Easter for a Non-Believer
By Amy Groening
Whenever Easter approaches, I am reminded of a particular Easter Sunday some 12 years ago. Spiritually, it was a strange time in my life. For all outward appearances, I would have been considered a very good Christian: I went to church every Sunday and belted out the hymns with enthusiasm, I attended every Youth Group meet, and I was one of the only students willing to pray out loud during Sunday School. There was just one problem: I didn’t actually believe in God.
Considering my upbringing, it’s not surprising I managed to slip under the radar of believers. My parents were missionaries; both had been active in churches for years, and were fairly well known in the Mennonite community. And I was a cheerfully obedient child. When I was told to go to church, I went. When I was invited to youth group, I accepted the offer. When the youth pastor asked for a volunteer to lead the Sunday School prayer and an awkward silence lapsed, I was often the first to raise my hand. I liked helping. I liked participating. I liked cutting those awkward silences short. And I loved singing. I was fluent in the language of Christians.
I don’t think it had ever occurred to anyone to ask me if I was a Christian. It seemed so obvious that I was. By the time I was 14, what had started as an accidental misunderstanding had become a full-fledged ruse. I was leading a double life, feeling sillier and sillier as I spoke public prayers to a God I did not believe actually existed, while inwardly becoming more and more perplexed and skeptical as to whether all my friends and family members really, truly believed there was some big guy in the sky running their lives for them. I scoffed at stories of people converting to Christianity after a church service, after simply being told who Jesus was, after being shown that popular diagram of the cross working as a bridge across the dangerous times in life. If all that could convert someone in one blow, how did I manage to spend 14 years sitting in church, praying, and drawing diagrams, and not believe in anything?
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe. I just didn’t feel it. You can go through the motions of spirituality all you want, but when you speak the words and sing the hymns and feel no connection to the Holy Spirit, you may as well be talking to a wall and singing show tunes to your cat (both of which I’m guilty of as well, admittedly). I desperately wanted to feel it, the same way a teenager wants to experience the feeling of falling in love: it was happening to everyone around me, and all accounts of the experience made it sound fantastic. I just hadn’t found a way to love God yet.
I wish I could tell you that this particular Easter Sunday 12 years ago was the fantastic conversion experience I was looking for, that it was the moment I fell in love with God, finally. It wasn’t. It was simply the moment I first caught a glimpse of what it could mean to love Him, the first time I got the sense that perhaps He really did exist.
We were all gathered in the church basement singing hymns, and I was trying very hard to believe. I was lonely. I was jealous of my friends who had someone to pray to, someone to rely on to protect them, someone they could trust to have a plan and make things turn out alright. For all that it seemed ridiculous to expect someone else to fix all your problems like that, it sounded kinda nice. I would be willing to give it a try, if only I could actually believe it was true. As I reached up to the heavens to raise my hands in Hallelujah with the rest of the congregation, for a moment I felt a brush of something more, the sense of something greater than myself. It was a pure moment of spirituality. I almost burst into tears. Being the hip teenager I was, I recovered quickly; I never cried in public. But I couldn’t recover from the feeling that something had reached back to me.
I was excited. I was scared. I was disappointed. I was mildly annoyed. If God really and truly existed, this meant I would have to rearrange quite a few things in my life. I realized at that moment that while I wanted there to be a higher power to turn to when I needed help, I didn’t really want to make room for Him in my life. I didn’t want to alter my current belief system. I didn’t want my religion to affect my lifestyle choices (for all that my non-religion was affecting my lifestyle choices pretty heavily). I wanted to reject the idea immediately, and go back to politely pretending to pray in class.
Yet, the part of me who had felt the brush of God refused to quite give up on the notion that He existed, and that I’d want to get to know Him more. It would be a few years before that notion grew into something I could no longer ignore and I gave up fighting my belief in God. There were many more moments of spiritual nudging along the way, but this is the one I’ll never forget. One simple Easter Sunday service could strike a strongly (secretly) atheistic teenage girl when a lifetime of church services hadn’t. And on this Good Friday, I’m thanking God for that moment.
About this Contributor:
Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.