Forward by Megan Jessop
Following a religion is not the same as having faith in God and worshiping Him. Johnny's story shows us how easy it is for us as Christians to go through the motions, often leading to us living double lives. He tells of how easy it is live from a place of fear and self-interest. But what happens when we encounter the Man for whom all of Christianity is built? We encounter love, and love changes things.
I’m a coward. Probably not in the sense you think of when you hear the word, the kind that is trembling in the corner and afraid of the dark. No, I’m the kind always searching for easy ways out. I’m the kind who thinks of myself more often than not. And I’m afraid of so much. Afraid of doing nothing, becoming nothing, being alone. I’m the type of coward who fears the light, not the dark. Afraid of what things I might be. Afraid people can see through me. My life has been characterized by fear, not love– and that scares me as well. But I suppose this is no way to introduce myself.
My name is Johnny. I live outside of Atlanta, GA. I’m the marketing director of a small nonprofit. I’m also a photographer and videographer. I’d also tell you I’m a writer, but I don’t really believe it. You might, it’d probably even make sense to you, since you’re reading something I’ve written and what not. But I know I’m just a poser. I don’t even really like writing to be honest. I like to have written. I also like stories.
I think that’s why I’m so drawn to the aforementioned things. I like to tell stories; I like to listen to them. There’s one story in particular most people I know have heard. It’s one a lot of us southerners get to grow up hearing. It’s the story of Jesus.
I always liked Jesus. I thought He was lucky and all, getting to be the Son of God and then come to find out He actually is God. Granted He did get crucified. But things like death tend to fly over the heads of kids. I guess it would have been helpful to have already told you I first encountered the story of Jesus when I was a child. I was probably hearing about Him before I could even produce somewhat coherent thoughts. I liked His story as kid, until I came across a plot twist. I somewhat clearly remember finding it out.
We were late to church. I was probably no older than six years old, as my dad, siblings, and I hurried through the church doors that morning. We were walking up teal carpeted stairs, which lead to the doors of the balcony, when my dad started talking. I don’t remember to whom he was talking to, or why he was saying what he was saying, but I remember quite well what is was he said…
“You know, the Bible isn’t all true. Not everything in it is true. But if it is, I’m going to Hell.”
My dad was a good person. I didn’t have any doubts about this as a child. Sure he said bad words every now and then, but certainly God wouldn’t send him to hell for that would He? This threw a wrench into the whole believing in God thing for me. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a god who would let my dad burn in hell for forever just for saying bad words. I sat in the back pew of the balcony in that church for the next ten years, both with and without my dad—not believing in God.
Life from that moment on was mostly just little details. I suffered from severe social anxiety. It got to the point where I couldn’t even talk sometimes. I would just sit there and stare at people when they said something to me. I was afraid of intimacy, I’ve always been afraid of intimacy, and I still am (which is something I only tell strangers on the internet). I was scared of getting close to people, or people getting close to me. I didn’t feel important enough to have any real friends. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” strongly resonated with me.
“I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two.”
I didn’t feel I had any real importance. I only had one friend growing up. It wasn’t the best friendship at that. No one knew me at all. To say I felt alone in the world would have been an understatement. Things began to change a little when I began to attend the youth group at church near the end of middle school. I discovered a new addiction: Christianity. I still didn’t believe in God. I didn’t really want to if I’m being honest. But I wanted friends, and everyone around me believed in God. So I pretended to believe in God because I believed I needed friends who believed in God.
So I began to read all of the Christian books. I listened to all of the popular speakers and all of the new worship albums. I went to all of the youth camps, and church services, and big conferences I could go to. It was the most satisfied I’d ever felt in my life. The least alone I’d ever been. And all of this without God too. I thought if God did exist, He must have been a fool. Because here I was hijacking His religion, doing everything right, feeling right, but all of it without Him. I led a double life. There was Christian me, who would do all of this Christian stuff and look like a Christian and what not. Then there was atheist me, who would spend his nights trolling poor Christians on Yahoo Answers.
I guess if you mock God long enough He’ll come and find you. Maybe you don’t even have to mock Him. I met Jesus in a hotel room somewhere in Ohio. My parents had gone out to dinner. I was watching the “Not a Fan” movie from Kyle Idleman. Man, did it hit me. I don’t even remember what the movie was about. All I knew is I was kind of like the guy in the movie, living the Christian life without God.
I knew I wanted what he found: a new reason to live. I wanted a life where this Jesus I’d come to hear about, the one who didn’t seem like the “send your dad to hell for saying bad words” type, was real. There was intellectual revelation that occurred to me that night. God did not “reason” Himself into existence in my mind. I found a reason beyond reason, and God was the only explanation for it.
I started this out by telling you I’m a coward, and I’m ending it telling you the same. I’m a coward. I found Jesus, but I’ve yet to find courage. My life still feels defined by fear. But I’m overcoming it. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. God claims to be perfect love. I know this must be true, because I’m not as afraid as I used to be.
I’m starting to love better.
Perfect love may move slowly, but it moves.