I grew up Lutheran and did all the things—First Communion and Confirmation, Sunday school, Bible camp—but I don’t think that it ever really sunk in. I would have identified myself as a Christian, and maybe the seed was being planted, but it hadn’t started to grow. I didn’t explore my faith much in college either, but one of my roommates had a faith that wasn’t just a part of him, it was who he was through and through. It made me begin to ask, “What’s different about his faith? What does he have that I don’t have?”
After college I joined Alpha, which was described as “a Bible study for people who don’t know the Bible.” I was interested because I’d been too intimidated to try Bible studies before, feeling like it was a place for people who knew way more than I did. Alpha was a starting point of really exploring my faith.
Then in 2007, I had a really tough year. I was living by myself for the first time. I wasn’t happy at work, my relationship ended, and there were tough family changes. I felt really alone and low. One day it became too much and I started crying. I felt like Jacob when he’s wrestling with God. I was struggling to figure out what a relationship with God looked like, especially when I was upset and felt forgotten. That year I learned that other things in life can fall away and fail you, but God is still there.
During that year, I would light a candle when I went to bed to represent God’s physical presence with me through the night. I was drawing away from God because I was mad and sad, but I also wanted God to draw near to me. It was almost an act of defiance, like, “I don’t want to talk to you, but I need you here with me still.” A pivotal moment for me was reading Romans 8:26, which talks about the Holy Spirit interceding for us when we don’t have the words to pray. It was revelatory to me because before that, I thought if I didn’t say my prayer right, then it wasn’t any good. That verse gave me a new perspective. I learned to let go of trying to deliver the perfect prayer and just talk to God and say, “Hey, God, I don’t know what I need right now, I’m confused, help me through it.” Or I could let the Holy Spirit pray on my behalf when I didn’t know what to say or felt too disheartened to pray.
I’d never really dug into the Bible beyond attending church, but I wanted to get to know Jesus more, so I joined Bible Study Fellowship. That’s where I met my wife, Nora, and we started attending church together. A few years after we got married, we felt we were missing out on a sense of connection at our current church and wanted to find a place with more challenging messages. At CPC we found that we’d talk about the sermons we heard on Sundays all week, which was new and cool for us. We found a small group at CPC, too, and it felt great to have that community of believers.
For so long I’ve defined my faith journey in the context of that hard year. It was a transformational time for me. But I’ve realized I can’t define my life and my faith only by the time I spent in the valley. I think that in those hard times, I really learned who God was and to put my trust in His promises. Now that that season has passed, it’s easy to forget about the awesomeness of God and to think I don’t need God as much as I did before. Worship, my small group, the class with Pastor James, Christian music, reading the Bible on my own, and prayer remind me of my need for God and His never-changing character and promises.
When we’re new or weak in our faith, I think we need God to be the one who comes near to us. But in this season of my faith journey, I’m learning to better understand that the movement isn’t just on God’s side. If I want God to speak to me, it helps if I put myself in a place where I can hear Him. God doesn’t ask me to do all the work by myself, but I do have to show up. Some of faith is doing these practices over and over again—building muscle memory. Maintaining those practices, even during the times that feel like plateaus in my faith walk, help keep my heart and mind in a place where the Spirit can enter in, so that Jesus stays a big part of my life, and I’m reminded of my unique identity as a child of God.