I was a junior in high school, and I was on fire.
The mangled, dirty red “WWJD” bracelet wrapped around my wrist, next to beaded hemp friendship bracelets from summer camp, its worn strings another reminder of my faith. It was Monday morning, so I showed up to my English teacher’s classroom before school to grab a stack of flyers: I was now, officially, a junior leader for Young Life, and it was part of my duty to help get everyone who “needed” to be there, there. I, of course, didn’t need to be there: I’d already accepted Jesus into my heart, I already called myself a Christian.
I was friends with everybody, or so I claimed, so I passed those flyers out without regard: to the jocks and the partiers, to the band geeks and the preps, to the nerds and the loners. With joy and without apology, my zeal could not be contained; I dodged couples making out, tangled bodies pushed up against lockers, and freshmen running as to not be late. I shoved flyers into the hands of anyone I made eye contact with or shouted hello to – after all, since everyone was my friend, this was not only my right, it was my duty.
That night, I’d show up to club: I’d scope the front door for newcomers, piously claiming ownership: He came because of me! I’d scan the room for my current crush, hopeful that he already knew Jesus so that I wouldn’t have to Date to Save. My Campaigners leader had told me it was wrong to be “unequally yoked,” and I didn’t want to destroy my standing with her. I’d laugh at the jokes, and cross my fingers that they’d call me up for a game – but as the now-Christian kid, I was old news to play Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich With Just Your Feet. Instead, I’d sing “Sweet Home Alabama,” fists merrily pumping on bama, bama, bama! and when it was time for the slow songs, I’d sit up just a little bit straighter from my seat on the floor, my own voice loudly carrying the melody for all the newcomers. I’d cheer for the leader giving the talk that week, although deep down inside, I knew the fluffy, story-filled talks weren’t actually for me – they were for those who didn’t quite get it yet. The Outsiders.
Since I was already in, I filled the rest of the week with other, deeper moments with other Christians.
I’d show up 45 minutes early to school the next morning, and head to that same, now- abandoned English classroom. Tim, the new senior transfer, had started TFC, Time For Change, but it was much more selective than Young Life. You had to be a Christian, a committed Christian who would sacrifice sleep for Jesus, to be there; we wanted to show the rest of our school that it really was time for a change, because it mattered, He mattered. We were taking McNary High School over for Jesus. Tim would lead us in songs, and we’d belt out “Light the Fire” and “Shout to the Lord” and “I Exalt Thee,” each voice competing for the loudest, holiest, most angelic spot. We’d leave the door wide open so that others would hear how much we loved Jesus, and maybe, just maybe, realize Truth.
Maybe we’d even let them in.
I’d visit various youth groups when I didn’t have to work on a Wednesday night, and come Sunday morning, I had my list of churches I could visit to get fed, and get right with Jesus, and repent from Friday and Saturday nights.
Because the truth was this: although I really, really loved Jesus, and although I really, really wanted everyone to know it, I also wanted to keep my options open.
I wanted to get invited to that party, to the one that everyone was going to be at. I wanted to drink wine coolers and smoke the pack of cloves hidden in the glove compartment of my car; I wanted to kiss my crush, and tell Kristen and Sarah and Jessica the whole story the next week at school. I didn’t want to be too Christian, because being Too Christian was boring, and I was above that label, I was fun.
Besides, how else was I going to have a good three-minute testimony?
So with one foot in and one foot out, my Doc Martens tottered precariously on the fence of Evangelicalism, on the brink of Christianity. I was the older son, but I yearned to be the younger son. I’d wear my Young Life sweatshirt on Mondays, but as for one of those youth group t-shirts that boasted verses, a la “The Lord’s Gym,” I would have none of that – because I wasn’t that much of a Jesus Freak.
I was a Jesus Freak when it mattered – and, as for me and my testimony, that was enough.
Although I write quite frequently on faith, I haven’t necessarily spent very much time musing over the more Evangelical, “On Fire” times of my spiritual journey. But it felt appropriate, as fellow blogger and writer Addie Zierman‘s book, When We Were on Fire, makes its publishing debut today. But in the meantime, what has your spiritual journey been like? What, if any, parts of my story did you resonate with?0