I used to think my testimony could be summed up in five words: I grew up in church. “It’s time to share our testimonies!” was my least favorite sentence at church events.
It wasn’t that I hated hearing testimonies. Far from it, actually. I loved drinking in the stories others told about their lives. How they had a traumatic experience. How they fell into the depths of despair. How they heard the audible voice of God and had a complete Saul, road-to-Damascus-light awakening moment. How they gave their lives over to Christ. How they now travel all around the world, like superheroes, finding people to help and being the Ananias for others.
It was just that, in comparison, I was so boring.
Who would want to hear my testimony? “Well, I grew up in the church. My family is all Christian. I’ve just kept learning more.” There’s nothing compelling that would make people weep over the goodness of God. Sometimes I’d try to jazz it up a little. But how much can you really embellish on a memory from when you were four?
Then I’d try to pinpoint when I “made the faith my own,” as we like to say. But I’d get stuck. Was it when I went to a new school for an advanced program? Was it when I was part of mission trips in high school? Maybe it actually started when I moved to college. But I could never tell for sure; it always came gradually. I’d learn about God’s comforting presence. I’d discover community. I saw God’s heart for social justice. I learned that evangelism was possible for even introverts. Each learning experience was a step, not The Step.
So I would keep quiet. I’d give a little shrug and say, “I grew up in the church,” and leave it at that. I would let others share their stories first and hope time ran out.
Who knows how long I would’ve gone on doing that if God hadn’t stepped in?
God chose to speak to me, as he does for so many, at Urbana. I didn’t hear a voice from the sky or receive prophetic visions as main speakers led sessions. I just went to lunch with two people I had never met before. Inevitably, one of them asked me for my story.
“Oh, my family is Christian. I grew up in the church.”
“How neat!” the guy exclaimed.
How neat? What?
“That’s so cool. So it’s like exactly what the Bible says. ‘Raise your kids in the way they should go.’”
Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it. A verse from Proverbs. I’d read it many times but had never connected it to my life before. It was a stunning realization. My experience was valid. More to the point, my experience was biblical! I didn’t need to have a “road to Damascus” moment, and someone could still be interested in it?
I felt, for the first time, affirmation for my story.
About three weeks later, I was listening to a speaker at my church talk about the revitalization of the church, its importance in people’s lives, and the need for it to continue. He told his story.
“I grew up in the church. Isn’t that great? I want everyone’s story to be that they grew up in the church.”
My head might have exploded.
Why had that thought never occurred to me? Isn’t that our goal? Don’t we desire to see everyone start their lives with Jesus as their Lord and live that out every day? Don’t people who have gone through the pit of despair sometimes wish they hadn’t in order to meet God? As beautiful and as moving as their stories are, don’t we rejoice in the end because they have accepted God’s grace?
It opened up an entire new world for me. My story was the Church’s story. My story was my parents’ story, my grandparents’ story, the handing down of God’s precious Word for years. It was the story of God’s faithfulness to all generations, the story of the disciples in Jerusalem, the story of missionaries in every corner of the globe.
Each person’s testimony is always God’s testimony. I finally found where God entered mine, and it was 2,000 years ago.
I still say “I grew up in the Church” when I share in a group. But I no longer duck my head, embarrassed, or try to deflect the conversation. I’ll happily share the difficulties I’ve had, hoping they connect with someone and being okay if they don’t. I rejoice in my story, because through it the glory of God is revealed.
What’s your story? Share it with us in the comments below!
Sharon is an InterVarsity alumna from the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign. She now wears her orange and blue in Madison, Wisconsin, as the communications assistant for InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry.