Growing Up Adventist: I Tried To Make Jesus My Best Friend


(system) #1

Lying in bed, I looked up into the darkness, imagining Jesus was somewhere out there. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered, anguished. I could feel nothing but emptiness where my Savior’s presence should have been. How did I get here?

I grew up a pastor’s daughter in a small American town where at least twenty Seventh-day Adventist churches were packed into a thirty-mile radius. Being so full of churches, the place was chockfull of pastor’s kid, so I had no shortage of PK role models, including my three older siblings.

As a child, being a good Adventist was very easy to me. I received a set of rules, and to my understanding, the best Adventist was the one who followed the rules the closest. I had a guilt-sensitive temperament as far back as I can remember, and this black and white system combined perfectly with my personality to create fervent obedience.

I was in grade school when my family emigrated to the States from a pint-sized European country that was mostly Catholic. We were pleasantly surprised to find such a dense Adventist population in our new town, and my father became associate pastor of a small, but well-established church of expatriates. That close-knit ethnic church became my new home.

Diasporic communities like ours usually stuck closely together, and strict behavioral rules were set the religious group members apart from mainstream society. In my community (and in other minority Adventist churches, I suspect), these rigid rules were treated almost as having been passed down directly from God. Perhaps the greatest impact of such rules was reflected in the behavioral expectations placed on children.

As an obedient pastor’s daughter, I was very familiar with my community’s rules, especially those concerning our Holy Day.

We would not play on the Sabbath except for pre-approved, non-physical Bible-themed games. We would not squirm or fidget when the church ladies came up and squeezed both our cheeks and told us stories about their own children. To me, Sabbath meant waking up early to get ready for church and sitting with Mommy during the service, attempting to listen to Daddy’s sermon. Sabbath meant helping Mommy and other church ladies put out all the precooked foods on the potluck table after church while the men sat in circles discussing the latest blasphemies in the media that week.

The church ladies, their husbands, and even my parents ooh’d and ahh’d about what an obedient little girl I was. To me, this meant that I also had the ultimate approval—I was accepted by God. I was doing all of the things that I knew that God wanted, and so I reasoned that God must be happy with me. Because of that, I felt happy.

While I was, by all the standards I knew, a very good Adventist growing up, there came a point where my saintly trajectory hit a solid wall, and I could not, for the life of me, get past it.

Entering middle school in my Adventist academy brought with it an awareness of a higher religious standard than the one I’d followed in childhood. Starting in seventh-grade, the Bible teachers put a new spin on the doctrine of the Trinity—particularly Jesus. During our weekly chapel services, the praise team sang about Jesus being the lover of our souls, and that in the secret and quiet places, he was there. Our chaplain drilled into us the importance of talking to Jesus and relying on his presence in hard times. Studying books about Jesus and human life, we learned that now we weren’t only supposed to follow God’s commands, but also (and perhaps more importantly) to become best friends with God’s son. Bit by bit, I shed my elementary-school rule-keeping reasoning and settled into my newfound “grown-up” mode of thinking about God.

The new formula went like this: “If you spent enough time doing devotionals and focusing on the still, small voice in your head, then you and Jesus would start ‘walking together.’ This walk would become the closest and most important relationship you would ever experience in your life.” It sounded magical! Amazing! I liked this fresh “Good Adventist” formula, and felt excited about taking on a new challenge.

Up to this point, I had been keeping up with my checklist of rules. As my girlfriends hit puberty, they started talking about (and even actually wearing) makeup and nail polish. I ignored their actions. They fawned over ear piercings, high heels, and frilly skirts…but never me! Even hair-curling was a big “no” in my mind because I’d been taught that God preferred simple looks. So, of course, I complied. While my close friends openly discussed their interest in beauty and fashion, I tamped down my own curiosity and became repulsed by adornment like that and by the people in magazines who wore those “worldly” things. With all these personal victories in my arsenal, I felt upbeat and very sure about being able to meet this new Best Friend standard that the chaplain and religion teachers pushed.

In fact, I felt so confident that I decided to read the entire Bible that year so that Jesus and I could be on the same page when we started talking.

The year crept by. When I finally started the eighth grade, I decided to try this thing for real. After finishing my homework one night, I dressed in my pajamas and re-read the daily section of my “Read the Bible in 365 days” Bible. After that, I knelt at my bedside and prayed. I thanked God for the wonderful things I had—a loving family, a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat…I told God my worries about the past day and asked him to forgive all of my sins from the past 24 hours. I added more thanks so that I could end my prayer on a positive note.

Then, it was relationship time. I turned off the lights and slipped under the cool bed covers. I shut my eyes and focused on keeping my mind empty. I wanted to make sure I stayed open to any feeling, image, or sound that Jesus might send me. I wrestled with my 13-year-old mind to stay focused and unclouded by distractions, succeeding for only about 10 seconds at a time. Still, I felt good. I sent out a silent message: I’m ready, Jesus.

Silence. I opened my eyes and stared upward. Something felt wrong. He would have turned up already if nothing was wrong. Where was He? I shook the thought away and shut my eyes tightly, refocusing. Every few seconds I reshuffled my thoughts to help keep my mind empty and optimistic. More silence. I opened my eyes again. Some street light filtered through the blinds on my window. I watched patterns shift and move across the stucco that covered my ceiling. I cleared my mind once again. On the makeshift canvas of the ceiling, I tried to paint the image of Jesus that my teachers and worship leaders described to me. A loving Jesus, earnestly seeking me. A Savior desperately reaching out to talk to me. I’m here, Jesus. I’m here, I silently sent out again.

I lay in that silence for a long time, picturing Jesus’ hand trying to reach me in the darkness. He must be here. He’s there for the sheep that lost its way, and he’s there for me. He must be here somewhere, unless…

In that instant, it occurred to me that this unbreakable silence might be my fault. Maybe Jesus wanted to talk to me, but I had done something that interfered with our connection. I recalled reading in an Ellen White book that at the cusp of death, Jesus had reached out to God saying “Abba, Abba!” but because of the collective sin of the entire world, the connection could not be made. Sin must be my problem, I thought. I imagined Jesus trying desperately to get through to me, but that my sin created too great a divide. I felt a dull heaviness in my chest. He could have been here if it wasn’t for my selfish actions. I lay unmoving as shame and self-hatred spread through my entire body.

I cried a lot that night, but after the tears faded and empty silence returned, I consoled myself by solemnly promising Jesus that I would do better tomorrow. If I didn’t sin, or at least didn’t sin as much tomorrow, then maybe we could talk the next night. I hoped that even through the dark divide my sins caused, a certain message would still get through to him somehow: I’m sorry. I will try harder in the future.

It will come as no surprise that my “solution” to the problem didn’t actually fix anything. Throughout that school year, I settled into a destructive routine. Starting the minute I woke up, I focused and tried as hard as I could not to sin. I concentrated on not sinning throughout my waking hours, but by the end of the day I could still find at least ten things I had done wrong—ten things that were keeping Jesus from talking to me and walking with me. If only I hadn’t made that one comment, or had that one thought about a boy…If only…

I wanted to talk to my parents and teachers about my problem with Jesus. I wanted to tell them we weren’t walking together like we were supposed to, but I felt ashamed—as though this were a problem that I caused. I didn’t want to hear them say it was my fault that this wasn’t working out. Besides, it seemed like a common problem. During class worships, I heard students and staff alike apologizing for letting other things get in the way of their quiet time with Jesus. They prayed to feel the presence of Jesus and to walk with him daily. We are dealing with the same thing, I thought. This must be the daily battle that typical Christians go through.

The weight of Jesus’ absence wore heavily on me, and by the end of that year I fell into depression. I wanted to “walk with him and talk with him” like successful Christians seemed to be doing. I would have given anything to have successfully sent even one message to Jesus. Most often, the message I tried to send was that I was trying. It wasn’t a one-sided attempt; I wanted Jesus to know I was reaching, too.

I really hoped Jesus would talk back to me. I wanted him to comment on my day, and to share in my joys. Mostly, I desperately wanted to feel his approval. I wanted to be assured that despite everything else, I was still a good girl, that He loved me, just like his Father had loved me when I was younger.

Jesus and I never became best friends. By the end of ninth grade, my depression had gotten so bad that it forced me to decide: keep trying or give up on feeling things entirely. In the interest of self-preservation, I stopped doing things that made me hate myself. Unceremoniously, the days of pursuing a relationship with my reaching-but-distant savior ended.

It’s been almost ten years and I’m still attending an Adventist institution. I’m pursuing a healthcare degree because I want to serve people. I don’t know if I am a good Adventist, but people certainly tell me that I’m a good person. Jesus and I still don’t talk these days. However, I have learned the importance of reaching out to my peers for support. Throughout the years, I have built great friendships and experienced levels of intimacy with friends that previously eluded me.

If I’m being honest, though, I’m not sure I’m completely at peace. On some level, I still wish that Jesus would provide the understanding and acceptance that I feel I could never have with any other person. I wish that I could share some things I’m worried about with him and have him envelop me in a big hug and quietly tell me “It’s okay. I love you. You’re gonna be okay.” But that’s not my reality right now, and when I think about how lonely and desperate I felt back in eighth grade, it’s a relief to have let go of the expectation.

On some nights, lying in the darkness of my dorm room, I feel a sense of loneliness creep up on me. In those moments, my hand reaches under my pillow and grasps the smooth plastic cover of my smartphone. I shoot out a text to my good friend, Rachel. “Hey, I’m feeling down. Can we talk?”

A smile spreads across my face as the screen lights up with her reply. “Sure. I’m here. Let’s talk.”

Sara Telemon is the pen name of this author, who grew up Adventist.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6440

(Pagophilus) #2

Thank you for your article. I think this talk of relationship goes too far sometimes. Man was separated from God at the fall. But God revealed Himself to us through His Word and we have a relationship with Him through His word. We read His Word, and we remember it and the Holy Spirit brings to our minds the appropriate texts at the appropriate time. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t sometimes talk to people verbally when He has a purpose for doing so, but the reality is that until Christ comes back, there will ever be this separation between God and man, and you can’t have a relationship at the same level as a human relationship with someone whom you cannot see or hear.

(I’m sure some of these misconceptions come from Contemporary Christian Music which is just love songs being addressed to God instead of man. The words are trite and the music is usually trite also…)


(Beth Again) #3

Sara, I so appreciate your honesty. As someone who has lost her faith for many reasons, experiences like this being one of them, I just want you to know you aren’t alone.

Trying to reconcile the reality of your experiences with the things you have been told and the things that seem so easy for others can be wrenching. It takes real courage to honor your own experiences, especially when they profoundly challenge what you used to take for granted as true. I’m glad you have friends who love you and support you. I wish you well as you continue to struggle with these important and difficult things.


(Kevin Paulson) #4

Experience-driven, feeling-driven faith is always dangerous. This story only reinforces that reality. Nowhere do Scripture or the writings of Ellen White instruct us to cultivate some “feeling” or mystical communication with Jesus as proof of our walk with God.

Those behavioral guidelines found in Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy are eminently reasonable. This article, like so many similar testimonies, indiscriminately blends a great many man-made rules with those found in the inspired writings. But only God’s biddings are enablings, not those of culture or popular taboos.

The writing of God’s law upon our hearts—the internalizing of His truth so that faith becomes our own, not our parents’ or anyone else’s—is not only the key to lasting victory but also the means of establishing a true relationship with God. Quoting Jeremiah, the apostle Paul tells us, “I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people” (Heb. 8:10).

I find it interesting when people speak disparagingly of “checklist” religion. Is there any bride or groom, getting ready for a wedding, who doesn’t have a checklist—and a very long one at that? The Bible compares getting ready for the coming of the Lord to a bride preparing for a wedding:

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.
“Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8, NIV).

I pray Sara will one day find this joy in her spiritual walk, through a wholehearted and thoroughly uncoerced commitment on her part to the written counsel of God, and the joy of obedience and resulting oneness with Christ there portrayed.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

thank you for the clarity of growing up Adventist. The checklist theology had its high point at the turn of the twentieth century with " In every way and every day I am getting better and better" More than 100 years later the dominate news is of a gun happy world. I lived next door to my Catholic cousins, It they had a particularly happy week, they would ask their mother to take them shopping forty miles away. the primary purpose was the confessional where the priest didN’t know them. Tom Z


(Janice) #6

Hi Sara, it certainly could not have been easy for you to pour out yourself in this story portrayed of your life. It is indeed a sad saga and I have no doubts that you are not the only one who is in this situation. I am not a PK, but I am a pastor’s wife and have three children all of whom I am praying daily that the Lord will keep them in that saving relationship with Him, regardless of the mistakes they make in their lives.

However, I am a SDA, born into a SDA home where both parents and all my 7 siblings have been members. I have been taught to walk in the ways of the Lord, in quite a similar way to the way you have and have, therefore, been reading your story with interest. As a child I have always had that strong desire to serve God, to be like him, to walk with God as Enoch walked with God. However, all of my other education through readings, sermons listened to and other inspiration from God, has kept me from holding out with bated breath for God to translate me to heaven as he did Enoch and Elijah.

All that you have mentioned regarding your lifestyle could almost totally be a duplication of me. I never had any strong desire for worldly things even as I associated with peers who did. Although I grew up in a SDA home, I knew that at some time in my life I needed to have my own relationship with God, so I did what you did-read my Bible, study the doctrines of the church and made every effort to practice its teachings. My desire was to be like Christ, not to compare myself with men, not to expect “perfection” in the absolute sense, but to remember that I am finite and that perfection is only found in God, for all our righteousness are like filthy rags. Paul reminds us that our carnal natures are continually fighting for the mastery. Even he said, "the things I would not, that I do, and the things I would, that I do not. In Romans 7:14-25 he tells us of this constant battle or warring of the flesh against the spirit. He finally says-“O wretched man that I am, who can deliver me…” ! Cor. 15:57 gives us some assurance-“But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” We should not feel as if God has cast us aside because we have made a mistake. He has encouraged us to come boldly to His throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. And whoever comes to Him, He will in no wise cast out. David, was a man after God’s own heart, yet he was once a murderer, and an adulterer. However, He requested of God to create in him a clean heart, and renew a right spirit.

It is the accuser of the brethren who would want us to feel that God has rejected us because of sins that we have committed and because our lives are imperfect. Our good works can never commend us to God, otherwise we could boast. We do good works because we are saved by His grace, but when we fall and we come to Him, He forgives and covers us with His robe of righteousness and we are good to go. Whether or not you hear that voice that spoke to Enoch, Elijah, Samuel, Moses, Ellen White and others, be assured that your Lord is always near. He has placed in your life those friends that you can text or call for support. Just remember, though, that He is always a prayer away. Friends and family may not always be there, but He is. He is our constant companion and Guide and I pray that today you will renew your relationship with Him and experience that first love that you once had for Him. I know that He would welcome you into His arms like he did the lost sheep that was found.


(Janice) #7

I would like to recommend that you begin to read the Scriptures again starting with the Gospels. Read The Desire of Ages and the book Steps to Christ prayerfully and see what the Holy Spirit will do for you. You obviously aren’t enjoying happiness and peace of mind which can only be found in Jesus. If you don’t, what is the alternative. There are only two sides-Jesus and Satan. If you are consciously not on one side you definitely would be on the other. Is that a choice you would like to make? I am praying for you. I believe that we will meet in heaven someday. Our loving God never deserts a sincere seeker.


(Kevin Paulson) #8

Janice, let’s speak words of true Biblical encouragement, and tell the whole story while we’re at it. Romans 7:14-23 is not the end of the Christian walk here on earth. It is not the best that can be expected of the sanctified believer. There is no victory in Romans 7, only defeat. We have to move on to Romans 8, where sanctified obedience and following the example of our Lord enables us to be “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

Being covered by Christ’s righteousness is not about forgiveness only, wonderful as that is. That robe also includes the complete victory over sin the Bible promises. That is why the book of Revelation declares, as I noted above, that the “fine linen” in which the saints are clothed “stands for the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8, NIV).

Self-righteousness is what produces boasting, and such phony righteousness saves no one. Sanctification, however, is explicitly declared in Scripture to be a part of our salvation (II Thess. 2:13).

The unshackling of sin’s chains through imparted divine strength is best news the gospel can offer. That is the message of Scripture and of the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.


(George Tichy) #9

Kevin,

You certainly can’t, but I can clearly see how Sara was a victim of the LGT doctrine. This is the trauma people go through when they are served with a religious model that instills in them a false religious concept.

I can’t imagine how many stories like hers will be published by those young people being currently bombarded by the LGT heresy. It may take ten years or more, but one day they will realize what was done to them by teaching them the LGT’s fallacies.


(George Tichy) #10

Salvation by my own deeds? I am a good Christian if I can check my list right every day? Tst, tst… What a distortion of true religion!!!

Had you ever been a groom you would not have used the illustration as you did. It just doesn’t work that way. Only inexperienced people would state something like that. And then pairing it with the experience of having a friendship with Jesus? This is is completely off!


(George Tichy) #11

Kevin,
You can only prescribe to others a medicine that has worked for you. So, sorry for asking again, but are you right now experiencing “complete victory over sin?”

Telling such things to people (especially to the youth that can be easy victims) is irresponsible. They will never reach the proposed state, but will rather become seriously discouraged.

Do you know how many people flert with suicide when they feel deeply discouraged and experience the sensation that they are failing, and failing God as well?

I can’t believe you are part of this misleading movement that makes people believe an anti-biblical teaching that is actually nothing but a destructive anti-Gospel. Remember that those youth are vulnerable and can make immature decisions out of frustration for feeling as being a failure according to what they are being taught by the LGT, aka “the perfection heresy.”


(Kevin Paulson) #12

George, your incessant screeds against the Biblical hope of complete victory through God’s power here on earth, can’t change what the Bible says. And so far as the illustration I used regarding a bride making herself ready for a wedding, that illustration is in the Bible itself, which declares the fine linen to be “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8, NIV). You’d best take your objections up with the apostle John.

And one day I will be a groom. God’s timing.

Every single one of us in this conversation knows people who, through God’s imparted grace, have gained victory over one sin or another. All of us can know that we’ve made progress, if in fact we have. I know that I have, by His grace. But only God can know when the process is complete, as only He knows the heart (I Kings 8:39). Only He can declare, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). The saints do not themselves declare that they are keeping them, as the depths of their hearts are known only to God.


(Carrol Grady`) #13

Leave it to Pago and Kevin to jump right in with their put-down answers of perfection. Can’t you see, that is the problem to begin with?

If only we could drop our “perfect” masks and admit our problems and talk to each other honestly, as Sara has, we’d all be a lot better off.

Emotions are a God-created part of us, and those who are spiritually sensitive feel the expectations promoted by those who haven’t yet reached perfection themselves, to be authentic. Looking inward and trying to make ourselves better is always going to lead to feelings of failure. We need to look to Jesus and find our joy and confidence in Him. I consider what Sara has experienced to be spiritual abuse.


(Frankmer7) #14

Kevin…

You simply advertise that you’ve never been married, and that you have no idea what the experience is all about…even the preparations for it. Please stop speaking of what you know not.

Even more importantly, Sara pours out her heart, and all you do is point out that her problem is in her experience…an experience driven religion. How sensitive! Even if it were true, there are times when it is better to keep silent, or to just offer empathy and support.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have many things to say to you but you can’t bear them now.” And, Job’s comforters were at their best when they kept their mouths closed. That’s Biblical too, Kevin.

Thanks…

Frank


(Rheticus) #15

The Gospel is that Jesus will save sinners - people who, in the days right before the Second Coming, will be like Peter and under stress will deny their Lord or do other things that, under less coercion, they would not have done or would regret doing.

The reality is that those sinners will never have solid evidence that they are saved until He comes. Solid evidence is hard to come by - lots of people say they have it, but are deluding themselves.

Another part of reality, sadly, is that there are religious leaders who claim certainty, who use guilt to manipulate people who, like Sara and me, have [quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:7171”] a guilt-sensitive temperament[/quote]

Sara, I’m sorry - you are at the point in your life when you are discovering that most religious leaders are deceiving you, are manipulating you, are lying to you. You are going to have to discover for yourself a code that you can live by.

Understanding how to gain evidence, the origins of the Bible, and the nature of people like Kevin is going to be a big part of that process.


(Tihomir Odorcic) #16

Friends! What a blessing they are. Sara, keep on!


(Kevin Paulson) #17

Yes, Jesus will save sinners Bevin, but “from” their sins (Matt. 1:21), not in their sins. And anyone who is sinning right up till the Second Coming will be calling for the rocks and mountains to fall on them.

But considering the fact that you believe in evolution, and in a whole lot of other things quite contrary to Scripture, I guess I’m wondering what your idea of the Second Coming might be. If evolution is true, you don’t need Jesus—either His first or His second coming.


(Kevin Paulson) #18

No Carroll, divinely-imparted perfection is the solution, not the problem. But then, how could you possibly understand this, as you are an advocate of accepting open sin within the fellowship of the church. And not based on the Word of God, but according to your own writings across the years, based on experience.

That’s what got Mother Eve in trouble to start with. (Excessive in judgement. - website editor)


(Sirje) #19

You want to explain this?


(Kevin Paulson) #20

Sirje, the Bible is clear that displaying God’s glory means to display His character (Ex. 33:18; 34:6-7; Isa. 60:1-2; Rom. 8:18-19; Eph. 3:16-21). It is God’s Word that defines what God’s character is. And those who strive to display that glory in their lives will rejoice and be glad, as Revelation says.

The written counsel of God, not personal experience, defines God’s glory and our relationship with Him.