My sister Tracey, at age seven, had been paying attention in Sunday school, and was persuaded that she would go to hell if she did not accept Jesus into her heart. Her very recent conviction did not give her relief or peace, however, as she carried a burning urgency home from church, tormented for the soul of her younger sister.
The first chance she got, in our shared bedroom, she explained the whole fearful thing to me in stunning detail and then asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart and save my soul.
I rather just hoped she was wrong. I wished she’d let me continue playing with my doll.
My non-answer was unacceptable to her. I clearly didn’t understand, I was in danger of hell fire so she explained it to me all over again and told me the right answer was YES.
Sensing the opportunity for a power play, I said NO decisively.
Tracey wasn’t having it. She wrestled me to the ground and put me in a headlock until I promised to “repeat after her” what I can now imagine was a crude “sinner’s prayer,” asking forgiveness for my sins and asking Jesus into my heart. She would NEVER LET ME GO until I did.
I think back on this moment fondly, even though, at the time (and upon reflection), there were a whole bunch of reasons to be alarmed by it. It was only in adulthood that I felt for Tracey, that she had been influenced by fear, rather than inspired by the beauty of Jesus’ love. In hindsight, I am ridiculously proud of her too – that we would all be so bold to pluck our family and friends from danger, as she believed me to be.
Tracey was true to her word and released me immediately after I agreed and then spoke the words she told me to pray to Jesus. I gave her a glare and brushed myself off, but I could not brush off what she had pushed on me. It bothered me enough to keep me up at night and, the next day, ask my parents if somebody can be forced to become a Christian?
I remember their amused smiles when I explained the situation to them. No one can force you to follow Jesus, they told me kindly.
It made me feel better that Jesus, the one I was acquainted with at Sunday school – and was drawn to – wouldn’t strong-arm my allegiance.
This also meant I wasn’t a Christian.
This became a piercing thought for me. If Tracey was right, I was dangling on the precipice of hell. So, if I was destined to burn forever, I figured I might as well live it up now and participate in all the worst behaviours I could think of.
I said two swear words, the only ones I knew, over and over again. Exhilarating at first, but boring too quickly. I tried to find a creative way to get into trouble. It held no real appeal, though, as I was a peaceable child. Although I was headed for hell, I didn’t want to be in Mom and Dad’s bad books in the meantime. I targeted my baby brother for a while, but making him upset made me feel upset too. I snuck bubblegum, but found it less pleasurable without permission…
After a day trying – unsuccessfully – to live out my destiny as a hell-bent terror, and an agonizing second night worried about my eternal condition, I went to Mom and Dad. “I want to become a Christian.”
They seriously and kindly acknowledged my decision. They kneeled with me on the same rough synthetic bedroom carpet where Tracey had previously held me in a headlock and told me to repeat after them, “Dear Jesus…”
I prayed with all sincerity. I knew my very soul depended on it.
When did you first hear about Jesus? Was it a positive or negative experience?