I’m reading John Piper’s Finally Alive, about the biblical concept of being born again, and thinking about my own story – thinking about it again in the light of what he’s bringing out in the book, how even that first spark of faith is a gift from God, not our own doing, and I’m thinking: I guess in my case it was a very very long and convoluted birth.
I understand that for some people it’s a pretty instant thing – hearing/reading a message which God uses to convict them of their sinfulness and show them they need the Saviour, responding with repentance and, hey, new life! In my case it was so so so not like that… But then I guess some births are longer and more complicated than others. Sometimes it’s to do with the position of the baby, sometimes it’s because the midwife gets it wrong – I’m thinking that in my case it was a bit of both.
I absolutely have forgiven the midwife – by which I mean that pastor I spoke to back in 1990, the guy who had a series of chats with me to “prepare me for baptism” as he understood it, and who then, one Sunday morning, sprinkled water on my head and said the words in the book and, after I said yes in the right places, declared that it was done, I was a Christian now. I know he was acting on his own limited understanding, and I don’t hold it against him. I just feel really really sad when I think about it – when I think about how long and convoluted my rebirth was, and find myself wondering what if…
But there’s no point in “what if”s, things did happen the way they did and I’m just thankful that God got me there in the end, despite muddled midwives. It was in 2002 that it finally happened – and yes, it was a gift from God, it was God making it clear to me, which kind of reminds me of a quote included in this book I’m reading, a quote from CS Lewis describing his own rebirth on the way to Whipsnade Zoo (in his autobiographical book Surprised By Joy):
I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. And yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion… It was more like a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awoken.
But as I typed this here now I noticed that he refers to it as “the final step” and I remind myself that I mustn’t forget that there was probably plenty of wrestling before that. So while there was a moment when the final step happened, there was probably a long labour leading up to that birth.
In my own case, looking back, it seems to me that the process started back in late 1989 when I accompanied my then girlfriend to church and, to my surprise, felt a very strong desire to go back to that church. So I kept going back – not really knowing at the time how to explain it… It wasn’t that I loved the people so much, or the songs, or anything in particular about what they were doing – it’s that there was a presence of someone there who was quietly drawing me to him.
Then there was the sudden desire to read the Bible, so I bought one and read the four Gospels (where did I get the idea of starting there? that must have been God’s work too) and then, when I’d finished reading them, there was that total conviction that what I’d just read was the truth – another gift from God, another step along the way.
What do I think should have happened then? What would have happened if I was making up a nice story? Oh, never mind, it didn’t happen and that’s that – I can’t turn the clock back. What did happen? I went to see the pastor, to talk about what happens next – I was convinced that Jesus was of God, that his teachings were good, that what I saw then as “the Christian religion” was a good thing and I wanted in on it. We had a series of chats – it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember what we talked about, all I know is that I didn’t end up with an understanding of what Jesus died for, why I needed a Saviour, why I needed to be reborn. It was very much like someone attending meetings of a political party, being impressed with their leader, reading the party manifesto and saying: yes, I agree with all this and I want to become a party member; and I commit to living according to the party’s principles from now on.
As if I could, without being born again.
The very next day after my so-called baptism, I was committing serious sin. Knowingly – but oh, yes, very half-heartedly, which, thinking about it now, I see as a sign that labour had begun. I was no longer comfortable with sinning, and part of me really wanted to stop – but I didn’t have the courage to trust God in the way that part of me really wanted to. It was like there was this new me sort of sprouting but the world around me was stifling her, and by “the world around me” I sadly don’t mean just people outside the church. There are sadly plenty of people who go to church and call themselves Christians who are not born again. And so, while part of me was really wanting to fully trust God for everything and to take the Bible as true – because that’s what God was telling me! – I was hearing so much “take it with a pinch of salt” from others around me, I just didn’t have the courage to stand up against all that.
So for twelve years I was living this weird in-between life, one foot here and one foot there – on the one hand, I was sincerely wanting to get to know God better and to live a life that is pleasing to him; on the other hand, I was doing stuff that most people around me could see didn’t add up with my claims to being a Christian (but I was so good at rationalising it!), and deep down inside I kept feeling that something pretty major was missing.
And that discomfort – that too was a gift from God. It was his way of prodding me and nagging me so that I wouldn’t stay in my unsaved state forever. Tough love is a love that doesn’t leave you in a comfortable mess, it’s a love that says: come on, this place isn’t good for you, wake up and get out!
Eventually, in 2002, he got me there. Thank you, God, for your amazing patience, for watching over me even when I was being so utterly disobedient, and for, eventually, bringing me out of the darkness into your kingdom of true light. And thank you for good and faithful midwives who were there at that final stage – those who faithfully cut the cord in the biblical way, baptising me for real.
I love you, Jesus. Thank you that you first loved me.