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…or more accurately, the title should be “I am ashamed of the gospel…by my now 43 year old self looking back to my 15 year old self”. But that’s way too long a title!
I’m not sure why but I’ve been thinking lately about something that happened in English class at the Secondary School (High School) I attended. I think I was 15 but I could have been 14, thereabouts anyway, you get my drift.
In the Bible in Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”. As a Christian now I am not ashamed of being a Christian. As a 15 year old I would not yet become a Christian for a few years but having been raised in a Christian home (and a fairly well balanced one at that) I knew all about the main thrust of Christianity. I also knew that ‘being’ a Christian in a church or when socialising with other Christians was (mostly) all well and good, but that when the setting changed and your company comprised people who weren’t Christian and had varying degrees of opinions of Christians (good, bad and indifferent), then ‘being’ Christian was a whole different ball game. It wasn’t the largely comfortable experience it was when surrounded by like-minded people.
My experience as a 15 year old teenager who was not yet a Christian but knew about Christianity, in English class can be summed up by the alternative side of that verse, “I am ashamed of the gospel…”
Imagining this is like some kind of out of body experience! It’s as though I’m hovering somewhere near the ceiling, above and behind my 15 year old self (this is a freaky!) and watching what happens.
I am sitting right at the back of the class at one of two desks in rows in the middle of the floor. I can almost but not quite remember who was my regular companion at the desk beside me. Whoever he was I seem to remember he wanted a career in naval architecture. This seemed quite sophisticated given that I just wanted to go home and play football with the family dogs. Anyway…
The teacher, whose name I do remember but best not mention here, asked a question. Can’t remember the context but he asked if anyone in the classroom went to church? There were a few moments of slightly awkward silence before one guy, right at the front of the class, raised his arm. Brave soul, his was the only arm raised in the whole class. A few moments passed and that was that, moment over, the teacher and the class moved on.
The thing is, I went to church. I went to church because my family were Christian and they went to church. But I did not raise my hand. The other thing is that the only person who did raise their hand, the guy right at the front desk in the class, went to the same church as I did. In fact I seem to remember his family were one of the ‘main families’ in the church, you might even say in ‘the community’. Now he knew that I also attended the same church but he could not see me unless he turned in his chair and looked to the back of the class, which he didn’t. To my relief, the teacher didn’t say, “Only one then” or anything similar, anything that would have given the game away to my fellow church attender that I didn’t have my hand up.
I have often asked myself why I didn’t raise my hand that day. The best reasons I can come up with were that I was shy, which I was, and, probably more accurately, I was embarrassed, embarrassed and just a little ashamed. I would have been embarrassed to admit I went to church in a room full of non church attenders (unless there were others who did attend but didn’t raise their hands). I would have been ashamed because I saw the guy who went to ‘my’ church raising his hand and I didn’t. I would have been ashamed if he has seen my unraised hand.
When asked if they would go back and change anything in their lives if they could, some people defiantly declare they have no regrets, they would change nothing, even the mistakes, the bad decisions, they would leave as they are. You do what you do, you live how you live and you move on, no looking back, no regrets, or at least no point revisiting your regrets. There is some merit in that viewpoint.
I, on the other hand, have many regrets and I would, given the chance, go back and change some things, do things differently. I would go back and when the teacher asked if anyone in the class went to church, I would raise my hand and admit and acknowledge that I did. I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about it and I wouldn’t feel ashamed in case the guy at the front of the church turned and saw my hand wasn’t raised. I would have no reason to hope the teacher didn’t do an audible ‘hand count’.
There’s only one problem with that scenario. It’s the same problem with every scenario with anyone who would, given access to Dr Who’s Tardis, go back in time to change something. I would only go back with the knowledge, understanding and confidence I have now. Or maybe my ‘psyche’ wouldn’t even have to have advanced that far. I would go back to my 15 year old self if I could even have the mind of my 20 year old self (by which time I was a Christian). I believe my 20 year old self would have raised his hand and admit he went to church.
But I can’t go back. I can’t go back but that doesn’t mean I can’t change some consequences of that decision not to raise my hand. Although we can’t physically go back in time, I don’t subscribe to the view that we can’t change the past…up to a point. You see, we can ask God’s forgiveness. I had felt bad about not raising my hand for years (it wasn’t big enough to cripple my ability to live here and now but it was big enough to nag at the back of my mind). But it suddenly dawned on me one day that I had never actually asked God to forgive me for, as I saw it, denying Him, not standing up for Him, not acknowledging I went to church. For a long time I wondered if God was pleased with the guy at the front of the class but somehow disappointed with me? But I prayed and asked God to forgive me and He did. I know He did because the Bible tells us that if we come to Him and ask His forgiveness, in Jesus’ name (because Jesus provided the sacrifice which, when claimed, enables forgiveness), then He forgives us and we are indeed forgiven. Yay! That makes all the difference in the world. Not only to be forgiven but to believe and accept we are forgiven and to live as one who is forgiven and no longer weighed down by past regrets (not all past regrets leave us feeling the need, rightly or wrongly, to be forgiven).
For some time I wished I could go back in time and change my response to the teacher’s question. Now I can go forward knowing that I am forgiven and cherished by God and knowing that He has given me the confidence and courage to confess His name before people I meet today and not be ashamed of the Gospel, His Gospel. I also learned in later years that although I was sometimes scared of the reaction of my fellow workers (I worked in a bookstore at the time), they turned out to be both curious and not interested at all but there was rarely a very negative response. I never forced my views on anyone. Rather, when asked, I simply explained what I believed and they were fine with that. I also learned that the proof of the pudding is not so much in the explaining but rather in the actual ‘living out’ of what you profess to believe.
My 43 year old self is not ashamed.
Thanks for reading 🙂