When my best friend and I were studying for our A-levels, we found an excellent remedy for the stress and cares of our lives. We would encase our heads in cardboard boxes, stretch out our arms and run around the school at breakneck speed, shouting ‘neowwwww!’ The feeling of freedom and exhilaration was immense.
I had always considered myself something of a philosopher and this experience led me to formulate my own theory of life.
During the ‘gap year’ before university I went to Washington D.C. as an au pair. Here, on the threshold of life’s adventure and thousands of miles from home, I felt I was on the brink of enlightenment. I revealed to like-minded friends how freedom from convention and shallowness of life could be achieved.
In fact, I had no idea what ‘enlightenment’ was, but I still promised my friends that one day I would tell them what it really meant.
Looking for truth
My search for the truth continued at York University. I found myself talking to Catholic students at great length.
Considering God the first time led me to think about my late grandmother, a godly lady of reformed faith whose constant, gentle talking of Jesus kept coming to my mind.
I was not looking to embrace Roman Catholicism, desiring rather to seek out whatever was closest to the truth.
However, when I compared the apparent sincerity of a Catholic mass with an Anglican service I attended (which featured a streamer-waving lady dancing around the church) my mind was made up. I decided to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.
Bothered by sin
In the weeks leading up to my confirmation, however, I became more and more bothered by the sheer weight of my sin. I could not see how it could ever be taken away completely.
I thought that going to ‘confession’ might help, so along I went. But as I knelt in the confessional box, ready to tell the priest my all, I suddenly saw past the priest. It was as if I was kneeling instead at the foot of the cross of Christ.
For the first time I understood what I had read in the Bible, that Christ died to take away my sin – all of it – and that this had already been accomplished. There was nothing more to do!
I was free. Freer than philosophy could ever have made me. Freer than any priest could ever have declared me, because I was free from sin.
Forgetting the priest, I left the church. I felt a different person, and as I cycled back to campus the world around me seemed a different place. I could echo the hymn:
Heaven above is softer blue
Earth below is sweeter green.
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.
About two weeks later, in his goodness, the Lord led me to meet a third-year student who was an evangelical Christian. Over the next few months, Steve gently led me into a full understanding of my conversion.
The book of Hebrews was a great help to me. I read there that ‘every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
‘But this Man [Jesus Christ], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God’ (Hebrews 10: 11-12).
I was slow to understand all the details, having absorbed many Catholic traditions even in a short time. But listening to faithful preaching of the Word left me in no doubt. Absolute truth is found in Jesus Christ alone.
Steve and I were married a year later and, in the goodness of God, we now have three children. The Psalmist’s words: ‘Sing to him a new song’ (Psalm 33:3) are certainly true.
I marvel every day at the sovereign and mighty work of the Lord in salvation and the amazing grace he shows in Christ to sinners.
Oh – and to my old friends as promised, this is enlightenment: ‘for it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).