Note: I’ve written before about my relationship with religion, especially as a young girl trying to make sense of God while obsessive-compulsive disorder was running my life. In this vignette, I write about an early religious experience.
I found out about rededicating one’s life to Christ on May 2, 1975. I was almost 12 years old. It was a Friday, and revival had been going on all week.
My church had mustard yellow, walk-in carpet, the thin kind that wears well. The floors were dark hardwood, remnants of the church’s past. I sat in the youth choir section, which was directly across from the adult choir section.
The altar was on my right between the two choirs. A railing encircled the altar and the chairs for the ministers. On the outside of the railing was a section for kneeling sinners, for those coming to get saved or to rededicate their lives to Jesus.
Every night, as we sang the last hymn, the visiting minister, the revival speaker, put out the call to the altar. As we sang, people would put down their hymnals and walk up to the altar. Some would be crying, some looked scared, some looked relieved, some looked determined. But afterwards, they all looked relieved.
I hadn’t gone up to the altar all week. I had been baptized when I was about nine, and I wasn’t sure how that played into salvation.
From what I was hearing from the revival speaker, it didn’t mean anything. I was still a sinner and still far from God and still not saved.
And there was a specific way to be saved. One had to accept Jesus into their hearts to be saved. Believing that he existed wasn’t enough either.
During the final hymn all through the week, I had felt intensely anxious. I would feel a growing dread as we sang a hymn such as “Just As I Am.” My arms felt numb, I couldn’t concentrate on the words of the hymn and I felt afraid.
I wondered if the fear was God’s way of telling me that I needed to be saved. I wondered if I needed to go to the altar.
I wished I knew what the people going forward had prayed. The preacher usually talked to them, too, at the altar.
This Friday night, we sang the final hymn, and I felt that now-familiar fear and dread and anxiety. I was afraid to go up to the altar. I was shy. But I was afraid not to go up, too. And some of my friends had gone up earlier in the week and seemed happy for doing it.
In a daze, I put down the hymnal and walked the short walk to the altar and knelt down. I didn’t know what to do. I closed my head and bowed my head, but I didn’t really know what to pray.
The prayer that came out without thinking, out loud, in a whisper, was something like, “Oh, God, please forgive me.”
I remember opening my eyes and seeing the minister smile at me. I looked behind me and saw my parents, who had come up to stand behind me. They were smiling, too. I heard the minister talking to my parents, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Then I heard my parents tell the minister that I had been baptized. The minister looked at me and told me I had rededicated my life to Christ that night.
When I got home, I opened up my Bible, the white one with my name embossed on the front that I had received for Christmas one year, and in the front wrote the date and that I had rededicated my life to Christ on that date.
This was the beginning of my obsession about being saved. I couldn’t resolve within me how getting baptized was something that had saved me when I heard ministers and then, when I started going to Christian schools, school officials and teachers say that you had to accept Christ in your heart to be saved. I knew I hadn’t done that when I was baptized. But I hadn’t prayed that on May 2, 1975. All I’d prayed was for God to forgive me. Was that being saved?
But what I was learning at church at revivals and at school especially was telling me that one had to pray a certain prayer and ask specifically for forgiveness from sins and for Jesus to come into your heart. That was the only way to be saved.
I don’t know how many times I prayed for forgiveness and for Christ to come into my heart. I was looking for the feeling that I was saved, for a reassurance that I didn’t need to worry about it any more.
That was a reassurance that I knew others my age had who were saved. They didn’t seem to doubt their salvation at all. They could point to a date or an age and say with certainty that they had been saved then.
How did religion affect you when you were a child?