly religious household, and my parents, though perhaps tentative, permitted my curiosity and desire to practice whatever religion I chose.
They believed then, as I believe now, that many paths can lead to one destination.
But, I couldn’t settle on one path, so I tended toward creating my own, machete-ing my way through the thick forest of organized (and disorganized) religion. I truly do not believe there is anything wrong about this, but it’s damn exhausting, confusing, easy to get lost, and for someone who thrives on structure, incredibly unhelpful. I knew my struggle was a sign that something had to change in my heart.
Besides, Jesus kept showing up. In my car, mostly, but also at very low moments, too. In the bathroom at my grandmother’s house as she sat in the next room, dying, would be one example. He kept showing up, kept reminding me that no matter what I thought, he was still there, waiting to see if I might join him.
Christians kept showing up, too. My husband and his family. Quietly, unobtrusively, my mother. Colleagues, who prayed for me. Close friends from every formative moment in my life. Students and acquaintances and strangers on the internet or authors of books I’m reading. They all kept professing their faith in such loving ways that I became like a child on the other side of a toy shop window, nose pressed up against the glass and looking in at all the good things I wanted, but thought for sure I couldn’t have.
But God kept showing up for me.
I’m not interested in writing about my personal theology. In part, because I am an infant in this, and also because my own ideas about how I want to be a Christian are so odd and so deeply shaped by what I have learned during my journey through the forest that it would require more vulnerability than I have to share it. All that matters to me, as I write this, is that I can say I have Christ in my heart. Though it feels strange to say that, to type it, to admit it, it doesn’t feel wrong or foreign. It feels good. And any hang-ups I have, any shyness about it, comes from my own flaws as a human being, my own worries about what others think, and I know that with time, that will go away.
I have Christ in my heart, and I am excited to learn more about myself in this faith. I realize that though I have been baptized and confirmed, received communion any number of times, sang from hymnals, recited verse and prayers, even in front of entire congregations, up until this moment, I have never been Christian.
But I am now.