I was the fourth of five children. Maybe I picked up my “go with the flow” style from having two older sisters and an older brother. I quickly learned that the best way to be happy was to stay out of trouble and the best way to do that was to do whatever other people expected of me. I don’t believe that anymore… but, I have to confess that it is still my default game plan when I let myself run on “auto pilot”.
So, as a boy I embraced faith in Jesus and the Bible as God’s word I think mostly because that is what I was expected to do. Really, as I think about it now as I have completed the first half century of my life, I have spent most of my time living up to other people’s expectations. What a trap! But, I am learning how to be free.
I did pray “the sinner’s prayer” when I was eight or nine years old. I don’t remember exactly. You can’t find the sinners prayer anywhere in the Bible by the way. So, whatever you need to say to God about your own mess is your business. It will still be the sinners prayer and it qualifies 🙂
I was raised to believe that once I prayed the “sinners prayer” admitting my sins to God and asking Him to forgive me, I could then feel completely secure that He would do just that and He would also purify me from all guilt and dirtiness. That was amazing to me! Best of all I wouldn’t have to go to hell. That place of torment was reserved for the devil, his angels and everyone who didn’t pray the prayer! I can’t remember anyone saying those exact words to me. But, that’s the way I saw it. Even though I wasn’t sure I was going to like heaven I was fully convinced that hell was out of the question.
This was all happening of course in the emotional (and probably psychological) storm of discovering that I might not get to be with God or my family (I was convinced they would all make it) in Eternity. Pretty confusing stuff! But there was one more “mind twisting” hurdle for me.
As I listened to Christians around me talk and I tried to listen to my dad’s sermons a belief was engraved on my mind. From what I could gather, my family and my church believed that once I had become part of God’s family in His kingdom, I could still be bounced out of there if I committed sins and didn’t get them confessed and forgiven right away.
So, as I gained more independence and had more chances to do things my parents didn’t now about which were sinful and then had to lie to cover it up, I was sure that I had been expelled from God’s family more times than I could count. Throughout my teen years I would let sin and guilt stack up until I couldn’t handle it, knowing that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I don’t know how I became such an authority on my own status in God’s kingdom. But, I was pretty sure of myself and I was confident I had walked away.
So, when the terror of going to hell and/or the heavy load of guilt got to be too much I would come clean to my parents and God of course and get reinstated as part of the family of God again. It sounds so strange now. But, that was the way I experienced my relationship with God.
Mixing this very insecure approach to knowing God with my game plan of staying out of trouble by simply living up to everyone’s expectations turned me into a “Chameleon”. The definition of a chameleon is:
“a small slow-moving Old World lizard with a prehensile tail,
long extensible tongue, protruding eyes that rotate independently
and a highly developed ability to change colour.”
That was me. I had a highly developed ability to change colour! This is where my two names came in handy. Dana became the worldly “unchurchy” party guy with my school friends and Dan became the clean living, polite, Christian young man. I began to realize that I really wasn’t either of them. But, I couldn’t seem to let go and share that with anyone except for a few of my friends (who had no idea what they were doing either) and as I mentioned before I felt I could open up a bit with my sister Dawn. Somehow I knew she understood and would never reject me.
What I didn’t know is I was never rejected by my family or God. I wasn’t expelled or bounced out of His kingdom at all. Jesus was with me every step and every minute of each day. I just didn’t know it was him.
to be continued…