I was 7 years old when my mom bought me my first Bible. It was not much bigger than my hand, but it held lessons powerful enough to change my mind. When I undid its golden clasp, I let loose thousands of stories that materialized into lessons about kindness and gratefulness, as well as jealousy and contempt. I wanted to know everything. My curiosity was not satiated by one answer; I needed thousands of answers. How did these seemingly ancient stories relate to my modern life? Why were some sentences written in red ink while others were written in black ink?

The years passed by leisurely; my pursuit of answers was far more relentless. I learned the stories that we all know, regardless of whether we are religious or not. There were stories of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, Jesus using five loves and two fish to feed a massive group of people, and Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden. These stories shaped my curious childhood.

Although every story was interesting to my young mind, there was one story that proved to be monumental in the way I viewed the world. The story followed Lazarus, a man Jesus rose from the grave, as he became a local celebrity. However, the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders who disliked Jesus, began to target Lazarus because of his devotion to Jesus.

The story proved to be so profound because it was the first ancient story that truly seemed to relate to my 21st century life. Jonah being swallowed by a whale definitely didn’t relate to me, especially because I have lived in a landlocked state for my entire life.

At that point in my religious journey, I had discovered a deep devotion to Jesus, just like Lazarus. However, I knew that there were people who ridiculed my devotion. Just like the Pharisees ridiculing the religion Lazarus believed in, people mocked my religious beliefs. As I became older, I realized that the ridicule was occurring everywhere, so the little girl who clung to her Bible chose to set it down in the midst of a world that told her religion was outdated and unaccepted.

During the next few years, I walked a path that was darkly lit. Whereas Lazarus continued to tell others about Jesus, I stopped talking about my religion, allowed my Bible to collect dust, and hoped no one would see what I truly believed.

I lost faith in God, but I should have never lost faith in his timing. Several months ago, my mom handed me a delicate, golden necklace that I didn’t realize how much I needed. At the end of the necklace, there was a simple, plain cross. My mom explained that the necklace was important to her because her parents gave it to her more than 40 years before. She told me that she wanted it to serve as a daily reminder that our value doesn’t come from worldly success; it comes from God.

At that point, my life was filled with material possessions, but I didn’t need any of them as much as I needed the necklace. My schedule was filled with activities and events, but I only needed to make time for him.

A world that had been so dark was quickly illuminated by an object that connected me to what I needed. The necklace wasn’t ostentatious; the message was simple as well. When Lazarus stepped out of the grave and into the sunlight, his life changed quite literally; when my mom gave me the necklace and took me out of the dark place I was in, my life changed quite considerably.

The subject of religion is so controversial because our religion or lack thereof is something that we cling to with incredible strength. We have a profound faith in our beliefs, whether they are religious or not, but there are always Pharisees who hope to make us doubt our faith. However, we must trust in our beliefs without reservation.

I don’t know everything, but I know that life would be a lot more difficult if I didn’t have faith during my weakest and strongest moments. I am not ashamed of what I believe, even in a world that may ridicule my faith. I won’t allow anyone to have power over my beliefs.

One day, we will all tell the story about how we overcame the battle that we had to go through, and we will be sent the exact people who need to hear our story. I hope my story permeates hearts and beats down the barriers that we have set up in our minds, chipping away fear and building confidence in what we believe.

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