You’ve probably heard that neat little saying before, “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” It’s true enough, I think, in the sense that as a religion Christianity is about forming a personal relationship with Jesus—about constantly, fervently furthering that relationship. But do we really get that?
I didn’t. Not for a long time, at least.
My family was the standard. A lovely Christian couple with kids who enjoyed going to church. A family that spent time together in the Word. A family “doing it right.” My father was even a pastor—top notch, huh? We were ideal.
We were more broken than anyone realized—more broken than I realized.
It’s all a blur now. The only things I recall are the heart-pounding panic and the screaming voice inside my head. How? Why? Why now? At 17, it was the first time I’d faced a trial of this scale. I was losing the only thing that held any importance to me in this world: my family.
Everything I’d known crumbled in an instant. My parents were splitting; my father was leaving the church; the game was over. Even though I pasted on my smile and acted brave for my mom and siblings, my heart bled. Shame, like I’d never known, filled me. It wasn’t shame over what my family was going through, though. It was shame over the pride I’d so long clung to, the foolish idea that my family was above stumbling… falling.
Let’s rewind a bit to a time before the 17-year-old me.
Devotions in the morning: Check. Morning, evening, and mealtime prayers: Check. Church on Sundays and midweek: Check. Be obedient, use my talents for Christ, let Him shine through me: Check. Check. Check.
Before I continue, let me say that I’m not putting these things down. They’re great, and I don’t list them with cynicism. It’s just reality. In a Christian home, this was life, and I didn’t mind it one bit. I enjoyed it. There was real joy in living for Christ; pride that I would never have to be ashamed of. But this life wasn’t mine, not really. It was the life my parents wanted me to lead, practices that they emulated for me, and something I willingly followed. Again, I don’t think this was bad… to a certain point.
Fast forward again to me at 17. My family is falling apart. I’m trying to be strong, but I don’t know what to do. It isn’t just my dad walking out the door at that moment—it’s my spiritual leader.
Despite the hardships of the situation, I wasn’t mad at God. I understood enough about sin and free will to know that God didn’t want to hurt me. I knew about His love for me and believed in it.
But I didn’t know how to bring my pain to Him.
It was my “moment”—the moment religion and relationship became clear to me as different concepts. What I’d been living was a religion. It was good on the surface; it was shiny and pretty and brought in compliments about what a “good Christian girl” I was, but it was shallow. I had to stop and reexamine my motives up until that point.
Morning devotions. Skim the page; be able to say I did it. Morning, evening, and mealtime prayers. Recite the words; don’t mean them. Church: Sundays and midweek. Half pay attention; learn something, but forget it later.
Do you see?
I went through the motions. All of my knowledge meant nothing when I didn’t know how to communicate with my Heavenly Father. The loss of the person I counted on to guide me through the practicing of my religion left me empty. The tools were there, but I had failed to execute, and in my failure, I hit a wall. So, in my desperation to fix what I had no power to control, I continued my religious facade. Inside, however, there was only silence.
As I stood in my silence, my emotions caught up, and they brought me to my knees. Anger, bitterness, depression, anxiety—they built and built and the more noise they made, the more the silence between myself and my Creator grew. I never knew the two could exist at once.
And the more the silence grew, the more I hated it. It was worse than the noise, painful in ways I cannot describe. Still, everything that I had been taught, all the motions that I’d gone through, they’d stuck. My religion told me that the part that was missing inside was far more detrimental than the broken family on the outside.
So, I stopped, and in the midst of the noise, I called out. And you know what? I found it. The embers of a relationship had been smoldering, waiting for me to breathe life into them. He had been there all along. He hadn’t gone away with my father. In the silence that I had so despised, I finally heard the voice of the Savior, whispering to me that He had never left.
You see, the religion my faith was based on was great as a set of rules to live by, but I had missed the personal part. I missed the relationship that made everything mine. I left Jesus in the Bible and remembered him only for a fleeting moment when I sent my prayers heavenward. But He never forgot me. He didn’t leave me alone. His desire for a relationship is the only thing that could have brought me back to Him.
Nobody—well, hopefully, nobody—said the Christian life would be easy. If nothing else, the fact that it calls for the maintenance of a relationship is hard enough. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you a relationship has to go both ways; it’s pointless if both parties aren’t fully invested.
Christ has already welcomed me with open arms.
Now, it’s my turn.
What’s new with Adryanna? “In May, I graduate with my Master’s in English and Creative Writing. Once I’m done with school, I’ll continue revising my fantasy novels for publication and begin work on a brand new series. Hopefully, I’ll be doing all that writing in one or more of the countries my husband and I plan to visit! Or maybe I’ll stay home and watch anime. That sounds good, too.”