Steadfast Guest — My Atheist Experience

Associate Editor’s note:  This article comes from Vanessa whose blog states that she is “an Army National Guard wife, a working mom of two, a craft beer lover, an avid traveler and reluctant adventurer, a writer, a confessional Lutheran, a beloved sister in Christ saved by grace through faith alone”.  Her blog is: Hearts on Guard:

VanessaAt the age of five I was baptized into Christ at an Episcopal church, but my entire childhood was devoid of the Gospel.

My dad tried to take us kids to church now and then. Easter. Christmas. A Sunday here and there. I could recite the Lord’s prayer, liked to sing hymns, and loved communion — only because by that time in the service I was hungry, and that wafer and wine was enough to tide my grumbly stomach over until we got pancakes later in the morning.

By the time I reached my teens I hated the idea of God and refused to believe He existed. God was the excuse on the lips of those around me.

“God told me to do this.” My dad repeated these words to justify every decision he made. His moving here, there, everywhere after the divorce. He claimed God had led him throughout his life. To join the Army. To leave the Army. To walk away from that job, that house, us kids.

“You’re going to Hell.” My classmates threatened me, shoving bibles in my face at my locker. I responded with the ever-logical assertion that I couldn’t go somewhere in which I didn’t believe. Wow. I know. I wasn’t the brightest.

I saw Christians around me as pious, hypocritical, elitist, exclusive.

Yet I was curious. I wondered what they had that I didn’t, why they loved a God I couldn’t even believe existed. So in high school I opened a bible.

But not in the way I should have. I wanted answers. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to find happy, feel-good sayings. So I opened the Bible as if it was a fortune cookie. No doubt, it didn’t help. With no one to help guide me through it, I didn’t see the Truth and the good news His Word held, and I tossed it aside returning to my anti-God, anti-Jesus position.

In college I continued this pattern, waffling between phases of denying God’s existence to wanting to know what He was all about. Dating an atheist complicated things, as you can imagine, and any time I learned something that clicked, he shot it down, pointing me back to myself and my reason.

A friend endured my pro-abortion, anti-God rants, showing me patience, love and understanding while never backing down from his Lutheran confessions. He gave me his copy of the Concordia self-study bible and encouraged me to read it.

I tried. Not very hard, though. Again, I had no guidance. I read Jesus’ words and saw Him as a jerk, denying people salvation, telling them they were wrong. I wanted no part of Him.

Through high school and college, I relied on myself, my knowledge, my feelings, my views. I practiced zen meditation at the local zen center. I practiced yoga. I wanted more. I wanted enlightenment and control. I wanted power over my life.

But I failed. Obviously.

My life was all about me, what I wanted, what I thought I deserved. I lied. I cheated. I stole. I treated people as a means to an end. I treated my body as something worthless, as a mere means to pleasure. I cheapened myself, and I was empty. I hated myself. I hated life. I felt alone and miserable, hearing the words of my mom as she told me how selfish I was. I tried to change, but I couldn’t. I tried and I tried, and with each failure I came to the conclusion that this was just who I was, a selfish and miserable person who could never be anything better.

I don’t remember when I finally heard the gospel, the freeing truth of Jesus’ victory for me. I don’t remember when it clicked. I don’t remember when the switch was flipped for me.

I know others would point to my path and try to show me where God led me to Him and to Truth, how I met my husband, how we attended church together, how I finally felt at home. But I’m wary to point to any feeling, any circumstance or coincidence and claim it was Him.

And it really doesn’t matter when it happened or how it happened. All that matters is I was broken, lost and miserable, and though I didn’t deserve it and still don’t, He gave me grace, forgiveness and a new life in Him.

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