“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us”….Ephesians 1:4-8
I grew up in a church where questioning any form of authority was out of a question. I was raised to respect elders, respect traditions and respect whatever decision is made on my behalf. If my mother said I was going to spend my school holidays at a church pilgrimage then that is exactly what I would do. My life was clearly mapped out, I was born into this church and I would most certainly die in it. I never thought I would ever leave, other than through death. I believed and was raised to believe, that this was the only way to heaven and the wasn’t a holier religion or church in all the world.
Looking back I realise what I thought was respect was not respect at all but rather fear and oppression! How do you respect what you do not understand? How do you respect what you had no free will to choose to respect? I lived in constant fear of losing my family’s affections which, even as a young child, I understood were based on how well I conformed to the rules set for me. I also knew that my status in the church was dependent on how well I conformed to the rules and how well I played the role of a subservient daughter and ultimately wife and mother.
I do not believe I would have ever been set free to really discover God’s character if I had not become a mother at fifteen. According to church customs I was not allowed to come to church during my pregnancy and a few months after my baby was born. Even worse, my baby was a girl so my exile was a few months longer than it would have been if I had had a baby boy. My exile presented to me the unique opportunity to sit alone while everyone else was at church to read the Bible and really try to get to the bottom of where it said in the Bible this exile was justified. As the weeks turned into months and my self-taught Bible course intensified, I started learning how everything I had known all my life was founded on shaky theories and Bible verses taken out of context.
Once you have read something it becomes increasingly difficult to unread it and delete it from your memory. After I had finally read about who Jesus was, how He had died and risen for my sins, it became increasingly hard to accept that I had to dress differently and endure the looks of disdain from people simply for the sin of having my daughter. I was a disgrace to my family and the church for having committed this great sin and it seemed like until I got married to hide the shame of it all, I would continue to suffer. This did not reconcile to the merciful, loving God I was reading about in my Bible. I can still remember my mother asking me, “do you think you are the only person who has read the Bible” when I was asking her about these inconsistencies.
Naturally I lost faith in the church because the Bible became the only authority I was willing to follow. I started weaning myself slowly and avoided going wherever I could, because believe it or not at sixteen and seventeen my mother still forced me to do things. A part of me also still continued to go because I saw it as a way to rebuild the relationship with my family and particularly my mother. It was not until I left home after high school to go to university across the country that I really had a chance to break free.
When I first arrived at university, I tried different churches and my friends were quick to suggest churches when they heard that I was looking for one. Sadly though this quest was soon forgotten when I was consumed by the demands of my studies, a budding new romance and buzzing social life. At certain times in the first four years in university I remember trying to get back into the routine of going to church but something always came up. It did not help that during the latter part of this time period, my boyfriend became the more important priority in my life and we had a busy social calendar and there was still the little issue of a degree that I needed to obtain! Nonetheless, through all of this God faithfully pursued me.
In my fifth and final year of university, I found myself alone and scared, like I was at fifteen. Here I was repeating my honours year, my boyfriend had graduated and moved across the country, I had cheated on him with disastrous consequences and above all I was back to being the black sheep of the family. It was during this time that God called me to Him for comfort. It was in going to church every Sunday that the light slowly returned to my eyes, my hope was restored and I stopped beating myself for my multitude of sins. Sadly this independence and the freedom to pursue God as He had pursued me, had to come to an end when I graduated and returned home.
Living with my mother once more meant I had to abide by the rules of her kingdom. She attempted as much as she could to drag me to church with her and she did not care much that I often came kicking and screaming. Luckily for me working life provided an excuse to miss church now and then. I could never dream though of waking up on a Sunday morning and going to a church of my choice.
The biggest act of rebellion, and the second biggest sin I have committed in the eyes of my family was to move out just six months after arriving back home. For the two years I lived on my own, I was criticised by my aunt and grandmother at every chance they had. I was called a lot of things and accused of many things. Firstly, I apparently thought I was superior now that I worked and earned my own money. Another was that I felt I was too educated for the church where at least three generations before me had worshiped. Many curses were spoken over my life and I was told I would never make it in life because I had rejected God(funny because to this day I still get told this, which makes me wonder where I go every Sunday morning and what I do with all my Bibles). When I moved out I found a church that I quickly settled into and really loved.
I will be forever grateful to my friend who introduced me to Durban Christian Centre, which has been my home over the past few years. As I thought of her I remembered how God says in Isaiah 46:11, “From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” That is truly what He did in this instance; He brought this friend into my life so that His purpose will be fulfilled. Shortly after I reached what I think was the pivotal point in my walk with Christ, she simply walked out of my life. Without any fight, without any identifiable reason we simply went on our lives. Her job was done, I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior, I had denounced all ties that I had to my former life.
You would think that is where the story ends. You would think this is where I declare I lived happily ever after, my faith just flourished overnight and ever since then I have lived in perfect obedience and have always felt God’s presence in my life. No! This is not where the story ends. If it did, I think I would have to change my blog title to: “God is done with me” in which case I am almost certain that I would be doing that from heaven (provided the internet connection there is fast enough)! Even if the story did end here, I do believe that it would be a great story because it would tell of how God went looking for me when I was lost and brought me home, like the shepherd in parable of the lost sheep(Matthew 18:12 – 14). It would still be an awesome love story of how He loved me so much, He sent His only son to die in my place(John 3:16). We would fade out to the sound of heaven rejoicing over this one sinner who once was lost but now is found.
The truth though, is that God has never stopped pursuing me. Being a Christian is not about being won over into the kingdom of Christ once and that’s that. It is about dedicating your life continuously and repeatedly to the Lord. It is about growing in your faith through trials and tests that we go through. Any sword that is left unsharpened soon becomes dull and rusty and what use it in fighting off danger? I have learned through my experiences that we are not called to be statues in the Kingdom, we are called to be warriors and conquerors. We can never accept any responsibility for being chosen, we had no choice in the matter. Before we were born, before He laid the foundations of the earth, He had you and I in mind and He called us then to be His children. Our places in heaven are secured through the blood of Jesus Christ and all we need to do is accept the call and start pursuing God with the love and passion with which we were pursued.