Rescued by Grace

This piece about my conversion to Christianity was initially published in Lutheran Forum, an independent Lutheran journal, in Fall 2017.

I was born in Logan, Utah, in 1981, the oldest of five in a devout Mormon family. My childhood took place during a turbulent time in a Mormon history. Progressives were being silenced and excommunicated. Fundamentalists in polygamists sects went through a particularly violent period, punctuated by several murders in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. A few years before I was born, the Mormon church had opened its vault of historical artifacts to scholarly scrutiny, only to discover information it wasn’t sure how to handle, so it shut inquiry down almost immediately.

I wasn’t aware of these specifics as a child. All I remember is that there was electricity in the air during those years. My parents had a year’s supply of food stockpiled in our basement. Talk of the coming apocalypse was frequent in Sunday School and the pulpit. I was taught that it was only a matter of time before Jesus would return and rid the earth of sinners.

I was a sensitive child with a deep yearning for God, though I was always a little unsure of how God felt about me. In a religious climate that valued righteousness and exactness–and, more importantly, that stressed penalties for disobedience–I worried that I didn’t measure up. I realized from a young age that if salvation was about doing everything right, I would never be okay. My earliest religious memories are punctuated by deep anxiety about the state of my eternal soul.

In response to this, I developed religious scrupulosity. I busied myself with the work of becoming worthy of God’s favor, seeking always to do more and sin less. I was troubled with doubts as to whether I had done all that was needed to qualify for exaltation.

In December 2005 I had the chance to hear Jerry Root, a theologian and C.S. Lewis scholar, give a lecture at Utah State Univeristy. His words had a profound impact on me. At one point he said, “I’m a Christian because I know enough of my deficiencies to be devastated. I don’t think I could live life without forgiveness and without the love of God.”

I had never before heard faith framed this way. It startled me. I’d understood a life of faith to mean working hard to overcome my deficiences–doing “all [I] can,” as the Book of Mormon says, before God’s grace would kick in and make up for what I lacked. Hearing a mature, thoughtful Christian stand and acknowledge his deficiences, name his devastation at them, and declare his utter reliance on God’s forgiveness and love–on grace–struck me to my core.

I decided to turn myself over to God, broken and devastated, to see if God could love me as I was. There was a part of me that expected shame, but God took it all and exchanged it for redemption and love. I felt, as Martin Luther had, that “I had been born anew and had entered paradise itself through opened gates.”

I tried to bring my new understanding of grace to Mormonism with me but found that it wasn’t a very comfortable fit. It was another ten years before I discovered Lutheran Christianity. When I did, I was thrilled to learn that many of the ways I had been thinking about grace for years had a very Lutheran feel to them. I connected immediately to the liturgy and theology. For perhaps the first time ever I felt at home in a faith community.

My experience is that Christ came and rescued me when I needed him most and expected him least. For all the busyness, anxiety, and doubt that characterized my religious life before, it was in the stillness of grace that I truly encountered God. It’s what I cling to now when the old habits of shame and fear creep back in. Luther said, “Christ our Lord, to whom we must flee, and of whom we must ask all, is an inexhaustible well of grace.” It is from this well that I thirstily drink again and again and again.

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