I was sitting in the center of the sanctuary, four rows from the back. I wore a green plaid skirt (slightly too short), white blouse, and black shoes. My clammy hands fidgeted with the worn out Bible in my lap. My heart was racing. With each breath I was engulfed further into His presence. His love beckoned me closer to Him. I know Him. I always have. Yet, a battle was raging in my mind.
“Every head bowed.”…God, I already know you!
“Every eye closed.”…I’ve been to church my whole life!
“If that’s you today“…Why are You doing this to me?!
“And you want to declare Jesus the Lord of your life.”….No, I can’t. I’m fine.
“Please lift your hand up in the air; I want to pray with you.”…
I just sat there. I knew He wanted me to choose Him for myself. And with that, church ended and the spirit lifted. I was left only with the bitter taste of denial. The rooster crowed… I had betrayed my first love.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the Father willfully gave the boy his inheritance knowing he would leave, and ultimately lose everything. That day, as I sat in church, God handed me my inheritance to do with it as I pleased. Out of His great love for me, He bestowed on me something worth more than rubies, gold, and all the money in the world…Choice.
The choice I made that day was not without consequence. With each step I took from my Father’s house, I continued to betray God. The early pleasures of sin quickly changed to bondage. Truth was clouded, and I became only a façade of what I had once been. I continued to go through the motions of Christianity; yet, in my heart I was getting further and further from Him. I sensed His grace, allowing me to find my way. Like the father watching for the return of his son, I knew He was waiting for me. But, I felt only worthy of the pigs.
Everyone who reads the story of Adam and Eve wonders why they ate the fruit. They had it all. They walked with God and lived in paradise. In reality, they were in good company because I had made the same mistakes. The consequence for their choice I fully understand. It hit me as I put my car in reverse backing out of his drive way. The music that played on the radio was a reminder of just how far I had fallen. Panic filled my mind. Something was different. Between the tears I spoke out, “God, are you there?” I heard nothing. What happened to my peace? What happened to joy? Like Adam and Eve, I found myself naked. Warm tears, flowed the whole way home, knowing that for the first time in my life, if I died I’d probably be in hell.
How many “church kids” have had a similar experience, yet in the face of their sin, they ran from Him, instead of to Him? As I think about my childhood and teen years, very few people that I went to church with continued with God after graduation. These were kids I saw go to the alter as a child, they wept at camp, they were with me on missions trips, and they saw the same healing miracles. Why was my life different? What made me turn back to Him, while others continued in there wicked ways?
As a parent, with kids heading in to their teen years, I often think about this. How do I prepare themknowing that there will come a point where they will have them make this choice for themselves? Raising children gives a different perspective on love. Love is patient, kind, and gentle; but, it is also rebuking, teaching, and sometimes rescuing from the pit of disobedience. Here are some parenting tips I have gleaned from my parents.
- Pray, pray, and pray some more.
1 Thessalonians 5: 17 tells us to “pray without ceasing”. I grew up with praying parents. I know that they prayed for me daily. I grew up knowing that even if I had a little sniffle I could go to my parents and they would pray for me. I knew that if I was afraid in my room at night I could call on the name of the Lord and bind that spirit of fear. And, if I wasn’t strong enough, I knew my parents across the hall would take care of it.
As a child, we would spend our weekends camping. I can remember the excitement of Friday afternoons sitting on the porch waiting for my dad to come home. The car would be packed with the big green tent, lawn chairs, sleeping bags, and a box of food and snacks. As soon as he would arrive, we’d be off for a weekend of camping fun. Night walks, campfires, swimming, and red Twizzler licorice all awaited us. Yet, God always remained priority. Often times, we would camp close enough to home that we could pack up and still make it to the 10 am church service on Sunday morning. I’m pretty sure we smelled of lake and campfire smoke, but our innocent family fun was not going to take priority over God. Looking back over my childhood, there is no doubt that God was priority in our life. My dad kept to his convictions and God was always first. There were so many times that we could have just stayed camping. There were so many Wednesday evenings where everyone was exhausted from work and life. There were so many opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities that would keep us away. But, those Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings were set apart for Him. It is a lesson that has forever impacted my life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that everything is tied up in going to church, but setting those times apart for God keeps our priorities in check. It keeps the business of life from drawing us away from Him. Matthew 6:24 says to teach them that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to “guard our hearts with all diligence”. As parents, we must diligently guard that in our children. We must encourage them that although the things of this world may appear to be fun, in the end they lead to destruction. Through our lifestyles and convictions, we must show our children that although we are in this world, we are not of this world. They will understand. Don’t sell them short. Do not lower the standard. We must not concern ourselves with what they are missing out on in this world. We must be Holy Spirit conscious as parents, so not to sear their impressionable hearts. We must understand that they are watching, listening, and building their foundations on the standards upheld within our homes.
As I struggled in my sin, I remember a conversation I had with my dad. “Amy, you’re playing with fire. You’re old enough to make your own choices, but I want you to know you are on dangerous ground. There are lines you can’t cross and I’m not sure which side of the line you are on. It’s your choice, but I love you enough to tell you the truth.” My dad’s probably told me he loved me a million times; yet, they all pale in comparison to that expression of love. His words, although harsh, echoed the words of God’s love for me and for all of the human race. 2 Peter 3:9 says He “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow old, they will not depart”. I am thankful my parents prayed me through, and never lowered their standards. I don’t remember kneeling to pray as a child. God and I had always had this running open ended prayer through the day. I had always just talked to Him as if He was right there. But, because of sin, shame, and guilt those prayers had ceased. Not because He was unwilling, it was me. So kneeling, that’s what I was going to do. That’s the most humbled position I could think of. It doesn’t say, but I wonder if Peter too dropped to his knees when he first met with Jesus after His resurrection. If he did, I don’t think he stayed on his knees long. I picture Jesus pulling him up to an embrace, much like He did for me that afternoon as I poured my heart out to Him. Like the Prodigal son returning home, He bestowed on me His very best, He withheld nothing from me. He forgave with no strings attached, and no memories of my wrongs. He hadpure joy that I had returned. That is the love of God.
Oh, how I wish I would have answered the alter call that Sunday morning. It would have saved me such heartache and pain. Yet, because of my journey I understood something that the prodigal’s brother never did. I understood exactly what Jesus did for me on the cross, and why He did it. While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me. Although my story is one of betrayal and rebellion, it’s also a testimony of His great love for me, and His unending love for all humanity. It’s a story that shows that the Good Sheppard leaves the 99 in search of the one. I know this, because I was that one.