Ashley Atkerson
Old Union Missionary Baptist Church
2 August 1999

 

Ten years ago one of my best friends got saved.  I was eight years old and had attended Old Union Missionary Baptist Church my entire life.  All I really knew about “getting saved” was that one day you realized you were going to Hell, so you went to Revival, cried a lot, and got Saved, which meant that you weren’t going to Hell any more.  So once Tina got saved, I couldn’t help but think it was about time for me to get saved, too.

Tina was saved at the beginning of Old Union’s summer revival service, and I suppose it was toward the end of it that my sister and I attended and sat near the back, as usual.  I had this awful feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.  I just knew I was going to have to go up to the altar and cry.  So, when my sister asked me if I felt like it, I supposed that that dread was the feeling everyone else had been talking about.  So I went to the altar.

That night, I cried aloud, over and over, for God to save me.  The church members, the pastor, all the people were crying for me, especially my sister.  And nothing, absolutely nothing, was happening.  What was I supposed to feel?
How do you know if you’re saved?

After a while, I realized I had no idea why I was up there, and the fact that I had made everyone feel so sad was starting to make me feel guilty.  I sat up from where I had been kneeling.  “I don’t feel like crying any more,” I whispered to my sister, hoping somehow to leave the altar unnoticed.  “Do you think you’re saved?” she asked me.  The hope in her eyes was too great for me to ruin, so I said, “Yes.”  And the congregation broke out in song and cries of joy.

I realized almost immediately what I had done.  Not only had I lied — and in church — but I had, by pretending to be “saved,” actually realized that I was lost.  I spent eight years in a state of spiritual darkness.  When I prayed, I didn’t feel the presence of the Lord.  When I was asked to join the church, I declined and couldn’t give a reason why.  For a few years I stopped attending Old Union.  When I returned, it was plain to me that I lacked something that all the members seemed to have — a relationship with God.

When I was sixteen, I was in my high school’s production of L’il Abner, and I spent most of every day in rehearsal.  I could feel a despair within me, threatening to rise up beyond my control, but I kept telling myself, “Just wait until the musical is over, then you can worry about it.”  “It” was the condition of my soul, but I wouldn’t permit myself to even think those words.

Once the musical was over, spring revival began at Old Union.  I realized that I had put off seeking the Lord until this revival service, so that I wouldn’t have to pray alone.  My mother and I went up to kneel at the altar that Saturday night, the night before Easter.  I had made a deal with myself:  I wasn’t leaving until I got things settled.  I had been longing for eight years for a release from the despair that had overshadowed my life for as long as I could remember.

How can I relate how the Lord works in a person’s heart?  I began by praying, “Lord, show me what it is I have to do.”  All my life I had overcome challenges by working hard and doing my best.  Gradually, it came to me that I could do nothing to save myself.  The Lord is capable of anything; my efforts next to His would be insignificant.  I had been holding fast to my pride, but that night, I humbled myself before God.  The church was full, but I no longer expected others’ prayers to benefit me.  I prayed alone.  Shamed before Him, I realized my foolishness in avoiding God for years, allowing the world to become my god.  “How the Lord must love me,” I thought, ” to allow me all this time to discover how wrong I’ve been.”

It was then that He saved me.

I didn’t jump up or cry out; a calmness just came over me, and for a second, that despair I’d lived with for so long was gone.  The Lord had forgiven me.

Doubt immediately crept in.  Are you sure?  Was I sure?  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed wrong.  After all, I wasn’t as full of joy as I thought I was supposed to be.  Was this it?  Was that all?

I questioned myself for another two years.  Doubt was like an old friend I didn’t know how to live without.  I attended Old Union, but also visited other churches with friends from school.  Catholic, Presbyterian, non-denominational.  I felt nothingness and disillusionment.  I had given my all and had not found assurance anywhere.  I convinced myself that I would never have the comfort of certainty.

I attended Old Union’s summer revival at the age of eighteen with that same dread in my stomach I’d felt ten years ago.  I listened to the preacher’s words and felt nothing, nothing.  I then had a sickening  thought:  what if God did not exist?  What if I had wasted a decade of my life, my childhood, suffering for the forgiveness of a god that was not there?  I was dead inside.  If God was loving, if God was, then I would feel . . .  but I did not.

Afraid to live with this conclusion I had reached, I went to Old Union again the next night.  I sat alone, a few rows from the front, listening to the pastor’s report on a young member of our church.  Anna had been confused as to whether or not she had been truly saved.  She had prayed on it and the Lord had answered — she had had His forgiveness all along.

Sometimes God requires you to humble yourself before Him before He gives you His blessings; sometimes He just blindsides you with them.  This was one of the latter times.

The Lord, I realized, could do the same for me.  He could relieve this burden of emptiness.  The instant I realized He could, He did, and I knew that I was a child of God.

When the pastor called for an altar prayer, I remained where I was, bowed my head, and repeated again and again, “I have to know for sure, Lord, please, let me know.”  I am sure that it was His intention that I sat up and noticed that the hymn being played was “He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me.”  God had given me sweet peace two years before, and He wouldn’t do it again.  Once was enough.

Sister Martha Crafton came to me, placed her arm on my shoulder and said, “If you keep on praying, the Lord will give you an answer.”  I had to reply, “I think He just did.”

That night I stood up before Old Union and told its members what I’ve written here, and finally, finally asked to join the church.

This July, my testimony became a year old.  I thank God every day, not just for His son, but for His infinite love and patience in allowing me to finally find Him after ten years of searching.