I love talking about myself.
It’s a terrible trait (probably one shared by lots of us who blog) and I’m trying to curb it, but I do have to remind myself often to show that I’m interested in other people by asking about them, rather than just telling them every story I can think of about myself.
We have a Christian word for talking about yourself: testimony.
It’s meant to be all about God, and what he’s done in your life. It’s meant to be about how he drew you to faith and has changed you since, but naturally that involves a good deal of talking about yourself. I loved giving testimony as a teenager, for that very reason, and I still enjoy it now. At my confirmation, at my youth club, at my baptism, in my chapel, in my Christian Union – in all these contexts I’ve stood up in front of friends and sometimes family, and told them all about how I’ve ended up knowing God and how he’s transformed my story so far.
Every time it’s been different. I’ve chosen different stories to tell and highlighted different key moments where God’s stepped in and taught me something significant about himself or myself. I’ve used a whole range of examples of situations he’s transformed and redeemed. I guess it’s testimony in itself that there’s so much to say about what God’s done for and in and with me.
But each testimony has usually started in a similar way:
I grew up in a Christian family but…
I’ve been going to church all my life but…
I knew all about Jesus from a young age but…
For many of us who grew up in churches, and Christian homes, our testimonies start like that. We’re apologetic for the boring beginning. Embarrassed that there’s no dramatic conversion moment, we have to show how the ‘good-Christian-child’ appearance was only a shallow appearance until at some point we understood and accepted the gospel. Or if we’re lucky, we can tell a good dollop of rogue teenager tales, as if to prove that our faith now is genuine because it hasn’t always been there.
So I go on to tell the interesting parts. The stories about hypocrisy, about lying and cheating and manipulation, stories about desperation and addiction and abuse, about broken relationships and forgiveness, about the power of prayer and the unrelenting faithfulness of God.
Oh, I’ve got stories to tell.
But there’s one story that I don’t usually tell. It’s the story of a six-year-old girl whose experiences and faith were, I think, just as real and significant as those of her teenage self. Her story doesn’t get told because there’s no drama and no scandal, but if I could, I’d tell her I’m sorry that I’ve done her such a disservice when I’ve given my testimony so far.
It started when my aunt and uncle gave me a book, which was great because I loved books when I was six years old. Especially the sort that had things to take out and do yourself in them! It was a book about the apostle Paul, and a boat, and a great adventure. There were loads of pictures of the boat, and the sea usually looked choppy. It turned out that Paul had met Jesus, and become his friend. And when Paul became friends with Jesus, he got given a special job to do. He had to go travelling, to loads of different places, sometimes involving a boat, and tell them about Jesus too.
I sat in bed that night, reading about Paul’s adventures, thinking how glad I was that I wasn’t on that boat with him. It all sounded like a lot of hard work.
There was this pull-out passport at the end of the book. It had space for me to fill in my own name and age, eye colour, shoe size, that sort of thing. And written in the passport was a prayer. It explained to me that just like Paul, I could be a friend of Jesus too, and my life could be a great adventure of following him. I could pray this prayer, and sign my name at the bottom to show that I meant it.
It was a tough call. From all I’d heard, Jesus sounded like a stand-up guy, and definitely someone I wanted to be friends with. But there was no denying I was scared of the boat. What if that was what he asked me to do too? There was no way I wanted to go travelling round the world, and by the sounds of it, there was no guarantee that Jesus wouldn’t have some equally crazy job for me to do too. Could I trust him?
I weighed it up, and decided it was worth it. We could be friends. I prayed the prayer, wrote my name below it, and told my dad all about it when he came upstairs to tuck me in. And there the adventure started.
It’s just a children’s story really. Nothing even rated PG. I had not a clue about sin and repentance and justification and sanctification. I still had a lot to learn, a lot of mistakes to make and a lot of growing to do.
But it was important. It wasn’t the only step in my adventure with God, but none of them have been. It’s the reason I tell my story differently every time, because no one moment is definitive. I hope that if, in 10 years time, I’m asked to give a testimony, it will include things that haven’t happened yet, because there’s always another chapter in the adventure to come. But none of that diminishes what’s come before. None of it makes the faith and trust of my six-year-old self any less real.
So let’s tell children’s stories. Let’s not apologise for them or skip them to get to the scandalous chapters. Perhaps we’ll find we can learn a thing or two from the faith of our childhood selves, or indeed from the children who are still children, in our families and churches.
After all, Jesus seemed to think we would.