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June 07, 2013

on conversion

I began to read a borrowed book last week. This was the opening line: "Conversion is the ultimate act of trauma." I didn't read any farther—that first sentence captured me.

This powerful description of conversion reminded me of Rosaria Butterfield, who left lesbianism because she found her worldview completely colliding with the Book. In this interview (and also in her book), she speaks of some of the "trauma" associated with the conversion which she describes as a "train wreak". She was drawn by Truth but when she entered the chur'chintellectual, butch, and almost-still-lesbianRosaria had a lot of questions for the ladies occupying the pews. She'd ask them point-blank, "What did you give up to be here?" By doing so, she found that they had stories too; she wasn't the only one who'd struggled to come to and hold on to true faith. Perhaps her new Family had not come out of lesbianism, but they'd come out in other ways. Their war stories reminded her that she wasn't alone in the trauma of conversion. I'm so glad she heard their stories.

Because, perhaps you, like me, have met people occupying the pews who don't seem to know any trauma. They are all peaches, iced tea and warm holidays. If they knew crisis, it was 30 years ago. I'd love to be all peaches, iced tea and warm holidays, but that's not what I see in the Book or in my heart. Perhaps this is why I have gravitated to Rosaria, Amy Charmichael, Oswald Chambers, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, and other friends who talk about the trauma of conversion, of daily dying. ("Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.")  

I didn't experience Rosaria's trauma with my original conversion event. How much does a four-year-old have to convert? But the rest of my life I have spent converting, present continuous, and in that journey I have felt the trauma. What waits for me on the other side of forsaking sin is true joy....but the process of admitting and forsaking hurts. That's because sin hurts, and to leave it, no matter how glorious our destination, is costly. 

(Lately I've been seeing the pride that still dwells in my heart. Last night, I found myself on my bed praying that the Father would take my sinful pride away from me; it makes both Him and me ill. I have begun to take shelter in the account of King David. How could his life story include adultery, yet the summary of his life be that of a "man after God's own heart"? The key seems to have been in his willingness to convert when confronted about his sin. Certainly, there were many sinful incidents in his life, but the overall thrust of his life was marked by a desire to become more obedient to Him.)

Rosaria's conversion was radical in that she had to leave almost everything she had known and loved inside her community. In our individualistic and secular Western society, I don't think many of us fully appreciate the radical nature of conversion in some cultures, whether in the GLBT community or in the 10/40. As I observe my host culture, where family is life, I see that anything that would be seen to tear a family apart would be considered death. Trauma. This makes my heart ask another question: would I be prepared to be Family to someone who is losing family? If Truth leaves trauma in its wake, presenters of Truth must be prepared to love and serve in that aftermath.
Someone wrote to me recently: "Pray for me to live that really is obviously different from those who have a completely different worldview than me." My heart's response was two-fold: I was sobered, because I know that when we pursue that separation from sin, there is trauma, there is death. I wondered: does he know what he's asking for? But more than that, when I heard his heart's desire, my joy was full.

We've talked a lot about trauma, but the eternal joy far outweighs it. It's better than the peaches, iced tea and warm holidays of a life lived for earthly joys. Yes, we could forgo the trauma of conversion, of converting. But "to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

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