If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” —John 7:37
I have always been depressed by the idea of being merely a “pretty good” person. Before I was a Christian, I identified myself only according to characteristics that I considered wholly good (and even noble) – the parts of me that appreciated things outside of myself that I thought were good, like nature or another person. That was the “real” me, but I had no way of reconciling this desire for goodness with poorer components in my character, such as selfishness. I was unwilling to exist as a compromise, to always be lacking or skewed compared with what I considered beautiful, and yet I could hardly voice my desire for a perfection in myself and my life that was higher than anything I had come close to achieving. I sought perfection in myself and for myself, because I was deeply vested in the belief that no one else could honor or benefit my interests as much as I could. I was constantly working to create an ideal that is God, and can only be created by God. Without knowing what it felt like to experience satisfaction, I couldn’t realize that I was unsatisfied with my progress, which, considering the height of my goal, was pathetic. It was like going through life wearing a backpack of bricks: I would of course be aware if it was one brick heavier one day – I would call that day extremely uncomfortable – and if it was five bricks lighter the next, I would call that day wonderfully light; but I would never realize the effects of the condition of heaviness until I had a different experience to compare it to. I needed to see God in order to recognize the impossible nature of some of my values, like the belief that I had to create perfection myself in order to have it in my life.
When I went to the Alpha course in my sophomore fall, I learned that the real God is very different from the vaguely judgmental picture I’d created. I had never understood that God knows my faults and loves me anyway, or that He promises to joyfully give me everything that I need for eternal life, but I recognized truth as I read it. In the Bible Jesus tells his disciples,
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:35-40)
It surprised me that God wasn’t totally alien. The good that I had been seeking really exists, and it is good – it just wasn’t in my power to reach it by attaining money or trying to make people love me. It is God. Everything good, in me or anywhere else, is from God, and is a dim shadow of the entirety of Him, or of the essence of goodness. The things that seemed the most good to me, beauty in nature or love from my parents, were only the most that I was able to see of God. That doesn’t make those things less wonderful, but shows how great God must be. Hearing about who God says He is changed my fear of trusting Him. It was only dangerous for me to put my hope in something outside of myself when I was the best and most trustworthy thing I knew. It was such a relief to discover that God is the giver and the source of that purity that I want to call my “real” self, and it meant that there was a good reason for hope.
While I was deciding whether or not to become a Christian, I remember being in awe of the weight of God’s existence. It was scary to consider that He is real and that he sent His son to die and provide for me despite my imperfections. What if that serious love were true? The life I had been blindly spending meant more than I had ever imagined. I was so afraid to change the way I had always been living and thinking, but the truth that God is really there – that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have already happened regardless of whether I choose to recognize them – made me so deeply aware of the danger of throwing away something real that I had to acknowledge Him. Responding to God, if you really see God, matters. It will change you. For me, the biggest difference is that I am never separated from God. I have a greater hope and higher joy than this world can offer because I have a constant relationship with the source of everything good. Finding God was like coming home to a greater peace than I could ever create myself. That is one of the blessings of His love.
Kirsten Nyborg ’06 is an English concentrator in Leverett House.