Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conversions - big "testimony" or small moments

Before I came back to the Catholic Church, I spent a lot of time with some protestant/evangelical/non-denominational friends of mine. Not that I don't spend time with them now, but I attended their church a bit and did a Bible study group for a while. I learned a lot from them, both things that I agreed with and things that I didn't and a lot of what I learned about Protestant Christianity helped me find my way back to the Church and learn to appreciate it in ways that I never had as a former cradle Catholic.

I often spent time simply listening and taking in their language, because there is a distinct set of things you hear in evangelical circles that you don't hear elsewhere. "Testimony" was one of those words. They'd talk about who they had shared their testimony with, how their testimony was important, and once in a while, one of them would share their actual testimony during our Bible study.

I admit when I first started hearing this term used in such a specific way, I wasn't sure what they meant. I came to realize they were referring to their conversion moment - the time when they became a Christian. I was surprised to realize that often they considered themselves a Christian before that moment, but after it happened, they changed their definition of themselves. Before their big Moment, they thought they were a real Christian, but they apparently weren't. It was only after said Moment that they truly became saved, or brought Jesus into their heart, or became a real Christian.

I was distressed because I'd never had a big conversion moment. I started to wonder if that meant I was doing something wrong. I thought back on my two main Catholic examples in my life - my mother and grandmother. And as far as I knew, they didn't have a "testimony" either. Not that they didn't have their own journeys of faith, and I knew a fair bit about my grandmother's. But I didn't think either of them would have talked in that same language, or necessarily had one, big, breakthrough moment that defined their faith in such a big way. Were they "real" Christians then? Was I? Could you be without that fall to your knees and weep before the Lord moment?

I've thought about that off and on over the last few years. Although I don't doubt the sincerity of my friends' accounts, nor the impact it clearly had on their lives, I have come to realize that having a profound moment of conversion may happen for some, but not all. And the big, dramatic, "testimony" story isn't a requirement to call yourself a follower of Christ - even though those friends of mine seem to think it is.

I haven't had a big, fall to my knees moment. But I have had a thousand little ones. I have experienced the hand of God in my life in very real ways, even when I wasn't trying to be faithful to Him and had fallen away from Catholicism specifically, and Christianity generally. I've experienced those moments during times of distress, and times of happiness and contentment. I've felt His call, felt His pull, and sometimes done the work of answering.

Conversion for me happens every day. I have to wake up and make a decision to have faith, make a decision to love, make a decision to do my best that day to follow God. A big Moment might have been an amazing, emotional experience, but for me the effect of that would probably wear off too quickly. The falling-in-love with God wouldn't last. I need to be in the old-married-couple phase - the part that takes the real work to maintain the relationship. And that's where I am, where my conversion to God happens all the time, in every decision I make and every prayer I say.


Jamie said...

What a beautiful post! I have shared many of these thoughts. It's interesting how you pulled out the same word and theme I have often pondered.

I used to feel like I had no testimony moments. But the more and more I live out my faith, the more open I am to having a moment where I fall to my knees. Yours may be coming. For now, keep noticing the little things. One day you will realize it was all something very big. (As I keep telling myself!)

Anonymous said...

I think that last paragraph is so true for catholics. We are in an almost constant state of conversion. I am so thankful for the sacrament of penance as that is always like a mini-conversion for me everytime I go.