Hearing from other congregations or religious denominations is important to our own personal growth as religious people, and that is why we chose to publish a piece from a youth outside of BMPC for the month of March. For those unfamiliar with Church of the Saviour, it is a non-denominational church located in Wayne. I have visited this church several times, and I’ve found their youth programs to be very in depth and thought provoking.
I asked Eloise Carson* to write this month’s piece not only because we have been friends for a long time, but also because I respect her views on faith, and she’s been very open with me about her faith journey. I have a very small handful of Christian friends, and Eloise is someone I’ve always felt the most comfortable with having open, religious-based conversations. Though we don’t always agree on religious ideology, she’s pushed me to think more deeply about certain biblical themes and question how strong my connection with God was/is.
The exact moment I knew I wanted Eloise to write a piece for our BMPC Youth Column was about a month ago. We were sitting in her car in my driveway at 10 o’clock at night, and somehow our conversation had shifted to faith. She described to me her recent “deep dive” into Christianity, and how she’d experienced a period of what we might call “religious panic.” We discussed modern-day religious ideology, her questioning, and even argued a little bit. We talked for close to an hour and a half, diving down rabbit holes and rebutting each other’s points, never coming to a complete conclusion on who was right or wrong. And perhaps that is the beauty of talking with someone who doesn’t have the same mindset as you. Nonetheless, I was surprised to hear that she had struggled so much with her faith over the last few months. Eloise has always seemed much more grounded in her faith than I am, and I view her as more religious than the average teenager. Understanding my friend’s faith journey made me think more about how I wanted to proceed forward with my own.
Eloise and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we’ve always agreed on one thing, and that was to respect each other’s viewpoints and listen openly. I believe that having honest and respectful conversations with people of our own faith and of faith communities we aren’t familiar with is important, not only for our own development but to better understand our world. I hope that our readers are able to take away something from Eloise’s honesty in this piece, and for our older readers, that they might be able to better understand the deliberations that younger people of faith often go through. I thank Eloise again for feeling open enough to write this piece, and if any of our readers are interested, here’s a link to learn more about Church of the Saviour.
*Author requested a pseudonym be used on her column.
Read Eloise’s piece below:
I am a rule follower by nature. So much so, in fact, that when I first heard the term “legalism” in reference to Christianity, I thought it was a good thing. Following the rules perfectly sounds like a good thing, right?
I followed all the church rules (almost) perfectly for most of my life. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing, and even though I felt like something was lacking in my relationship with God, I shrugged my shoulders and decided that it was a problem for another day. Last year, however, I began breaking some rules, and when the wave of guilt finally hit me, it was overpowering. I dove into reading the Bible in an attempt to convince myself that I wasn’t actually disobeying God. Doing this made me feel like more of a failure than I ever had felt before. Not only was I obviously breaking some of the rules God had set for me, but I also didn’t have the relationship He wanted me to have with Him. I wasn’t “seeking” God (Matthew 6:33).
I do not like to shirk responsibilities. When I began to realize that I was not “seeking” God, I thought of it as a task I was avoiding, a duty I had not fulfilled. I was not a “good enough Christian,” so I hit the books. I used to read the Bible once or twice a week at most; I started reading it three or four times a day. I used to scoff at my mother’s shelf of what I considered to be religious self-help books, but I began smuggling them into my room and reading as much as I could. I read article after article and became more and more discouraged.
I did not for a second look to verses in the Bible that spoke to freedom from condemnation and God’s eternal satisfaction in the one that trusts Jesus Christ. I began believing in a God who had exacting standards and no flexibility. I believed in a God who did not love me and who was eternally disappointed in me. Even the things I thought I was doing right, I was not doing well enough. I did not worship well enough because I wasn’t cheerful about it. I didn’t give well enough because my heart wasn’t in it. I began to feel guilty because my heart was not full of joy all the time, and I ignored the fact that God is responsible for transforming my heart and mind and does not leave it to my own effort.
I felt like such a failure that I began to doubt that I was even saved. I knew Ephesians 2:8 by heart: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” In the utmost irony, I began to lambast myself because I didn’t even have enough faith - surely, if I doubted that I was saved, then I probably wasn’t, and never would be because I was not even good enough at believing in God. I read condemnation into the most encouraging verses of the Bible. I was left exhausted, angry, and in paralyzing fear.
Then it hit me. I knew as well as anyone that you can’t “work” your way to heaven. That, however, was precisely what I was doing. I was merely striving to think perfect thoughts and have perfect feelings instead of living a perfect life. I realized that it was God who could open my heart so that I could believe in Him, and it was God who would give me the faith to do so. There was nothing I could do but trust that He would strengthen my faith and wash away my imperfections. I stopped striving and trusted God to do the work He needed to do in me.
Since then, my faith has increased by leaps and bounds. I now believe in a loving God. I am able to believe that I am acceptable in God’s eyes because of Jesus’ actions, not my own. I still struggle tremendously with a legalistic attitude toward God, and I have to remind myself almost daily that there is no divine checklist I need to complete to be acceptable in God’s eyes at the end of the day. Despite this, I am learning to accept the freedom given to me in Christ and approach God with confidence instead of shame. The best part is that I can stop performing, and I no longer feel like I need to wear a mask whenever I walk into church (except, of course, for COVID precautions). Through this experience, I have learned to accept the person that God has made me to be - flawed, messy, imperfect, and yet still valued, still honored, and still loved.