'I wrote songs about how boring church was'
Liz’s story | The utterly compelling nature of Jesus
“My first four years we lived in the Torres Strait. My dad was translating the Western Torres Strait Islander language into written form.
Living conditions were basic; drop toilets, no stores. But we had a community that loved us and embraced us into their culture.
Then we moved to the mainland for schooling. My parents were still doing translation work. But it was Townsville in the ’80s, and I could see a social hierarchy. Indigenous people were down the bottom. People like my dad didn’t fit in either.
I decided the church’s idea of God was indefensible.
We went to church, but I wrote songs about how boring it was. God was only a good idea that I needed to please with good behaviour.
As school progressed and I went to youth group, I also saw hypocrisy – people in the church who said that God was love but whose behaviour was unloving. I decided the church’s idea of God was indefensible.
The only thing that kept me from rejecting God entirely was my parents’ humility and gentleness. They genuinely lived in ways that indicated God was more satisfying than comfort. It left me uneasy. And I couldn’t bring myself to hurt them. But I still thought Christians were stupid, and I felt sorry for them.
I remember getting on the plane at 16, heading to university in Sydney and feeling relief that I was leaving all that narrow-mindedness. I was free!’
But I also remember having a weird thought on the plane.
I thought I wouldn’t mind knowing what the Bible really says. It was out of the blue. I’d heard about the Bible all my life, and seen the difference it made to the Islanders, having it in their own language, but I didn’t really know it myself. It was a weird thought to have.
My very first day in Sydney one of my flatmates made an odd introduction. She said, “Would you like to come to church with me tonight? They teach the Bible really well.”
I went to church with her. And they taught the Bible really well! Every week, they were preaching through Luke, and I met Jesus. He was not an idea. He was a real person!
“I was starting to read the Bible, but my life was still mine.”
I found Jesus utterly compelling, especially the way he was honest about human needs. He didn’t really care what other people thought of him. He was so different to me! He reached out to the ones who were unlovely – the ones whom society rejected. Suddenly, I saw how the church could say, “God is love.”
Intellectually, though, there were things I struggled with – attitudes to women and the bizarre idea of crucifixion. But I found Jesus so real and trustworthy that I thought he would make sense of my questions. I was starting to read the Bible, but my life was still mine. All niceness was self-serving, trying to gain good opinion. I avoided invitations to bible studies by ‘those Christian freaks.’
It took a year, but I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was. Either Jesus was who he said he was, and my life belonged to him, or I should completely reject him and walk away. Sitting on our grungy student housing couch, I knew I had to make a choice. My life belonged to Jesus, not me.
At church that night, they read Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” From then, my desires changed. It wasn’t about getting people to think the best of me. It didn’t matter anymore!
“I was hit in the gut by how much God loved me.”
After that, it was still a wrestle to hand over control – to let the Holy Spirit work in me. Two years later I was on a church camp, and the speaker said that although God didn’t think we were worthy of Jesus dying for us, he thought we were worth it. I was hit in the gut by how much God loved me. It was a costly love.
Ever since then, praying has been much more like climbing onto God’s lap and talking to a Father who loves me. He doesn’t hold us at arm’s length.”
Liz’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click to read more Faith Stories.