An Introduction to the Hear Him Louder Essay Series
I just thought that Jesus was a decision I made that one time when I was five.
I had just crawled into my parents’ bed, sticky from sweat, because we didn’t have central air. Though their brown window unit hummed its offer of relief, I still couldn’t sleep.
Earlier that day, at church, instead of scribbling on the offering envelopes, I had actually listened to my dad share his sermon — and the message scared me. He told of a man who arrived home from work and checked each room, looking for his family, more panicked as each room turned up empty. He ran to his neighbors, but they were also missing. Slowly, he started to understand that Jesus had returned. The rapture had happened. He was left behind.
Pulling the covers tight against the cool air, I worried that I would be left behind too. My next memory of that night is my dad sitting on the bed next to me, praying with me to ask Jesus into my heart. He reassured me that if I believed in Jesus, I would go to heaven. I understood and I believed and I prayed and I slept.
As the preacher’s daughter, my faith formed in my dad’s shadow. I learned the reward of pleasing and performing and doing the church-y checklist “should’s.” As the years turned to decades, my faith remained stuck in those “should’s.” I treated Jesus kind of like a Snapchat filter. I loved Him, but He wasn’t usually in the picture, so I’d just add a little bit of Him on top of whatever I was already doing.
I mean, didn’t I already know all of it? Hadn’t I been born into it?
The shiny white patent leather shoes and dresses saved for Sunday morning.
The rhythm of Sunday morning / Sunday evening and leaving on my tights for nap time, because we were just going back to church.
The Sunday school flannel board with its sandaled characters and craft closets stocked with glue.
The Bible drills and the pride of finding the minor prophets like Haggai and Malachi.
The sixth grade rites of passage: confirmation and baptism and memorizing the Apostle’s Creed.
The red choir robes and the black plastic folders and those cold, scrape-y metal chairs in the choir room.
The communion cups and white cubes of bread and how my brother and I could drink the extra grape juice.
For thirty-three years, I knew things. I said words. I checked boxes. But doing the things you’re supposed to do doesn’t change hearts. I was exhausted from trying to look the part, earn His love, and check, check, check my way into the Kingdom. I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what.
My resolve didn’t restore me.
Sometimes people meet Jesus without brokenness. But that wasn’t my way. My way was that our marriage got really hard, bleeding with sin and selfishness. Bible drills and choir robes and communion cups weren’t enough to save us. God held our shock and took our pain and eventually, slowly, healed our hurt. He accepted us as we were. We had only heard about Him before, but now we saw Him with our own eyes (Job 42:5, ESV). And I finally understood that living my faith wasn’t about resolve and willpower.
I had missed so much.
I had missed Him.
When I finally met Jesus, being in His presence made me want to be with Him more. His kindness and care and love for even me were so evident that I knew I didn’t need to fear this God. I felt seen. Known. Accepted. How had I not known this? From the moment I heard His whispers, everything fell into categories of “before” and “after.” My thinking shifted, my heart changed.
From ritual and routine to real relationship.
From doing things for God to being with Him.
From proving myself to resting in Him.
From striving and performing to His peace.
From complacency and boredom to connection and intimacy.
From will power and resolve to relying on His Spirit.
When I prayed that prayer at age five, I became a daughter of the King. But nothing else changed until I met Him. Until I chose Him.
I’m still very much a work in progress. On any given day, I go back and forth within those contrasting pairs of before and after. But now I know there’s more. Now I know that the gift of His Spirit is how we find Him. Now I know His voice is a gentle comfort that offers us both connection and freedom. Now I long to know Him deeper and hear Him louder — not just in my quiet time, or when I’m listening to a sermon, but also when I’m at Target, or in the carpool line, or on the way to soccer, or when I’m washing the dishes again. I want to hear Him louder every minute of every day.
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Interested in writing for the Hear Him Louder Essay Series? Submissions are currently open through January 31. The submission window will open two times a year, in January and June. Contact me with questions.
[Photo credit: Josh Applegate, Unsplash.]