Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Twenty-three

In the summer of 1994, I was 11 years old and traveling all over the States with my family on a short furlough. We lived in a trailer which we pulled around with a borrowed truck.  At one point, I was riding alone in the truck with Dad.  I don't remember where the other kids were--maybe riding in another vehicle with Mom.  At any rate, it was just and my daddy, and I was thrilled to get some alone time with him, since usually we all had to share him.  (Large family problems, y'know.)

The inside of the small trailer. The youngest child got her own bed...in the bathtub. So lucky!

I remember watching the white lines on the highway disappear under us, and vividly recall gazing at the glove compartment, absentmindedly staring at the plastic latch button. Nothing much was going through my mind, other than a stray thought that I wished I could think of something witty to say to impress my dad.

Hannah, 11, with two of her sisters

Then, out of the blue, he said, "Tell me your spiritual experiences, Hannah."

And I had no idea what he meant.  I asked him.  He just repeated what he'd said.  "Share with me your spiritual experiences with our Lord."

I got scared, because I didn't have any. And I didn't know what he wanted me to say.

Now, in the Fundamentalist world, the hatred for charismatics is strong.  The only context I had for "spiritual experience" was from sermons raging about those mushy minded Bible twisters and stiff-necked heretics called charismatics.  I didn't have any of those experiences, and if I did, I wouldn't be a true Christian.

So I thought it was a test.  Was my dad was trying to trap me into admitting that I was a heretic, or an unbeliever?  My mind scrambled with something convincing to say, and I may have babbled something mostly unintelligible, but it of course didn't pass inspection.

He repeated himself several times while I dissolved into a sobbing mess, my lack of "spiritual experiences" to share making me believe I was unsaved and on my way to hell.  I could imagine the heat of the flames, ready to swallow me up for not being a true believer. Maybe I failed the test by crying for ten miles.  But if I had had any spiritual experiences to share, it would have proven I was a heretic.  So it was a lose/lose, and I was the biggest loser of them all, having fallen from God's Grace.

Two of these girls don't belong. One isn't even a Schaefer girl (and none of us remember
who she was), and the other (Hannah, second from the left) was a doubter of her salvation.

This encounter formed a foundation to my childhood suspicion that I was not very tightly held in God's hand, that not only were my parents ashamed of me, but God also wouldn't mind if I didn't turn out to be one of the Elect after all. Sure, the Fundamentalist teaching is "once saved, always saved," but there are plenty of things a person can do to prove that he or she was never actually saved in the first place, like coming out as gay, getting divorced, or becoming a charismatic.

Apparently, there was some sort of "spiritual experience" that was acceptable for a Fundamentalist, and necessary for proving one's status as a believer.  But, at eleven years old, I couldn't figure out what it was.  Later on, in college, I'd be asked something similar: "How do you know for certain that if you die tonight, you'll go to heaven, Hannah?"  And my answers then would still not be satisfactory ("Because I asked Jesus into my heart when I was three.").  It wasn't until I discovered Sacramental theology that I realised my assurance in salvation comes from nothing I can or have done.  It all rests squarely on Christ, and His work in me through the waters of Baptism.