When I was a child, and I thought like a child, I knew for absolute certain how a person became saved—that is, for those of you from other denominational backgrounds, how a person came to faith in Jesus Christ.
The way it worked was this: A pastor delivered a sermon in which he declared that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Afterward, the congregation rose and sang all the verses to Just as I Am, sometimes multiple times just in case there was a recalcitrant sinner in the midst. Those who recognized their need for Jesus and his saving grace went forward during the altar call, were led in praying the sinner’s prayer, and then were saved.
Once saved, a person wrote down the date in his or her Bible (King James, Red Letter edition, of course) and then became a candidate for baptism and church membership.
I was convinced, if one didn’t follow those steps precisely, that person needed to ask the all-important question, “Are you sure you’re saved?”
That’s how it worked. Those were the steps.
So confident was I in how this whole salvation thing worked that, during the seventies, when my church started showing those scary-ass I-wish-we’d-all-been-ready rapture movies, I began to have doubts and fears. I relived my conversion experience over and over again in my mind and began wondering if, perhaps, I’d missed a critical step.
I couldn’t remember if I’d actually said the words out loud when praying the sinner’s prayer.
I began to fear that, when Jesus returned, I was going to be left behind on a technicality.
So I did it all again–the whole shebang. At Baptist youth camp I walked the aisle again, prayed the sinner’s prayer again, (this time, being sure to say the words out loud) received the waters of baptism again,(full-body immersion, including every strand of my stringy long hair) and I wrote my new spiritual birthdate inside my Bible.
Then a funny thing happened. I began to meet other believers—other faithful followers of Jesus Christ—and their conversion stories were very different from mine. They were different from one another’s.
Some couldn’t even remember the actual date when they had come to faith in Christ.
As I think back on my own journey of faith, I’m so grateful that my friend Michelle DeRusha just released her new book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. In it, Michelle tells the unconventional story of her own journey toward Jesus. And her story is so very different from mine.
I first got to know Michelle through her writing—I consider her one of my very first imaginary internet blog friends, and I’ve since gotten to know her in real life. Michelle’s story is so much like her—honest and laugh-out-loud funny. Trust me, by the time you’re done reading this book, you’re going to wish you had a box of Cheez-Its.
At its heart, however, Spiritual Misfit is a love story. It’s the story of God pursuing Michelle with his relentless love.
Michelle writes about being transplanted from New England to the heart of the Bible belt in Nebraska where, “To be frank, few New Englanders have any clue what the Midwest is like, nor do they care.”
Having sojourned in New England for, lo, these past thirty years, I can bear witness to the truth of these words.
Michelle found herself surrounded by people who were not only comfortable with what they believed, but in talking about it. Out loud. She admits to having felt out-of-place when she realized she was the only person in church who didn’t know the words to Jesus Loves Me. She writes:
I, the person so totally uncomfortable with God-talk that I could not even engage my own husband in a conversation about religion, the woman so befuddled by her own beliefs that she coughed her way through Mass, was suddenly tossed headlong into the middle of the Bible Belt like a perch flopping wildly in the bottom of a rowboat.
Michelle writes candidly of her struggle to overcome her doubts and objections to the kind of faith which seemed to come so easily to others. She describes her conversion this way:
Truthfully, a Saint Paul-like conversion would have been a heck of a lot easier. What’s not to like about falling over in the middle of the road, hearing the voice of God bellowing loud and clear from the heavens, and then dusting oneself off and resuming life as a convicted believer? It’s quick, it’s obvious, and there’s no room for questioning or doubt. But that was not the kind of conversion I got. What I got instead was, as Methodism’s founder John Wesley described it, a “heart strangely warmed.”
I highly recommend Spiritual Misfit to those who aren’t quite sure what they believe, or who think their faith journeys don’t make sense. I believe you’ll find encouragement in Michelle’s words.
When someone asks me now, when I became a Christian, I no longer refer to a date written on a page in my Bible. I can look back and see that, all my life, God was drawing me to him—revealing more about himself and his character, and wooing me out of the depths of his great love. God knows us so intimately and has unlimited patience and means for drawing us to himself.
While reading Michelle’s book, I was reminded of these words penned by an anonymous hymn writer:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.
These days, if someone asks me when I became a Christian I say, “In eternity past, when God set his love on me and began to pursue me.” We love because he first loved us. I John 4:19, ESV
I believe Michelle DeRusha and I share a common spiritual birth date which, when I think about it, sort of makes us twins. Doesn’t it?
Spiritual Misfit is now available on Amazon and via other major booksellers. Disclosure: I received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book, but the opinions shared here are my own.
Further disclosure: I know so many happening writer-friends who have or are releasing books, and I have failed miserably to write reviews of them all. Because I’ve fallen horribly behind. Or am terribly lazy. Or both. And yet, they still love me.
Working on a round-up of recommended reading post, just in time for beach season–hooray!