The Happiest Ending EVER

This is the second, concluding part of yesterday’s First God Destroys, Then He Fixes. Both are mostly via text cut from the afterward of little book of mine called, Penguins Pain and the Whole Shebang.)

It was at this point that I experienced yet another wonderful What The Heck Is Happening To Me? moment: My legs disappeared from underneath me. Gone. Buckled. Folded. Kaput with the leg support. Hello hard ground, foundation of human existence, it’s nice to see you, I’m surprised we don’t get together more often, have you met my knees? It had happened to me once before … [cut]…

And there I was, on my knees.

In the supply closet.

At my job.

Looking at my miserable, weak future, straight to my miserable, means-nothing death. It was just me and the cold, hard, gray, flat fact of … me. Which was never going to change. I just did not have the will or means or character to change who I was, which was exactly who I’d always been.

I saw that my life, in any way that could possibly matter, was over.

I then began doing something that, for me, made falling to my knees look like something I did every eight seconds: I started to cry.

Because isn’t the whole point of being alive to be someone you’d really want to be?

Anyway, I’m down and out. Right? You with me?

For your sake, I (almost) hope not.

So I’m kneeling there, blinded by my sad, stupid little fate, when, from up and off to my left, I hear a disembodied voice say something.

And it says what it says in a clear, distinct cartoon voice.

Listen: I grew up glued to cartoons. As a kid, I had absolutely no idea what was happening with adults, who were clearly insane. But Daffy Duck, I got. Porky Pig was my kind of guy. Wiley Coyote? Please—my very alter-ego!

To this day, I practically shiver with joy when The Simpsons are on.

Anyway, of course I can’t exactly describe the cartoon voice I heard. But, you know: goofy, precise, rich, psuedo-edgy. Cartoonish.

And what that voice said, from up and off to my left somewhere—from offstage—was, “Isn’t this what Jesus is for?”

And just like that, I stopped crying.

And do you know what I knew at that moment—what instantly imprinted itself upon me? That the story of Jesus is historically true. That it happened. That God, desiring above all else to show the people he’d created that he loved them, became a human, and came to earth, and sacrificed himself, and in every way did every thing he possibly could to show people exactly how deeply and terribly he loves them.

That’s what my conversion consisted of: a sudden, sure knowledge that the historical story of Christ is true.

It wasn’t, like, wisdom at all. I wasn’t suddenly filled with the Mind of God, or anything like that. My soul didn’t light up. Angels didn’t sing for me. Nothing like that happened. In a way, it was about as boring as learning the year house paint was invented, or that your bank has slightly altered its Saturday hours. All that had changed was that I was now sure that the story of Christ, about which I had always scoffed if I ever thought of it at all, was true.

Then it was like how, when it starts to rain, you think about the only thing you can think, which is: “Oh. Now everything will get wet.”

That’s about what I thought: “Oh. Now I’m a Christian.”

So I stood, wiped my eyes, opened the door to the supply closet, and went back to work.

And that was that.

My Supply Closet conversion happened, as I write this, eight years ago. Between now and then I can honestly say that every single aspect of my life has improved to a degree that makes me grateful for the Christian context in which to understand it, since otherwise I guess I’d just think I went bonkers (or, at the very least, gotten some extremely good therapy). Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I imagine that life could be so … good. So pleasing. So delightful.

Well, I see that somewhere along the line I’ve become a walking Hallmark Card. How … sweet of me.

“Find Me: Lose Your Personality.” Now there’s a Christian bumper sticker. Instead of a fish, I’m gonna put a little metal [null sign] on my car. (Actually, one of the core things I was most surprised to discover about Christianity was how wrong my long-held assumption had been that in a very real way the whole point of the religion was to turn everybody into identical Church Drones. Wrong, wronger, wrongest. It is, instead, all about God helping each person turn into Super Whoever They Are!)

The main way becoming a Christian has changed my life is that now I’m “just” a happier, nicer person than I used to be. I used to be a lot harsher to people, particularly in how I thought about them. I’m Beyond Amazed to say that today I have a lot more patience with people: I’m more empathetic, I more closely identify with whatever they’re feeling and thinking. I used to judge more; now I listen more. If God loved me enough to come swooping in and save my sorry butt, the least I can do is listen sympathetically when someone—when anyone—is talking to me, and to show them respect. No problem.

I’m also a lot easier on myself. I used to be really harsh on myself. Now I’m less so. Again: if God loves me, who am I to question his judgment? It makes me feel like I must be all right, after all.

Anyway, stuff like that. I’m just a happier, nicer, calmer, more dependable, more moral guy than I used to be. Which, I know, sounds like bragging. Which is funny, because the whole thing about being a Christian is that it’s so awesomely humbling it’s all you can do to not, like, spend all your time on your knees. It makes you feel the opposite of proud. I used to think I sometimes did bad things; now I know that doing bad things is core to my entire identity. It’s in my nature—I was born to be selfish, arrogant, vain, dishonest, impatient, lazy and greedy.

And Sleepy. And Grumpy. And Dopey. And … [cut].

Well. That’ll be another book… [cut]

The point is: What I learned in the supply closet is that I, alone, would never, ever be able to change or really even impact any of the negative things about myself.

And that, as it turns out, is precisely what Jesus is for.

Next: How My Unbelieving Wife Took the News of My Suddeny Becoming a Christian (Pt. 1)

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Pam Hardesty

    Awesome.

  • Sarah Elizabeth

    So, I don't get it, what is Jesus for? Why do I need Jesus?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Because–as my long, sad life had taught me–I alone would never, ever be able to change or really even impact any of the negative things about myself.

    With GOD helping me do that, I can. I could. I have.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    By the way, Sarah, if you READ that whole posting–and certainly if you read any of that whole series of posts–and you're NOT a Christian (which it seems obvious enough you're not) then thank you very much for your attention. That's extremely … open-minded of you.

    I'll tell you this: If you're a nonbeliever, you clearly have a lot more patience with Christians and Christianity than, God knows, I ever did.

  • Sarah Elizabeth

    Wow! Thanks for answering my question! – but,… Why do I need Jesus to change my life? Can't I do that on my own? Oh, and, what if I don't want to change? What if I like who I am?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Hey, Sarah. Legitimate questions, for sure. Thanks for asking them.

    The quick answer is that, no, you can’t change your core nature by yourself. I wish you could. I wish I could have changed who I was by myself. It’d be great to have that kind of power and control over your very nature. But, alas, you don’t have that power. No human does.

    You’re born human. That means you’re extremely inclined to be selfish, greedy, snarky, gossipy, lazy, impatient, mean-spirited, ego-driven, etc., etc. You’re just born to … self-promote, shall we say. It’s not all you’re born to be: you’re also born to be virtuous and kind and loving and so on.

    But all that good stuff about being human isn’t the stuff that poisons your experience. What wrecks being a human is the destructive, nasty stuff you do do, to yourself and others, as a matter of course.

    No good. Come a day (I’m guessing you’re yet quite young), it’s likely you’re going to want to stop having to live with the Bad You.

    And then, perhaps, you’ll get serious about Seriously Evolving.

    And so you’ll do things people typically do when they’re trying to Improve Themselves. Maybe you’ll take yoga. Maybe you’ll learn to skydive. Whatever. But you’ll try.

    And you’ll fail like a mouse attacking an elephant. And you’ll fail, and fail, and fail, and fail — and then (and on this day you’ll be worthy of pity) you’ll maybe — if you’re lucky — break.

    You’ll give up. You’ll realize that you’re all Tried Out. You’ll realize you have no more power left to change who you are.

    Because no one, of their own volition, can ever bring themselves to the state of peaceful integration that every single human in the world constantly yearns to attain.

    The day you realize that (and I know how obnoxiously condescending that sounds, and apologize for it), is the day you’ll be open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, you need to reach for something outside of yourself in order to make of yourself the best person you can be.

    And voila: There, waiting to pick up where you’ve finally let off, will be God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit. (They’re all the same, which I’m sure you know but just in case. God: Absolute, indescribable, heaven-dwelling power. Jesus: God here below, with us. Holy Spirit: God inside you. The Holy Trinity is God above, God below, and God inside. See? Easy.)

  • Sarah Elizabeth

    John, thanks for the detailed answer. So, if I'm ready to 'reach out to God,' what do I do? How do I become a Christian?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    You reach out to God the same as you reach out to anyone: You sincerely and humbly ask to spend time with him.

    You get alone; you close your eyes, and with all the fervor and passion you possess you ask God to open up your heart to His reality, to the sure knowledge and understanding that he’s just as real to you as anything else in your life that you consider real.

    More real, actually — since God’s the source from which everything else derives.

    You know that nagging — or, better, that acute — sense of morality you always feel … saying stuff to you about everything you do and think and feel and say? That mechanism inside of you that is always very busy determining and discerning what is morally right and what is morally wrong?

    If you don’t believe anything else in this life, believe that that is God. That voice is God inside of you. That’s the Holy Spirit, trying to get your attention.

    You become a Christian by finally giving that voice your full attention. Once you’ve done that, everything else — everything about Christ, Christ’s atonement, all of that — will follow, as surely as getting wet follows falling into water.

    God wants to be with you. But just like you don’t like being anywhere you’re not really invited, God isn’t inclined to too readily be with someone who hasn’t first lovingly asked him into themselves. He needs you to ask him to come fully into your mind and heart.

    And, in this case, “asking” really amounts to begging. And that’s fair, because you do want irrefutable, permanent knowledge of God. That is, by so far and away there is no second place, the most valuable thing any human being can have. It is the difference between peace and misery, between healing and deterioration, between darkness and light, between joy and sadness, between doubt and surety.

    Trust that you do want God as an ally in your life. Just ask for that. Ask for real.

    He’s waiting for you to ask that. He’s been waiting for it all your life.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    By the way, Sarah — just to be clear — the idea of being a Christian is not that it’s supposed to make you perfect. Hardly. We’ll worry about perfect in the afterlife, when we’re happily with God forever. For now, down here, it’s understood that we can no longer be perfect — morally pure — than we can be unicorns. Not going to happen.

    The idea of being Christian is that (unlike sooooo many people) you admit that (in this life) you’re never going to be perfect. You acknowledge that. You … accept that, finally.

    Christianity gives you a way to effectively deal with the grinding reality of your constant moral failing.

    We confess to God! We ask his forgiveness for our sins!

    And — and this is the sure, indescribable, interior truth Christians possess and live with and renew all the time — He graces us with his full, unmitigated forgiveness.

    God — as he proved by sacrificing himself on the cross for this exact reason –forgives us.

    Unless you’ve experienced it, you just can’t imagine what a joyous relief that is.

    Find out. Bring the totality of your craven, rotten, selfish, destructive thoughts and behaviors — bring your knowledge and conviction of ALL of your negative side — to God, and humbly lay it down before him, and ask him to forgive you for it all.

    And then prepare to meet Jesus Christ.

  • http://assuredscorn.wordpress.com/ -30-

    You're right. I was unfair. There's so much on your site to read and contemplate that I get impatient. I really don't think I'm a mean person, but I do run short on patience sometimes.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    No worries; everyone runs short of patience sometimes. I KNOW I do. I certainly appreciate your apology. Very kind of you.

  • http://assuredscorn.wordpress.com/ -30-

    I don’t get it. You were in the closet. You fell down. You got up. You left the closet. And somewhere between “fell down” and “got up,” you suddenly became a Christian? (scrolling back up) Oh yes, you heard a voice. Yep, that would clinch it for me.

    Sorry, John, at age 64, I’m a pretty hardcore skeptic. I wouldn’t have bothered to read this far if I hadn’t gotten curious about who you are and why you were asking atheists about guilt.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Well, but that’s just a shallow, purposefully dismissive restatement of what I wrote. It’s just so … manifestly unfair.

    Sixty-four, and you’re still THAT mean?

    Dude. Time to lighten up a little, you think?

    This particular posting is one of a series of six, I believe.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    I agree with you so much I wrote a whole book making the point you've made here. See my book 'I'm OK–You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop" off the home page on this site.

  • bookbadger

    Dear John (if I may), Thank you so very much for your brilliant and generous post on how to begin writing for pay. I plan to put it into action immediately (and would relish the opportunity to credit you with the beginnings of my commercial success!) I have tremendous respect for your conversion to Christianity, and am happy for you. I would like to point out however, that an intense desire that others share your faith, in particular that they “change,” is I submit a fundamentally and distinctly un-Christian stance. Jesus preached agape, and his followers preached the crucifiction–the most demonstrable example of it ever known–but these are not exclusive to Christianity per se–most theistic religions, when not skewed or inflamed by other agendae, profess and offer the very same spiritual sustenance and salvation. If you haven’t read it I recommend “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” by Thich Nat Hanh and “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” by Sogyal Rinpoche. Yours sincerely, the bookbadger

  • http://writingcanvas.wordpress.com/ Loni

    Very interesting blog and profile. I will be back! I've enjoyed reading your blog posts on writing. I just finished an 18 month freelance job that "just happened" and now am looking for more freelance work. Thank you for your inspirations.

    Loni

  • Platy

    Wow. It's so cool to come across a fellow writer AND fellow Christian on the net. I just joined Word Press recently; my blog's to keep me accounted on my writing.

    I haven't read the whole of this post, as I'm not a big fan of "conversion tales" (I'll get back to it someday). Mine was as vague and confusing as… well, as I am. ;) But I do like the cartoon voice part. Very different, and very you by the sounds of things.

    Your books look very interesting – just the kind of titles that catch my attention. I'll have to look for them in my local Christian bookstore. Keep up your good work!

  • http://www.chencenter.wordpress.com Michael

    John. I just have to comment. I came to your blog because you're a writer (just as I am). However, I am just starting out and was needing of some advise… read your blog on 10 Top Tips, then your bio, and then this (the path to God).

    I consider myself highly spiritual…always wondering…probing..trying to find answers. In my first two years of college I took a course in theology with a wonderful teacher named Charles Hewitt. He inspired me to seek a path, any path… and as it seems, here I am. I grew up a Christian, but to be honest, I cannot embrace the Bible in its entirety. I live in the so-called "bible belt" and it has the aura of nazi germany in some ways. Not to be so dramatic, and please don't take it the wrong way.. let me explain. I once watched a documentry on WWII and a jewish survivor actually said that at many points during Hitler's reign he felt that he was just soo tired…soo tired, he just wanted to bring forth his arm in salute and follow the masses, the hysteria. Many people say "it's okay. what you believe is what you believe".. but that's not true. I can hear the resentment and the concern in the voice all the time. So, I lock many of my personal thoughts and feelings about religion far far away (to most). I am very happy about my life. Life has always been good to me. I follow the path that "God" graciously allows us to walk, however, i cannot fully embrace the notion that one religion is right. Why can't we see all of them as right? –this was a thought by Huston Smith (that i've always liked). This type of question obviously merits a blog entry of its own. Thank you soo much for your time and wonderful writing…I'm definately a subscriber now. Cheers.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thank, Michael, for all you’ve said here. I checked out your blog, which seems great. I used to take a fair amount of Kung-Fu (and Tae Kwon Do, and Judo, and Aikido–I used to be Joe Take Martial Arts Classes), and I took Tai Chi lessons forever. Anyway, I like your blog very much.

    For what it’s worth–and I’m sure you know this–relatively few people embrace the Bible in its entirety. Most Christians outside of fundamentalists understand that the Bible is, for instance, packed with metaphors–that it is not, in fact, inerrant. INSPIRED, but not inerrant. Also, LOTS of Christians–lots of leading, important Christians–don’t think Christianity is the only “right” religion. The exclusivity of the Christian way is a very hot topic right now within the faith. You just never hear about all the “liberal” Christians out here because, unlike the “conserative” Christians, they have virtually no national outlet through which to voice their opinions. Plus, they don’t make good news stories, since, news-wise, “There are many ways to God” can’t compete with, say, “God Hates Fags!”

    Anyway, I’m glad to meet you.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thank, Michael, for all you’ve said here. I checked out your blog, which seems great. I used to take a fair amount of Kung-Fu (and Tae Kwon Do, and Judo, and Aikido–I used to be Joe Take Martial Arts Classes), and I took Tai Chi lessons forever. Anyway, I like your blog very much.

    For what it’s worth–and I’m sure you know this–relatively few people embrace the Bible in its entirety. Most Christians outside of fundamentalists understand that the Bible is, for instance, packed with metaphors–that it is not, in fact, inerrant. INSPIRED, but not inerrant. Also, LOTS of Christians–lots of leading, important Christians–don’t think Christianity is the only “right” religion. The exclusivity of the Christian way is a very hot topic right now within the faith. You just never hear about all the “liberal” Christians out here because, unlike the “conserative” Christians, they have virtually no national outlet through which to voice their opinions. Plus, they don’t make good news stories, since, news-wise, “There are many ways to God” can’t compete with, say, “God Hates Fags!”

    Anyway, I’m glad to meet you.

  • hughvic

    Hi, John. Funny thing, my brother: though I grew up in Dr. Lederer’s neck of the woods and now call Atlanta home, I had a truly weird, blinding Damascus Road experience in Mountain View (!) many years ago. I’ve never written about it, and doubt that I ever could; it simply seems ineffable. So with your permission I’d like to adopt your splendid account of your own sudden bucketful-in-the-face as a kind of proxy for my own non-account. (Besides, you’re the better writer and a much nicer guy than I am.) I’m pretty sure that I recognize you, by the way. Did you ever have dealings with the Stanford chaplaincy?

    Oh, and two things I think you and several of these correspondents might really enjoy checking out, if any of you hasn’t already done: the written work of the American Aikido Sensei Lynn Seiser, Ph.D.; and the book “A Scandalous Beauty”, by Santa Barbara’s Thomas B. Schmidt.

    Pax Christi,

    Hugo

  • CJ Farris

    Why can’t we see all of them as right?

    This was Michael's question from last month.

    My answer to him is that there is no way they can all be right.

    Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one can come to the Father but through Him. St. John 14:6

    So, if anyone would say that all beliefs (Religions) were right that automatically makes Christianity wrong.

    All Religions ask for a person to do something to enter into their Religion.

    Christianity is the only one that demanded a payment for sin and the Jesus willingly paid the price.

    There is a song that says, "I owed a debt I could not pay, He (Jesus) paid a debt He did not owe ….". And that was because He loved us so much.

  • http://cordieb.wordpress.com cordieb

    Super "testimony"

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com Skerrib

    hughvic–"…the Spirit bloweth wheresoever it damn well pleaseth…" Love it!

  • hughvic

    CJ Farris,

    Two things. One, Jews. They’re already WITH the Father. Father says so. Father knows best.

    Two, we’d probably do well to remember that the Spirit bloweth wheresoever It damn well pleaseth, even after mortal death, so no one, even after death, is beyond the Father’s reach. Even people of other faiths. Even apostates and non-believers. That Jesus tarried en route to the tomb of Lazarus, and was crestfallen by the lack of understanding of this by even those closest to Him, should be evidence enough.

    Besides, evangelists must always remember that they know not which way is up. They are bleating like everyone else. Best they can do is to tell another sheep that they think they hear the Shepherd’s voice thisaway or thataway, and then go with the sheep when they agree that they have the same purpose, which is not a destination but a direction—from the Shepherd.

  • CJ Farris

    Hmm. Jews already with the Father. I must have missed that. Where will I find it?

  • hughvic

    First, how is it that you take your Commission seriously while ignoring basic covenant theology? Second, you find a discussion of the matter on this very blog: at the string under John's "What Non-Christians Want Christians To Hear", see the posts by the learned Yael, passim. If you still want to play Dueling Scriptures after reading her analysis, then please just let me know.

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  • http://www.northpointcc.wordpress.com Tom

    I am one of those conservative, evangelical Christ-followers and I have thoroughly enjoyed this site. I appreciate the fresh, clear account of your encounter with God. I have been a pastor for 38 years and am fully aware that the church has often done more to discredit faith than to make it attractive.

  • Richard

    I love unconventional conversions. I really do. My own was over fifteen years ago.

    As for hearing a voice, I’ve heard Him twice in a similar fashion: The first was a call to preach, and the other, many years later, was a reminder from Him that “If you think you’re at the end of your rope, then you are.” Which meant that if I didn’t think I was at the end of my rope, than I wasn’t.

    As a man thinketh..

    I enjoyed your testimony.

  • Candace

    A superhero sort of conversion: Into the supply closet, lost …. out of the supply closet, found.

    Gotta love those mysterious ways.

  • cabsplace

    John,

    Wow! I wasn't out actively seeking blogs like yours this morning but I'm so glad I was divinely directed here, somehow. I love what you have to say, how you say it and the fact that, indeed, you are gutsy enough to simply say it. I'm also interested in the fact that you are a writer who actually makes a living writing (one of my dreams, but I heard writers writer a lot and mostly starve doing it so I haven't quit my day job yet). I'd like to put you on my blogroll. It's been an enjoyable morning (after way too much distracting holiday cheer last night) reading you and refocusing myself spiritually. Thank-you!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    What a lovely thing to say. Thank you! I really appreciate these very encouraging words.

  • Brenda

    Hi John,

    I am a Christian who does believe the whole Bible is true. But what is that truth? Over my lifetime, my beliefs have been shaped by the beliefs of many others, and some of those beliefs must be wrong, because they don't all agree.

    Sadly, it seems that rather than try to understand what God is saying in the Bible, people look for ways to make it say what works for them. Others get into discussions about the original meaning of each word, but I'm not sure God depended on the scribes who copied the scriptures to get every word exactly right, or maybe He did, but no matter what translation I read, it seems I am able to get the "gist" of it, even if the words are not exactly the same.

    I'm not sure things have to be as complicated as humans make them, nor do I believe God is as hard on us as we are on ourselves—which sounds inconsistent, given the fact that we are to be perfect, "even as He is perfect". We might not be understanding God, and maybe His idea of perfect is not the same as ours, which often hinges on following the "rules" of a religion or a denomination. Maybe it is easier to make up (and try to follow) rules than it is to get our hearts right. (I'm just throwing out ideas here.)

    I believe God has set plenty of non-negotiables where our faith is concerned, and people are good at getting themselves mixed up when they try to put God into the box of human thinking and make comments like "Well, I know that's what the Bible says, but it doesn't make sense that God would do something like that." Because the Bible also says there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.

    My point being, we make mistakes by being to easy on ourselves, and also by being too hard on ourselves.

    Would it not be cool if a person could have a conversion experience devoid of any preconceived ideas or influences, and just have God teach them what He was really saying in the Bible and how He wants that individual to live? That would be a very different life style than what many Christians are living today.

    Your way of thinking is a little scary (to a very traditional person like me) because it appears you've tossed out a lot of traditional thinking–but it's good for the same reason. And there are still a lot of traditions that are very good, as long as they don't hold us back from the truth as it is revealed to us. :)