I can still feel the anticipation that was 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 her rosy cheeks and big, scarlet lips that might at any moment turn 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 remember being relieved that someone had noticed. In all of my boyish frustration I told her, somewhat apprehensively, that “I must be doing 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 that I was not convinced she explained, “You just have to want salvation for it to be yours.” “Like playing make-believe?” I asked suspiciously. “Yes,” she said with so much wisdom, “It’s just like make-believe at first.”
I am told that my faith was strong then, and that my boyish prayers were fierce, as if I understood somehow 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. It didn’t take long for me to begin looking again for whatever that little boy was trying to find at the altar.
I searched on mountaintops and in thunderstorms, at worship rallies, in prayer rooms, on overseas missions; I searched through the Pentecostal experience, my big sister’s monotone Anglican liturgy, and my parents’ new Calvinist conversion. I even checked at the 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 that my boyish prayers had been answered.