My Christian Awakening

The following testimony was sent to my friends by e-mail. We were discussing the merits of religion at the time, and I felt inclined to share this conversion story with them:

I used to think that being a Christian meant going to Church every Sunday, following a few religious obligations and trying my best to keep the Ten Commandments. As long as I did a reasonably good job of following these obligations then I was set. I'd get my one-way ticket to heaven. It didn't strike me how hollow my faith was until I had an argument with an agnostic friend of mine about why I believed in God. As she pounded me with logic arguments, scientific reasoning and her own doubts and troubles, I found my 18-year-old religion withering away under each blast of reason. That had to be the scariest moment of my entire life. My brittle shell of a faith broke in two on that day, and I found myself truly doubting the existence of God and facing a chasm of hopelessness and despair. I was thrown upon a meaningless life that was destined to end in a horrible annihilating death. Suddenly life just didn't seem to really matter. I guess in essence, my agnostic friend pushed me from "religious agnosticism" into atheism. I was in trouble; I realized that by her arguments no amount of religious "rules" could bring justification to my life and eventual death. My first reaction was stunned surprise, despair and hurt. And then I felt intense anger at her for wrecking my religion. How dare she knock down my ivory tower! But I couldn't stay angry at her for long. The vortex of meaninglessness and despair was threatening to break up my view of the world and was shaking my beliefs to the core. I understood that she had only been mirroring my own doubts and fears. I had a choice. Do I accept her seemingly logical arguments that defied the existence of God (she called him an adult's imaginary friend) or do I try something brave?

I prayed.

For the first time in my life I truly prayed with all my heart. Not knowing if my prayers were in vain, or if anyone other than myself could read my own heart or understand my sorrows and despairs. "Lord, if you truly exist, then answer my prayer. Don't leave me alone. Don't abandon me. I don't ask to understand you, just let me know that you're there and that you care. I don't love you God; I understand that now. And I'm sorry. But if you really exist, then let me love you, show me there's something more to life then just me and a fleeting existence."

The answer never came in a flash of light. I never received a sudden revelation, or the reputed "burning in the bosom". What I got was silence. Or so it seemed. For over a year, I went to church and brought that same prayer to God along with a lot of other emotions and feelings. But when I prayed to God, I now did so with honesty and fervent desperation.

To this day I don't know why I decided to seek out God. Perhaps it was fear of having my worldview re-written. Or maybe it was fear of losing that one-way ticket to heaven. But, what I do know is that it changed my life. I came to realize that beneath the fear and despair and the turmoil lay a tiny flame of hope. I felt a gentle tug at my heart that lead me to seek out something beyond myself, and beyond my passions and desires. My faith slowly dawned in me, and I came to truly understand Jesus as a friend I could trust, and someone who would look at my sins and failings and say: "Yes, I know. I understand. I forgive you, and I truly love you."

I saw everything in a new light, and I began to sing at church in love and joy rather than observe a seemingly boring ritual every Sunday. I began to see the true meaning and faith behind the church and all of its Sacraments. And I saw sin in a new light. Not as disobedience of some archaic rules, but as a slap in the face of someone who was only trying to reach out and guide me to something grander and far more fulfilling then anything I could achieve on my own merits. Jesus was only trying to love me. Over a year after my break from my religion, I embraced true faith and came to understand the Catholic Church as a true community of Jesus, and not as an organization of rules that bring you to heaven. I brought my sins before a priest in the sacrament of Confession and received the forgiveness of Jesus for my selfishness and for the sins that generated from that selfishness. I emerged with true faith, but only after having my preconceptions demolished and this Catholic truth imprinted in my heart: It is faith in God, hope in his promises, love for him, others and myself and the saving crucifixion of Jesus that justify me as a true believer and child of God.

I still stumble on the path, and sometimes the pain of sinning again hurts even more, because I understand now what that pain really means. But instead of leaving the Church, or failing to go to mass, or quitting my prayer life, out of feelings of hypocrisy, I remember my falling away experience and bring my frustrations back to Jesus. I realize now that Jesus did not come into the world to admonish the sinner and praise the saint but to save the sinner and bring him back into the flock. I hope my story will help you reflect on your own faith lives. It certainly comes down to the tiny thread that we all cling to: faith. But how powerful that thread is! It certainly proved to change my life for the better.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."--John 3:16

--Your brother in Christ,
S.M.M.

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