“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” Galatians 5:7
I remember when I started really going to church. I say “really” because as long as I knew myself I had been going to church. I don’t remember missing too many Sunday school when I was a child in Jamaica. But, when I came to Canada at 13 years old, things changed. I didn’t go as much because the relatives I lived with didn’t go, except for the usual (Easter and Christmas services). It was my mother’s constant reminders on each telephone call from Jamaica, that pressed it on my heart to continue going to church. Luckily, I had another aunt who attended, so I went to a little church called Global Apostolic Ministries on Sundays. By the time I turned 15 years old, I secretly baptized. While my mother was very concerned about my spirituality, my Canadian family were not concerned about that…so I didn’t tell them about my baptism. They were more worried I was making a big mistake than anything else. Today, I am thankful to my mother’s encouragement and that aunt that took me to church on Sundays, because I have never regretted giving my life to God all those decades ago. Yet, over the years, my walk had never been simple. Sometimes, people cut in on my race, and cause me to stumble.
The Christian life is not as easy as I thought it would have been as a teenager. This was the reason, my guardians were worried I was making a big mistake. “Wait until you are older” they said. Were they right? It depends. I have stumbled so many times, throughout every season of my life, that I wonder if they were right. I think I have a spiritual limp because I can’t seem to stand straight enough to run the race. When it comes to running races, I should know more than many others out there. Why? I was a track and field athlete for a long time. For as long as I can remember, even up to University, I had been on the track team, practicing day after day. Practices got intense during the varsity years. The mixture between outdoor work-outs, including Saturday mornings for 2-hours on the hill, and the indoor workouts, including Wednesday morning weight-lifting and swimming. I just wanted to die. The swimming wasn’t freestyle, they were actual track workouts in the water…if you can imagine that! The point is, no practise was ever easy. It was made to strengthen me, to give me power, and to let me know even at exhaustion, I can still mentally will myself to do more! So, why did I think that the Christian race was going to be easy?
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Let’s start with asking why did I want to be baptized. When I looked around the little church and I saw all the kids and teens worshiping God, I wanted whatever they had. They were happy and free, and I wasn’t. I was living in a place of discomfort and I was being tested already. I was a 13 year old living without my parents, and outside of the culture I grew up in, and now I wanted to connect to people who were similar to me. Unlike school, I saw all Jamaican teens at the church, and I wanted to belong to this group. Was that a bad reason? That, coupled with the pastor’s charismatic appeals that we need to be baptized to make it heaven, made me believe that I had no other choice. If God was going to come tonight, I wanted to be one of His sheep that goes with Him. Again I asked, was this why my guardians were concerned? You can imagine that was where my first obstacle came from. As a new believer, the only place I could truly practice religion was at church. And my aunt that I lived with was very hesitant about me going every Sunday. While my church had their own rules about hat wearing, skirt wearing, and cautious about music I listened too; those were not the same rules at home. We listened to reggae, hip-pop and all kinds of songs, especially with another teenager in the house. We had other rules like do not come home late, no talking to boys on the phone, as well as other home responsibilities. As a teen, it was hard to juggle the conflicting messages I was getting from my two authoritarian regimes. Both were on the opposite sides of each other, and I was trying to please them. Needless to say, it got tiring!
So, Who cut in on me from… obeying the truth? It all just became exhausting. Maybe it was because of University. When I went to University, it became a place of neutrality…liberalism. I do not have to think about God here. And that was my respite. It felt so good to know that it’s okay not to know the truth, and I didn’t need to believe in God to live the good life. I can give myself a break and do further research to see what I believed, and in the meantime, do whatever I wanted to do. Listen to any music, go out with any guy, drink, and have sex. Basically, do whatever everyone else had been doing all along. I had no rules and I was finally free from the leashes of church and family. Maybe, my family was right all along.
It wasn’t until I went travelling for two years, to Mexico, Japan, and South Korea, that I began to think about what God really meant to me. I prayed in Korea and realized He was still there. Strange as that sounded. You see I associated the church and God as one and the same thing. And since I felt that the church wasn’t always truthful in giving me all the answers to the questions I had, especially having learnt a few things in University (ie. That it wasn’t God who wrote the bible, but it was men); I disbelieved. Or more accurately, I didn’t know what to believe, so I stopped seeking. In South Korea, however, I prayed and to my surprise I felt His peaceful presence. It was a surprise because I really thought God was just at church and with the pastor. At 23 years old, I met God and that was where my relationship with God started. And I have been stumbling ever since. Only now learning that this relationship requires an immense amount of trust. I am so thankful today that God has been patient with me. He is that kind of lover and Father that will never leave you, no matter how many times you walk away. So, again, was my family right?
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No, they were not! Choosing a relationship with God, even for the wrong reasons, is never a bad or a wrong thing. God already chose us, and it is His plan to take our entire lives to show us how much He loves us. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3. Just like my track practises over the years, the workouts get exhausting, and so does the Christian walk. As the bible says, “…The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong…,” (Ecclesiastes 9:11), but we have to endure the race to receive the prize (Hebrews 10:36). All along, I had one goal in mind as a teen, and that was to have fun and be in a place that made me happy. As I matured, I came to realize that, the obstacles and tests have been equivalent to my track practices. They are designed to draw me closer to Christ. That after two decades of being a Christian, I am still on the journey of growing to know Him and learning how to trust Him. This is his will for my life, to live for His pleasure, and to abide in Him all the days of my life. I am stumbling, but I haven’t stopped. Now, I know this, no one, not even me, should keep me from obeying the truth.