In response to a piece of mine (The Happiest Ending Ever), in which I told of my instant, out-of-nowhere conversion to Christianity, a reader named Sarah left me a comment.
“But why do I need Jesus to change my life?” she wrote. “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?”
Guided by the Holy Spirit (and writing, in blog-style, fairly quickly), here’s what I posted back to her:
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.)
To this Sarah answered:
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?
You reach out to God the same as you reach out to anyone: You sincerely and humbly ask to spend time with him.
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.
Right after posting that response, I wanted to say one more thing to Sarah. So I wrote:
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.
I have not yet heard back from Sarah. I hope to, of course.