In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Kathy Keller share that “[t]o be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
So, let’s get something out of the way first: I grew up in a wonderful Christian household. My father was the minister in the local church. I’ve never had that magnificent turning point or transformative revelation; the grace God showed me was in my upbringing. The way I grew up, church was family, an extended set of grannies, cousins, aunts and uncles, and big brothers; Bible stories were more important than fairy tales; and Jesus was my Friend. Without really a conscious memory of it, I remember discussing one day the need for repentance and the commitment of my life to Jesus. I felt some surprise—hadn’t I already?—and slight indignation that something that obvious had bypassed me until now, at the tender age of five or whatever it was.
Whatever bravado I may have had in Sunday school and praying before meals, the water ran deep, so that in times of trouble or death—frequent visitors to any pastor’s family—I never felt rattled or unsure. I was truthfully assured of God’s sovereign goodness. I learned to pray kneeling beside Dad, singing with Mom, for patience with my older sister, and just to chat about life. Sometimes my prayers were just compliments or thanks, especially on starry nights at the sight of the full moon.
When I came to high school, a complication came in the form of a fellow student—the only religiously atheist student in a Christian school. He was more educated in Biblical scripture and doctrines than most of the professed believers and had logic enough to befuddle even some of our teachers. Our similar talents and tastes kept the two of us in most of the same classes for those five years, and so it may be said that we spent nearly all that time arguing. That’s certainly what all our peers and teachers believed. Because he was The Enemy, I undertook as my aim to champion the cause of Christianity, certain of my superior knowledge on the subject. It was useful our having something of a friendship, whilst we debated frequently and uncompromisingly. At first, I was more interested in shouting him down and winning ground for myself, researching and memorising clever arguments. I wasted a lot of hot air and time on the vanity of being right and winning enough ground to rob him of a snappy answer.
But that time, while producing limited effects on him, taught me a lot about Christianity. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that “Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself. That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that astonished the whole world.” Leveled with the most articulately awful accusations against Christian hypocrisies and commonly conceived idiosyncrasies, I was forced to do some deep thinking and soul-searching. Suddenly, having the Sunday-school-gift-wrapped answer wasn't good enough anymore. Not only did I need to be very well versed in Christian apologetics, but I needed a thorough conviction of my own convictions. Who was God, if not the Western vending machine, or dim, cosmic deity? Is faith blind? Is it possible to be sincere in belief, but sincerely misguided? Most importantly, did this all really mean more to me than just being a "good person" (something I had been hitherto very visibly good at)?
And what I discovered, more than supporting evidence and logical debating, was that my faith in God was not piggybacking off the staunch and admirable belief of my parents. It was a conviction that grew independent of them: God was a fact, and mine was not a faith that was blind. It wasn't the easiest or the fastest lesson I've ever learned. But I did learn that I believed in a God who could not be passed over or excluded by science, a Lord who could not be diminished, cowed or made ridiculous by human logic, previous or current. Most of all, this view of God became so much bigger than the brightly illustrated books of my childhood. As my mind has grown to accommodate thornier issues, He expands in my knowledge to meet their challenge. “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger” (as Aslan said to Lucy in Prince Caspian). I always arrive at the conclusion that the Lord is still sovereign, is still impossibly holy, is still just, is still faithful, and is still Love – no matter what accusation He meets.
Utterly incredible as this truth is, it's not like that's saved me from hard knocks. I like to compare faith to a plant. Care for it, and it will grow, and all that. But plants grow differently. Some are climbers; curious little creatures, they head upwards for the sun, wavering occasionally until they find a hold, and continue on their way. I’m a pot plant, and every now and then, the bottom gets kicked out of my little pot and my little journey in the faith. I wonder whether this is it, if this is the time I’m going to fall straight through and smash on the pavement (if the pavement even exists). I've met people who have made me feel like I'm still clutching onto Santa Claus or worse, to an old-fashioned convention. There have been times when I've felt that I am sustained by no more than a bunch of Sunday School platitudes and a saintly inclination to “be a good person.” When I delight in sharing my joy in Christ with others, being dismissed as irrelevant or extreme is hard, and indifference is almost puzzling.
“’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far.” John Newton wrote those words in his most famous hymn. Grace that saved a wretch like me. While I still grow in knowledge of God, I have also become convinced of my own inadequacy. As the captain of my fate and master of my soul (and with Christ at my side), I should know how to make my life as good as possible, right? Jesus will make it all better whenever I feel out of sorts, right? Yet I have experienced a kind of deep, deep darkness and, trite as the truth may sound, I can only say that grace brought me through, because nothing I did could have saved me. It often takes acute anguish for me to pay attention to the fact that my own efforts are doomed to failure. I could not make myself happy, I could not be my best self, I could not be loving, my best motives were tainted with self-interest, and I felt disgusted and guilty – sometimes do still. Wretchedness indeed. Christ never promised an easy life, but He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Grace for Amy means that I am not without hope, and now, even now, I can still testify to the Love which sustains me. The reason I keep holding on is that I know Him. You can hear about a person, you can see "proof" of their existence, letters they've written, but you can't deny them when you know them personally. By grace you have been saved through faith. Everything changes.
At Of Larks, we believe that each of our stories uniquely exhibits God’s glory, goodness and love. We have asked each of our regular writers to share her testimony or a story of how God has worked in her life to acknowledge God’s goodness and faithfulness, give praise and honor to Christ, and introduce ourselves to our readers.