I came to it a bit late, but that didn’t stop me.
I “got saved” in 1999, right before DC Talk went on hiatus. I never saw them in concert, but that didn’t stop me from wearing a “Jesus Freak” t-shirt or from joining online fan communities.
I was only 9 when I Kissed Dating Goodbye was published, but by the time my peers began dating I knew that the Christian response was to wait.
Even though I was young, I adopted the Christian culture from the 90s with all the fierceness of a new faith. And I was on fire.
My parents didn’t go to church. Their marriage was crumbling and tearing our family apart. Maybe that’s why I threw myself wholeheartedly into this new community of faith. Without any guidance (that I can remember), I stopped listening to my favorite pop station because a DJ said “Oh my God.” From then on, I listened exclusively to Christian music. I started picking up t-shirts from conferences and mission trips, and before long, my entire wardrobe consisted of “evangelistic” shirts. I especially loved the kind that imitated a logo of some product, changed just enough to avoid copyright infringement, like this one.
I found ways to bring Jesus up in just about any conversation (I was Jesus Juking before it was cool). I was the sixth-grade evangelist who took the pastor literally when he said “You need to introduce your friends to Jesus.” As in, I went up to a classmate and said, “I want you to meet my friend, Jesus.” He looked at me like I was crazy and then avoided me the rest of the school year. High school wasn’t much better. I became really concerned about the “eternal destiny” of my friends. I “listened” to their objections to Christianity and then dutifully went looking for The Answers. I read through books like A Case For Christ and (as much as I could understand) Darwin’s Black Box, so I had the Right response to any argument. But most of all, I prayed. For hours. I had lists of people that God had “burdened” me with, and I poured out my tender little heart on their behalf.
And the thing is…it worked. My passion, my zeal, my sheer stubbornness finally convinced some of my friends to give this whole Jesus thing a try. They went with me to CIY. Two friends were baptized. One “rededicated” her life. At that same conference, I dedicated myself to “vocational ministry.” My heart was soaring. I had never been so on fire, and now my friends were too.
For a while. After a couple of months, the fire died out. They started making excuses for not coming to church. They had deeper questions that weren’t settled by my insistence that they just read the Bible and pray more. They weren’t willing to give up their music or their boyfriends or the other things in their lives that were incompatible with Christian Culture. One by one, they distanced themselves from God, and from me. Suddenly I was alone, and with a deep sense of failure.
The problem with being on fire is that you can get burned.
Hurt and confused, I began to wonder if I had seriously missed the point, and this was utterly terrifying. I literally had no identity outside of Christianity, and an evangelistic Christianity at that. If I was wrong about this, I was wrong about everything. Internally, I was questioning and losing my motivation, but on the outside I was fighting to go through the motions of church, desperately hoping no one would realize that I was no longer on fire.
Over time, I recovered. Slowly, I discovered that real Jesus-following wasn’t performance based. God’s love for me doesn’t depend on how many people I save – as if I was the one who could save them anyway. I found out that the easier your answers are, the shallower your faith is. Trust is in the messy places. I am still trying to understand prayer that treats God neither as Santa Claus nor insurance, but as a father.
I haven’t felt on fire in a long time, and in some ways, I miss it. I miss the simple, brave, confident faith I used to have. But I want something better now. I want a faith that says “yes,” with full awareness of what it will cost. A love that knows what hurt is like and loves anyway. A passion that isn’t a wildfire, but a gentle flame offering light and warmth. A fire that won’t burn out.