Coming Back to Faith
By Travis Albers
I grew up in a Christian home, but to call myself a believing, faith-in-action Christian would be a stretch. My mom constantly told me that God had a purpose for my life, and I truly believed it up until age nine. I believed it so much that if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would not have given you the typical firefighter or policeman answer. No, instead I wanted to be a pastor.
At age nine, my father died in a one-car accident and good-intentioned Christians told me things like "God has a plan" or "God must have needed your father more than you did."
From that point on, I resolved to do things differently. I rejected the faith and what God stood for in my life. Although I personally did not believe in the Christian faith, I still put on the act of a good Christian kid when I was around my family, especially my mom. But outside the watch of my mom and relatives, I lived my life differently. I lived by the motto "If it feels good and it looks fun, do it." So I did. As middle school turned into high school, it came time to make a decision about college. I made one more "good Christian kid" move and I picked Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, to make my mom happy.My belief that God had a purpose for my life or that he loved me never rang more hollow.
When my mom left me at the dorm, I went right back to living my life apart from God. Sure there were times I would find myself in troubling situations when I might have turned back to God for help, but those times were few and far between. Growing up in a Christian home, I always believed I had a "back-pocket God" I could call on when trouble came and make empty promises to in order to get out of a bad situation. However, once the trouble passed, I put God back in my pocket, not to be heard from again until the next bad situation.
During February of my senior year, my relationship with God changed completely. I was asked to help lead the middle school retreat organized by the Synod of the Heartland. At this point in my life, I had become a bitter, angry individual who wanted nothing to do with the Christian life, let alone help lead a retreat for middle schoolers. However, the call to spend a weekend away from campus with friends and girls was too strong. So I went.
Little did I know that upon arrival I would have to sign up to spend time in a prayer chapel. I signed up for the last time slot with the intention of eating candy and passing time by doing anything but praying. When the time came, I went up to the prayer room, grabbed a handful of candy and started to walk circles around the room.
Luckily for me, God had other ideas.
As time passed, I heard singing from below as the middle schoolers and leaders started to worship. I looked out the window and saw people singing, holding hands, enjoying life. I broke down and started to question out loud what these middle schoolers had that brought them such joy and love that I didn't have at age 21.
For the first time in years, I slowed down long enough to listen to God and heard a small, still voice say, "You are mine and you are loved." In tears I sat down, opened the Bible, and read these words from 1 John 4:7-12:
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us (NLT).
My life changed that day. I no longer looked at God as a magic genie I could pull out of my back pocket anytime I needed something. I finally started to look at myself as a beloved child of God. I saw God as the loving God who sent his son to die for me instead of the vengeful God who took my dad.
I was 21 years old and I found my savior at a middle school retreat.
Today I have made it my life's goal to help kids, preteens, and teens see and experience this same truth in their lives so that they may walk in a loving relationship with Jesus as well.
Travis Albers is youth pastor at First Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa.