I remember the anticipation swelling in my chest as I accelerated down the aisle. “These are the words,” I thought, “the words that will let Jesus into my heart!” I remember Christy, the kind-hearted black woman, vivid with rosy cheeks and big, purple lips that turned her whole face into a smile.
During the final altar call of Vacation Bible School, after a week of morning altar calls, she pulled me aside wondering why on each day had I gone up to ask Jesus into my heart. I was relieved that someone had noticed. In all of my boyish frustration I told her, somewhat apprehensively, that “I must be saying it wrong.”
She asked me if I wanted to be saved. I replied that I did “with all my heart.” “Then you are saved!” she said, as if that was that. Seeing I was not convinced, she explained, “You just have to want salvation for it to be yours.” “Like make-believe?” I asked, suspiciously. “Yes,” she said with so much wisdom, “It’s just like make-believe at first.”
I am told my faith was strong then, and that my boyish prayers were fierce, as if I understood like Luther that the veracity of my belief would be determined by the sincerity with which I believed. But as I grew older my imagination became less convincing, and I started to question Christy’s assurances. Eventually I began looking again for whatever that little boy was trying to find at the altar.
I searched through the Pentecostal experience and wore Reformed theology like clothing. I went into the woods with my tent and my dog and I yelled back at thunderstorms. I read every book evangelicals read, and then I read the ones we didn’t read. I lived and worked with missionaries across the planet and checked at the local homeless shelter, but I couldn’t find God in my world, or Jesus in my heart.
I struggled so hard to find Him truly until all that was left was the sincerity of a child-like longing, and the determination of a belief from which my boyish prayers might be answered.