I read very few blogs, but Addie Zierman‘s is one I love. She is an incredibly talented writer whose new memoir, When We Were on Fire is her story about growing up in an evangelical church, in the “strange us-versus-them world of the 90′s Christian subculture, where your faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore and whether or not you’d “kissed dating goodbye.” I can’t wait to read this account of her journey in and out of the evangelical church. Today she’s hosting a synchroblog, inviting others to write of their experience of being on fire for Jesus. Mine, growing up a suburb of Chicago, was quite different from hers…
I was in high school in the 70’s before “WWJD”, but when “Jesus Freaks” were still a thing.
We weren’t cool enough to earn that title, but not clueless enough to be weird. A friend of mine wrote in the cover of his Bible, “No more Bozo’s for Jesus.” We just tried not to be “them”. We fell somewhere between Freaks and Bozos.
The extent of our Jesus freakout was that our youth group went to the downtown Chicago theater productions of Godspell and (subversively) Jesus Christ Superstar. And we carried our The Way Living Translations of the Bible to school on mornings when we had Bible study.
With the awe and fervor of new found faith, like a scientist discovering a new planet, we wanted to run up to others, shake them and yell “Have you heard??!!! Isn’t it amazing??!!” and “Do you know about this earth-shattering-stinkin’-awesome grace stuff?”, but we tried not to pounce.
We lurched forward, fell down, and stumbled our way towards owning our faith and finding authentic ways to express ourselves.
Then one day, we were on a Young Life ski trip heading north to Whitecap, Wisconsin. A jumble of hormonal teens, all arms and legs and acne, some new to faith, some desperately confused, all self-conscious and insecure.
We traveled on a grungy old school bus which we’d made grungier with Cheeto bits scattered and melted snow mixed with cinders on the floor. Kids leaned over the vinyl seats, some facing forward, some backwards, yelling, singing, throwing paper wads. It was into this mess that I got bumped, and my contact popped out. My friends and I all scrunched down on the gritty bus floor and squinted, covering every inch possible, looking for what seemed like forever.
Finally, ready to give up, we grasped at faith. As only those new to Jesus can do, one of us exclaimed, “Hey! We should pray about this!!”
This was it! This was the amazing adventure of faith we had learned Jesus wanted of us. We were ready. We were confident. Still kneeling on the dirty floor, we closed our eyes and prayed.
At “Amen” I opened my eyes, looked down, and in utter amazement, picked up my contact. It was a miracle as awesome as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes or the raising of Lazarus in our minds. What was lost had been found. Jesus truly saw us even in our adolescent, pimply mess.
When we got home, on fire for Him and us and prayer and being found, we scheduled an appointment with our church youth pastor. I’ll never forget sitting down in his office, pouring out how Jesus saw us on a bus. We interrupted each other gesturing enthusiastically.
He listened, was quiet for a minute, and then as though he had pulled a super-soaker water gun out from beneath his desk, he said, “Well, maybe it was answered prayer. But maybe it was just a coincidence.”
Huh? What the what?! We felt drenched in his disregard, the flame of our belief sputtering as it gasped for air.
But the spark of Jesus in us was stronger in us than the soaking voice of reason. We walked out of our pastor’s office and didn’t talk about it again. However, we knew Jesus was real. We weren’t old enough to think we had to figure out what Jesus would and wouldn’t do. We hadn’t diluted Him.
The small ember of faith continued to flicker through the dark mornings of adolescence. And it pulsed and radiated, growing warmer. We were still on fire for Jesus, but gradually it was with the quietly confident blue orange coals that are hotter than hot, not the flashy flame of first light.
Sometimes, I think when Jesus sees us in our awkward-not-Bear-Grylls attempts to nurture the sparks of faith, He smiles, and decides to graciously fan the flame. He did it once on a school bus.
And after years of prayers, I don’t ever want to get so sophisticated that I lose the joy of that moment.