A few weeks ago, my church sent out an email blast inviting those of us who felt led to send in our testimonies, presumably to be read and potentially selected to share with the congregation. My immediate reaction was one of disappointment; I thought deep down they’d never choose mine. Every single testimony I’ve heard since childhood has been wrought with trials and tribulations. Premarital pregnancies, drugs, homelessness, and even witchcraft have created the backdrop of some of the more memorable stories from the pulpit. Stories of women looking for love in all the wrong places, of men struggling to find identity in their aggression or their addictions. These are the testimonies that people want to hear. This is how God really touches people, through disaster and despair.
While this is, of course, a huge misnomer, it is often times the impression that we as Christians can give to the world. The greater the conversion, the greater God’s work; the greater His favor on said “reformed sinner’s” life. While Jesus does use the parable of forgiveness of varying debts to explain to his disciples the gratefulness of those to whom He’s extended mercy, I believe that we sometimes tend to err on the side of Hollywood when we sensationalize people’s roller coaster lives without also acknowledging or celebrating those who never strayed very far from the straight and narrow.
My life hasn’t been particularly turbulent or painful. I grew up in a very loving Christian home and asked Jesus to come into my life around the age of six or seven; I can’t remember exactly. I attended church camps, retreats, and lock-ins regularly. I signed a purity contract with my dad when I was thirteen and have maintained my commitment to wait until marriage to have sex. My parents and siblings are all living and walking with Jesus. Sure there have been times I have questioned my faith or felt like God wasn’t listening or didn’t care, but that never provoked an outburst lasting longer than a few days of going on strike from prayer or Bible reading. Once or twice I may have forgone tithing in protest.
This is in no way meant to sound prideful or suggest that I’m above a huge stumble; only through the strong support of community and God’s intense grace have I maintained a relatively peaceful, consistent relationship with him. I also don’t mean to suggest that these intense stories are in any way insincere. I’ve had my share of mess-ups and prideful, ugly moments, and I can only imagine how many people have come to know God through others sharing their painful pasts. To be able to identify and empathize with another person has been a most powerful tool to share God’s love and mercy with others.
I would like to speak to those of us who haven’t got the most exciting answer when people ask us about our relationship with God. Those of you who feel like you need to provide a disclaimer before stuttering through an explanation of your placid life. I’d like to encourage you if you were raised in a home similar to mine with parents who prayed for you and modeled their faith for you. If you hesitate when others are offering their salvation stories, it’s time now to be bold. Your story is just as much a testimony to Christ’s mercy as anyone else’s. Your life stands for the principle that faith doesn’t always provoke a struggle that has you feeling temporarily defeated: that there is something wonderful and beautiful when people embrace and walk in His love. Be proud of the generations before you who set a strong foundation to stand on. This is what we want for our own children someday, isn’t it?
I once told my mother about my frustration at not having a more impressive sounding testimony, and she promptly rebuked the notion that I should want to have some time away from God so that maybe I would appreciate Him more and in turn have something interesting to say. It’s true that I’m probably naïve when talking of pain, and I am ignorant to the heartache that comes from feeling lost or making huge life decisions, impossible to take back. I believe this is partially to do with the fact that the only time I heard a positive testimony was from my mentors, women closest to me, encouraging me over a cup of coffee when the going was getting tough and I was frustrated with life. Save for those more intimate conversations, positive testimonies were few and far between. Regardless of whether we’ve had a disastrous rebellion; we’ve all fallen short. Sin is sin. Even my best moments wouldn’t allow me entrance into Heaven with God; I am deserving of nothing but death. It is the gift of life of which I am completely unworthy that makes my story special, and just as precious as any other story of finding God.
As Christians, let’s be careful not to place a greater value on personal stories that provoke dramatic reactions, but to encourage testimony sharing by everyone in order to prevent people from hesitating before sharing their “boring” testimony. No one is born with a salvation guarantee; every single person that chooses Jesus is a miracle. When one makes the transition from death to life, it is something extraordinary and should be celebrated, no matter the context. God’s glorious love story with each of us is epic. So be bold! I know now someone may identify with my story more than another, that my testimony and my family are both remarkable in their own right. I no longer shrug my shoulders when the topic comes up, but instead am growing in boldness, ready and willing to share my lousy testimony.