My born-again experience

8:39 AM

A year ago, my father and I were having a discussion about the notion of being born again, and I came up with an addendum to the conversation that I sent to him a week later in a letter. This was not an argument, and I was grateful for the exchange. I posted part of this letter because I think it conveys my perception of spiritual transformation as a lifelong organic process. It also offers up a messy misconception that ultimately forced me to start over...born again, again.

"...I wanted to surrender to God’s will as a child, and I said the words at some point.  Oddly, I can’t remember exactly when…it stands to reason that it was at some point at the Church of Christ because I know I heard the gospel there, first.  Then, there are happy memories of Bible studies and baptisms at the Boone house in the sixties and seventies, authentic loving breakthroughs when God showed up in my life for real like Come Together, times at Church on the Way, and my personal prayer life using a little blue light I had in my bedroom to enhance my experience of God’s presence. 

I also remember feeling vulnerable to waves of fear as a child and as an adolescent, including night terrors I had, often around dreams, and those fears went with me into my adult life, amplifying the darker moments...

The first 12-or-so years of my life, it seems that my conversion experience was (and yes, I am completely manufacturing this ratio) 1 part inspiration and 9 parts fear. Not only fear of the dark, or evil, but fear of failure, of being a disappointment. Why was I afraid? 

I was beginning to realize that the impulsive, overwhelming Laury… the adventurer, explorer, rule-bender, hide-in-the-bushes-smoker, school-ditcher and fringe-riding spiritual mystic wasn’t ever going to cut it. I didn’t like the consequences of messing up (shame, guilt, ect…), but more than that, I didn’t want to be isolated from you guys, other Christians, or God.  I felt like I needed a fresh start, a clean slate. As I recall, I came to you, asking for help when this revelation hit me, prompting our mutual decision to enroll me in another school, Marymount. 

Westlake Laury and Marymount Laury were like night and day, Oscar and Felix. Westlake friends will remember an athletic, bossy little hellion who stole, ditched and struggled in school under the spell of hypnotic distractions. Marymount friends will remember a devout, compliant, compulsive and chubby wallflower who sang in school masses, ate herself numb, and isolated from the adolescent landmines her friends were negotiating all around her. I think I have referred to this shift as my conversion experience in the past. For me, this was all an honest attempt at walking toward God; I had abandoned the old, and embraced what I perceived to be God’s path. But it didn’t completely “take.” I now believe this is because of my immature perception that I had to abandon myself to embrace God and become a new creation. 

Miraculously, it was the return to 8th grade as a teacher that led me right back to this emotional age, this self I had rejected, integrating the new creature with the original impulsive adventurer, explorer, rule-bender, hide-in-the-bushes-smoker, school-ditcher and fringe-riding spiritual mystic that I have always been, trapped behind a wall of my own careful construction.

Did you guys know that I memorized Matthew 5-7 when I was around 12? I think it was right around this time that I was desperately, sincerely trying to avail myself to God’s spirit, at work in me, from the inside out. I sat out in the back yard - I believe it was the summer of the year between Westlake and Marymount - and went over and over the scriptures until I could recite the whole thing.  I must have recited it for you (torture for you, practice for me?) I dropped a few tears the other day when this memory came to me, and I read the verses over, remembering how they felt to an immature young believer. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is not a good feeling that I find connected with this memory. I was afraid I couldn’t measure up, and I can still say the words, 'You have heard that it has been said…but I say,…' Over and over again, I learned what I perceived as the rules of my faith, and I remember the emotional reaction like it was yesterday:  I will never be able to do this.

When I failed, after that, to live up to the expectations as they were defined in my mind, I began to keep that to myself…to build a little wall, brick by brick, hiding my failure from others who might see through the facade. Isolated, after all. The wall got higher and thicker each time I observed myself missing the target, and it would eventually confirm the growing perception that there was something inherently missing. Something wrong with me...."

So,...there is is. 12 years old, and I was already steeped in self-judgment. Soul searing, suffocating judgment. I don't know where it started, or how I became infected with it, but that really isn't the point. If judgment is a virus, I am a carrier. 

Fifty years or so into this journey, I'm pretty convinced that being "born again" isn't so much a moment, but a succession of stages that take us closer and closer to the target of wholeness. It's ironic many of us feel that in order to be whole, we need to abandon those parts of ourselves that seem ill suited to thriving in our existing families or communities. Because community is such an essential component of the human experience, we are caught in what seems to be an impossible dilemma: do we fit in, or break out?

Clearly, I am flawed and in need of spiritual transformation, but I am also both loving, and loved. For me, treatment of the virus combines brutal honesty about my character flaws and errors in judgment with radical self love and acceptance, and my personal renewal started with the following mantra: others may judge me, but I will not judge myself. When I fall into shame because I messed up (and I often do because I've have had a ton of practice) I am trying to remember to reach around my own sunken-down shoulders, and squeeze myself in a long, firm, deliberate hug. It's what I would do for anyone else I love, and if being born again leads in any other direction than love, I'm doing it wrong.

You Might Also Like


Popular Posts

Like us on Facebook