I ended last week’s Messenger with a rash promise: “I’ll write more next week about how you can begin to construct your own personal FAITH FAMILY TREE.” Here I am a week later, and I’m not sure I can keep that promise.
The story of your life can be told by tracing your physical, emotional and intellectual growth through infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and retirement years. Pivotal choices and events can be traced along the way, and key people can be identified as catalysts for your development.
My idea was that something similar could be done to describe your spiritual journey, some sort of chart depicting the critical moments in your relationship with God and their impact on your life. I started working on this the minute I finished last week’s article. I leafed through books that give advice for Christian growth and I’ve done extensive on-line searches, and I have nothing to commend to you.
There are plenty of simplistic outlines of the theological steps involved in salvation and Christian development, such as: Conviction, Repentance, Acceptance of Jesus, New Birth, Sanctification, etc. These may depict what is happening to you from God’s point of view, but they don’t capture the personal thoughts, interactions with others, key conversations and events that you remember as significant to your spiritual growth.
So I started to develop my own approach. I asked, What were some Aha! moments in my young life that led me to connect with God? When, where and with whom did I:
first picture God in my mind;
understand that he had created me and established rules for how I should live;
realize that I sinned when I didn’t do what God wanted me to;
become aware of the place God had in my parents’ world;
first question my parents’ values;
realize that other people saw God differently;
see Jesus as the Savior;
realize I had to respond personally to him;
accept him as Savior and Lord;
try to live as Jesus’ disciple;
first question some of the church’s teachings or practices . . . .
At about this point, my head began to hurt. I realized that this process was too complex and intimate to chart. I also suspected that my experience was probably unique to me and, therefore, might not be helpful to anyone else.
Then, a couple of days ago I was driving and only half-listening to a radio program. I believe it was an NPR first-person story, but I have no idea who the guy was. He caught my attention when he talked about an important early lesson he had learned from his father, who had been involved in some heavy battlefield action in World War II. His dad talked about why he never had smoked cigarettes, and his explanation was, as I remember it: “A lot of young men start smoking when they’re in the service. They’re trying to prove their manhood. I decided that, if I could stand up to enemy fire and live through it, I had nothing to prove.” The man on NPR, now probably in his sixties, said: “Every time I faced peer pressure, as a young man, to do something I knew wasn’t good for me, my father’s words came back to me. So I never smoked one cigarette, I never got drunk, I never did drugs. That tiny story from my father had a profound impact on my life. I think maybe a whole lot of tiny stories put together are what shape our lives.”
I’ve been thinking about this man’s tiny stories idea in reference to my FAITH FAMILY TREE challenge. Can you think of some tiny stories, possibly involving some unsung heroes, that have impacted your spiritual journey? Maybe if you start piecing them all together, you can come up with a better appreciation of the spiritual life God has been creating within you. You will probably notice that behind all the tiny stories is one BIG STORY, authored by God himself.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
Please stop a moment and think back over your life focusing on various important choices you made when you were a child, youth or adult. Look for some “tiny stories” — incidents, conversations, feelings — that helped move you in the direction of God. Try to connect each of these “tiny stories” to a time, a place and person(s) who might have been important in that moment. If you are willing, please choose one or two of your favorite “tiny stories, write about them in a brief paragraph, and send it to us in a reply to this Messenger or via ABC’s Facebook page. We’d like to use these on Homecoming Sunday. Thanks a lot.