I was raised in a Christian home. Some of my earliest memories are about my faith. My mom standing me up in my crib to get me dressed for church and singing a hymn to match the occasion–“Stand up, stand up for Jesus.” At age 3 she explained how I could invite Jesus into my heart and I would go to heaven. That seemed like a win-win and I was not only converted but began to proselytize neighbors.
I could mention the Sunday school memories and church memories of resting my head in my mom’s lap, and the Awanas meetings where we memorized scripture, but the main point here is that Christian faith and practice were routine for me growing up from as early as I can remember. However, I do have a memory of a real turning point for me, and it was more or less what I would call my “meeting Jesus” moment. I am not sure if every Christian has this moment, but I think many of us do.
I was 8 or 9 years old, and had been praying on my bed, as I routinely did, after my parents put us to bed. Dad probably read the Bible to use before bed, so perhaps that also played a role. Somehow I believe the prayer turned into a meditation and realization about God’s generosity and loving care. In a few moments I understood all of my life as a gift, including quite specifically the gift of being made whole by God’s forgiveness and restoration in Jesus. I knew without a lot of theological nuance, but with palpable reality that Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s love, and that that love was for me. And the gratitude that created in me made me want to please God and follow Jesus with all of my heart. The results were pretty practical too, I immediately knew I needed to live like someone who took God’s call on my life seriously. That lead to me being more helpful and willing in chores and with my parents and family. My parents said they noticed a difference. That was my “meeting Jesus” moment.
And I think that moment’s essence is actually quite a common experience for Christians. That moment when they realize the greatness of God’s love, and that it’s for them. That truth changes the world, and transforms duty into gratitude and obligation into calling.
I’ve had high moments in my faith since then, and I have had low moments too, but the gratitude born in that moment has only grown and matured. I know far more about the pain that makes it hard to believe God is good, and why Jesus’s suffering stands so significantly in the face of the pain and terror of human experience. But my more mature understanding is built on that simple realization that even an 8 year old can comprehend, God is good, and He loves me enough to send His only Son to suffer and die for me, but He’s not dead now, now He’s calling me to a way that is God’s love in my personal everyday life. That’s meeting Jesus, once you meet Him, nothing is ever quite the same.