I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about religion. I am pretty sure of my beliefs, and I am happy to discuss them. I don’t feel the need, however, to try to force them on people.
I was thinking about that a little bit tonight. I have friends whose religious beliefs are very different from mine. I also have friends who don’t really believe in anything. And while this worries me, I know that I can only show them my faith through my actions. (We’ll save what a flawed example of faith I am for another day!)
I was thinking about why I feel that way, when so many churches would tell you a list of things you must do to “belong” to a certain religion. My immediate family is Christian. The denomination varies slightly, and in my youth, we didn’t necessarily attend church with great regularity. In spite of that, I grew up with wonderful examples of faith. My parents taught me to pray and that God is with you everywhere. I believed that with the imagination of a child, and I talked to God like some kids talk to an imaginary friend. He was always there. He IS always there.
When I was about 6 or 7, I asked my next door neighbor, Geraldine Mason, what it meant when people said they were “born again”. She told me that it meant those people had asked Jesus to live in their hearts and that from that point forward they were a new person. I think I must have asked her why you needed to ask Jesus to live in your heart, and she told me that He wants an invitation from us, and that even if we pray, we still have to specifically ask Him into our lives.
Then she did something that I thought was very odd. She left me alone in her nice living room to think about it. We kids weren’t generally allowed in that room, so it seemed like she must have really wanted to get my attention. I thought about it, and decided that I already felt like Jesus was in my heart, so I might as well make it official.
When I came out, she offered me a piece of her chocolate cake and she asked me if I’d asked Him in. I told her I did and she just nodded. I’m not sure if she ever told my parents about that. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
Looking back now, it seems huge! What a gift to have had faith all around me at such a young age! But what really strikes me is that Mrs. Mason never pushed me to be baptized. Make no mistake. She was as Baptist as they come. Her son even became a minister. All that really mattered to her, though, was that I was free to choose and I had chosen Jesus.
I have some friends who suffered a tragedy today. Their church has a slightly different belief structure than I do, and that particular line of belief has given me some points of pain in the past. There has been a doctrine that has held that church separate from others. I guess that could be said of most churches.
Tonight, I’m just hoping that people of faith, including me, can see beyond the rhetoric to the heart of God. Love one another.