It is a strange thing: I don’t remember meeting any of the people who have most shaped me in my life. Either that or they don’t remember meeting me. I don’t remember meeting my mum, my dad or my older sisters. That’s true for most people, I presume! My husband doesn’t remember meeting me (as I like to lovingly remind him…). And I don’t remember first coming to know my Lord Jesus Christ.
When my parents bought a house in Sydney in the early 80s, in God’s kindness, it was down the road from a church which loved Jesus and taught the Bible. It meant that I got to grow up hearing about Jesus the King. My mum, in particular, modelled to me how to follow Jesus and the significance of prayer and Bible study. Even as a child I knew that her ‘quiet time’, reading the Bible in our front sitting room, was a treasured and protected time in her day.
Apparently when I was four I asked Mum if I was going to heaven. She asked me ‘Do you trust in Jesus?’ I said that I did. What a beautiful thing that the trust of a child is all God asks of us! It was in late high school that I think I understood more fully what I trusted in Jesus to do, and why I needed to trust him to do it.
As a teenager I always felt that my true identity was who I was before God. I kept going to the local church youth group because I felt understood as a Christian. The leaders were great. They taught and modelled how following Jesus was a big deal, that it was based on truth and lived out in love. I vividly remember one of my leaders sharing how she turned down a marketing job at CocaCola, to work at a toilet paper company because the hours would help her keep leading youth group. I was shocked that following Jesus made a difference in such a concrete way. I’m thankful that my friends at school were always respectful and at times intrigued by my faith, even if they didn’t share it.
In Year 11, I went on a camp for for kids who led the Christian group at their school. I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t leading anything. But my sister had said it was ‘really good!!!!!’ and so I went along. We had small groups where we looked at a Bible passage together. On perhaps the third day we looked at Romans 1. As we read the Bible it was like looking at the world through God’s eyes. I saw how rudely I, and indeed everyone, treated him when we ignored him. It was a shock. I knew Jesus had died for me on the cross. But now I saw that his death took a penalty I deeply deserved. His decision to die offered a rescue that I needed, not just one that I wanted. The gospel wasn’t just good news for me. It was needed news for everybody.
Even though I can’t remember when I became a Christian, following Jesus has been and continues to be immensely transformative in my life. It has transformed my future. I have complete assurance of my eternal destiny in a way that gives me hope, confidence and clarity in the present.
It has transformed how I see my past. The truth that I am ‘simul justus et peccator’, both sinner and justified, enables me to look at past mistakes with honesty – I don’t have to justify myself using rose-coloured glasses. But I don’t have to be owned by those mistakes because I know that God has forgiven me fully and freely—not because of his own rose-coloured glasses but because of the death of Jesus.
Following Jesus also continues to shape my life day to day. Following his commands is the best ‘life hack’ I’ve found. Again and again I am thankful for the purpose, clarity and wisdom he gives to my life and the way his Spirit changes my attitudes and behaviour. And I am so thankful that as I continue to fall short, to hurt others and choose my way over his, his words in the Bible remind me he is patient, empathetic and he will persevere with me. The older I get, the more it seems to me that much of human behaviour is driven by fear: a fear of death, a fear of missing out (which is just fear of death brought into the shorter term) or a fear of being known (and then not loved). The Bible tells me that I am utterly known and utterly loved. Jesus defeated my sin-earned death on my behalf. That truth sets me free. I don’t have to be driven by fear any more. I can be driven by love instead.
Since becoming a mum, I have become even more thankful for the truths of the Scriptures. The lives and futures of my kids are in God’s hands (Psalm 139). I don’t have to pretend to be a ‘perfect’ parent, rather I can be a forgiven one (1 John 1:7-10). I am freed from feeling bound to meet others’ expectations (or even my own), or to live to please other people and myself! (Gal 1:10) I am also freed from the sense of entitlement which, in my case, so often fuels anger when my ‘entitlements’ are not met by others. As well as this, following Jesus enables me to love people better. God’s love for me in all my mess means I can love others not because they are impressive or because of how they will love me back. I can love them because they are precious to God and so they are precious, full stop.
As it does for many people, dementia runs in my family. As I look down the barrel of all that that may (or may not) mean, the gospel gives me hope. That’s probably much easier to say at this stage of life but still I hope it’s worth saying. I am deeply thankful to God that in his kindness I have known him since before I knew most things. And should there come a time when many things and even people become unknown to me—I am deeply thankful that my final salvation rests, not on me and the information I know, but on God—that I am known by him, belong to him and loved by him.