Seven years ago this week, I had my “come to Jesus” moment.
That’s not to say that over the past few years I haven’t had many experiences in which I’ve come away wondering “did I ever really believe up until now?” Many of those moments were far more profound and life-changing. It’s just that for me, it’s where a certain chapter of my life began.
I was raised in a Christian tradition that prized altar calls and bowing your heads, closing your eyes, and raising your hands to be saved. There was a clear delineator of when you were “born again” and when you were not. It was a moment in history, not just a spiritual exercise.
I don’t totally disagree. I think that there is something significant about the moment you first say yes, the same way I can remember the first time my best friend and I stopped just being colleagues. Our friendship has had many more important moments, but going to see Alice in Wonderland after work on a rainy Monday evening in March was where it started.
But as I have persisted (persevered for you Calvinists) in this faith I’ve discovered more and more what a relationship with God is like. In order for it to work, as Martin Luther famously said, all of life must be repentance. Every day the choice to say “yes” and not “no, I’m so done with this” is just as significant, if not more because coming to Jesus is often easier than staying.
My “come to Jesus” moment was maybe similar to a lot of other young, privileged people who had grown up in the church and knew the drill. Like others in my generation, after being steeped in an “I’m OK, you’re OK” culture in which everyone got an A for effort, it was easy to see salvation as a negotiation. I remember still trying to set terms and conditions: I’ll do this, but just as long as I don’t turn into a bubble-haired church lady who homeschools, wears denim jumpers, and votes Republican. For all of my knowing, I clearly had a lot to learn.
In other words, I still to some extent believed that the invitation to “come to Jesus” had something to do with my worthiness. Of course Jesus wanted me for his team.
But what I know now is that seven years ago, as much as my proud and self-important heart wanted to believe, I wasn’t doing God any favors by coming to Jesus. And because God is gracious, it was only by experiencing the love and grace of Jesus that I was eventually able to see that I was woefully inadequate, yet somehow dearly and passionately loved. The invitation I received that fateful night seven years ago was the start of many invitations that would change the entire course of my life, my career, my relationships, and my heart.
Which is why it’s doubly significant for me that this spiritual anniversary falls in the same week as Ash Wednesday.
If all of life is repentance, then Ash Wednesday is the Thanksgiving Day parade. It is significant in a city like Washington, D.C., to observe people we wouldn’t expect to be Christians walking around with ashes. I find it all so delightfully subversive.
In a place in which being smart, capable, well-educated, and put-together opens doors, it is subversive to publicly declare your spiritual inadequacy. In a city in which scandals and snafus are spun and messaged, to freely admit our sin is countercultural. When we’re told constantly of our own greatness but inevitably fall off our pedestals, to proclaim that our belovedness comes from God — regardless of what we do or don’t do is to tell the world less about who we are and more about who God is.
This year, I plan to receive my ashes remembering the words of Brother Lawrence:
“I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret, I confess to him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what he pleases with me. The King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite.” The Practice of the Presence of God
All of life is repentance and every day can be a come to Jesus moment. Here’s to many more meals at God’s table.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.