It was almost exactly 20 years ago tonight when I remember anguish and gut-ache over a seemingly simple task. I was reminded of it recently, as I was asked to write letters of recommendation for some of my high-school seniors that staff our restaurant.
Right now a few of them are scrambling to fill out forms and apply for local scholarships that are due tomorrow. I have emphasized to them that they would be smart to sign those forms. I told them somebody’s going to get the money, it might as well be them! It’s easy to say for me now. I know the benefits of saving on school tuition from my ‘old-man’ point of view.
It wasn’t quite the same though back when I was their age. I had a hesitant approach to the whole idea of writing down my merits in a letter and submitting it to a group of unknown people. I’m sure I was a self-defeatist, claiming within that there were tons of other more qualified candidates than me. Why waste my time filling out forms and including references when everybody else was more involved, more active and more scholarly than me!
There was one application for scholarship that I remember above all others. It actually bothered me to the core. I know that my mother asked over and over, for me to check into it. She was urging me to do it, and I didn’t want to. She probably even told me that almost anything I turned in would be accepted and I would receive some money for my freshman college year.
She wanted me to apply for the Westminster Presbyterian Church Scholarship opportunity. The premise of the application was simple. I think I had to fill out my name, and maybe some basics about school, but not much more than that. It wasn’t a competition for the highest GPA or the most enthusiastically extra-curricularly engaged.
I only really remember that the form required a response to a simple question. “What does God mean to You.”….
WHAT!!! WHOA!! HOW DARE YOU!!! HOW SCARY!! HOW PERSONAL!! How could I possibly answer a question like THAT!! And write it down for other people to read??? AND THOSE JUDGEMENTAL CHURCH PEOPLE!?!?! NO Way!
That about sums up my recollection of the response to that essay question. Really!
Back then, and for so many years of my teenage and young adult life, any conversation or thought experiment that circled close to the idea of God, and especially to church, was jarring emotionally to me. I immediately would exhume loads of past hurts and mental wounds. I was insecure and held onto regrets and inadequacies that I had experienced in relation to church. As a teenager, I thought that I didn’t understand God at all and didn’t really want to. God was a tough subject for me altogether.
Because of all this inner turmoil, I felt guilty and wrong about my relationship with this ‘God’ character. At that moment in life, honestly answering that scholarship form question was terrifying.
Even now, to write my current answer for ‘What does God mean to You?’ could occupy this blog for weeks, for months, probably years of weekly posts. And in fact I’m sure it has. My stories in response to this question have been typed out over and over in many different ways, right onto these digital pages. Beyond typing, I would have to say that my personal actions and also inactions reveal my true soulful answer to this question. The shape and substance of my being itself is a literal and figurative response, as I go about my life, day-by-day.
I really cannot remember if I did write out an essay of application for that scholarship. I probably didn’t. I likely shirked it and avoided it until the deadline had passed, thus eliminating the chance of this terrible pain I imagined it would cause me.
I know now, as a member of the session of that very same church, that anything written with sincerity would have been accepted with Christian love. Even if the letter I crafted was nothing more than a rant on the injustices I’d felt toward God, as a typical awkward teenager, going thru a critical growing-up moment of life, they would have understood. If I did nothing more than list my questions and confusions about God, they would have understood. If I only had the guts to say that I wasn’t sure I actually believed in God, they would have understood. And they would have loved me for it anyway.
The people of my church would have been happy that I shared. They would have been willing to pray for me. They would have been part of the process of supporting a young person struggling with his beliefs.
This is what I know now, because I eventually did reach out and ask Jesus Christ to come into my life. These truths are now obvious to me, where they were confusing and unnerving before. This is part of what happens when God’s grace begins to work on you from within.
All that said, I have such a looooooong way to go, on this journey. Instead of a high school senior, it’s like I’m an infant newborn, when it comes to my relationship with Almighty God. I am crying in the darkness so often, so unsure that I’m being nurtured always. I wail whenever I’m slightly uncomfortable. I forget to calmly rely on God. I don’t tend and nuture even the tiniest ember of faith that could warm me through a cold winter’s night. I know though, that if I did, it would be so worth it.
Until next week my friends, reflect on these words that I learned from our Pastor Ron. “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
Mr. Sinner Extraordinaire